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SALGA Women's Commission reviews representation and participation of women in local government during its National Lekgotla and Master Class Series, 28-29 September 2023 (Radisson Blu Hotel and Conference Centre: Ekurhuleni)



Posted: 28 September 2023

Kempton Park, Thursday, 28 September 2023: We meet, a year after the SWC National Conference held in Birchwood Hotel, on the 24-26 August 2022, where women entrusted me with the responsibility of leading this commission. A lot has happened since then and as we meet in these two days, we will interact as women and other colleagues in the sector and other sectors to unpack the current challenges of women representation in local government and pave a way forward to how we hope to influence the change we want to see.

This National Lekgotla and master class series is convened in line with the national Women's month theme: "Accelerating socio-economic opportunities for empowerment of women." The SWC is a mechanism to institutionalise advocacy processes as the voice of women in local government and to ensure progress at a local level as well as supporting the national, regional, and global goals of women empowerment and gender equality and equity. The strategic objective of the Women's Commission is to increase the representation and participation of women in local government to parity. This strategic objective is supported by a range of specific objectives that will ensure that women's representation and participation become more than merely a quantitative exercise.
This lekgotla and masterclass series objectives includes, among others,

  • To debate the shifts and trends of women's political representation in municipal elections in South Africa.
  • To reflect and assess progress of local government in meeting regional and international commitments for achieving gender equality by 2030.
  • To acknowledge and strengthen the leadership role that women play in running municipalities and the state of the gender machinery in municipalities.
  • To discuss current affairs pertinent to women empowerment and gender equality debate.
  • To introduce women leaders to one of the modules done with the Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICLD) and discuss current debates on the legislation affecting women.

The master class series fits into the lekgotla program as a mechanism to empower women with knowledge and for them to encourage more participation on the programs as well has understanding work we do with our partners as SALGA.

The year 2023 marks 67 years since the united march by women in 1956, against pass laws. This significant occasion commemorates the remarkable accomplishments of women who courageously fought against oppression, subjugation, and disenfranchisement in history.

It also acknowledges the ongoing efforts towards women's empowerment, progress, and the realization of gender equality. Unity of purpose, strength and power is what sets apart our forebears, who defied race, class, tribe, and political party interests, to join forces to fight a system of oppression.

The conditions politically, socially, and economically by then were very unfavourable compared to today.
Before we speak of socio-economic empowerment, we need to identify the challenges confronting women today. We need to ask ourselves, what will we unite for as women of South Africa today? Why are our voices on and off, and so fragmented against present day injustices faced by women and girls? What will our generation be known for? We need to respond to these questions circumspectly. Despite South Africa having an abundance of robust laws and policies aimed at promoting women's rights and achieving gender equality, women still bear the brunt of various hardships of poverty, unemployment, and inequalities.
They remain marginalized from mainstream economic opportunities and face challenges in accessing financial services. Furthermore, women are usually outnumbered by men in the workforce and tend to be concentrated in low-skilled and low-paying jobs. We are proud of the women that have achieved beyond their imagination, including us, who have been elected to these positions of responsibility, as President Cryil Ramaphosa said on Women's Day, "women are taking charge of their destinies, inspiring others, and driving change. They are excelling in areas once closed to women; as engineers, scientists, managers, pilots, farmers, judges, magistrates, athletes, marine pilots, and soldiers." We need these numbers to grow.

The 1994 democratic dispensation ushered some reforms through pieces of legislation and policies which seemed to address disparities of the past which we need to jealously guard and enforce.
Some of these policies are not implemented, and at times mischievously used and misinterpreted and we need to deal with this.

From now onwards we need to take stock of all policies we have and clearly understand them as to whether they talk to the challenges we are confronted with.

Women today are confronted with the following challenges: poverty, unemployment, homelessness, GBVF, crime and wars, and in South Africa, GBVF has reached pandemic proportions, critical illnesses, exclusion in decision making positions in all spheres of government, exclusion in managerial positions in workplaces, disparities in salaries with male executives, and unpaid work.

The right to vote is one of the core values that underpin South Africa's democracy. Section 1(d) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for universal adult suffrage, a national common voter's roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

The Constitution also guarantees women the freedom from any form of discrimination based on their sex. In addition, the Constitution emphasises the need for substantive equality.

Women must not only be seen to be treated equally but must be progressively promoted to be on an equal footing with men.

It must be made clear that 50/50 is not a favour to women of this country but a critical policy instrument for advancing equity, equality, and progress. Women fought for the ANC 50/50 policy as part of the struggle against patriarchy and the process towards engendered democracy and the transformation agenda. This policy must be defended, and all political parties influenced to adopt 50/50 representation. Once political parties agree, they will find women to lead, the pretence that women are not available or not able should not be used when the environment for them to avail themselves is made not to be conducive and is worsening at every election.

Equality is defined to include the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms and the state must promote equality through legislation and other measures. Section 19 of the Constitution enshrines the right to political participation.

It confirms the right to make political choices; to enjoy free, fair, and regular elections and the right to vote and stand for public office.

The Constitution does not provide for quotas to ensure adequate representation of women in elected public bodies, nor are any legal quotas established for national or provincial elections.

The Constitution does, however, create an enabling framework in which women's equal participation can be realised. South Africa is also a signatory to many international and regional treaties that promote the equality and rights of women, but women continue to be confronted with barriers that prevent them from fully enjoying their political rights.

The Municipal Structures Act, for example, states that "every party must seek to ensure that fifty percent (50%) of the candidates on the party list are women and that women and men candidates are evenly distributed through the list".

These acts together with the guiding principles in the Constitution require that women have fair representation and participation in the local government leadership.

Equally important is that as women we must not appropriate these institutional power positions for their sake but bring the desired change. As someone aptly put it, "It`s not about simply mainstreaming women. It`s not about women joining the polluted stream. It`s about cleaning the stream, changing stagnant pools into fresh, flowing waters".

This means as we represent women in all decision-making structures for such representation to have a lasting impact, it must qualitatively change for the better the conditions of girls and women in rural and township, the downtrodden and marginalized. The 37% women representation in local government in the 2021 elections is a drawback we must redress.

In this National Lekgotla, I invite all delegates on a journey of empowerment and transformation. Together we can leave behind a legacy of progress and gender equality for generations to come. May we have fruitful deliberations that will map a clear way forward for local government contributions to achieving SDG 5.

Wathint' Omama
Wathint' imbokodo
Malibongwe igama Lamakhosikazi!

By SALGA Women's Commission (SWC) National Chairperson Ntandokazi Capa

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