Beyond 50/50 representation: A call for a feminist government

The advent of democracy in 1994 came with significant appointment of women in government. This was a result of powerful advocacy of women who were mobilised under the banner of the National Women’s Coalition during the transition period.

Later, in its 52nd National Conference in Polokwane in 2007, the African National Congress adopted 50/50 gender equity policy. It is no doubt that electoral gender quotas have been instrumental in increasing women’s participation in key decision making positions. However, this has not significantly improved the position of women in the society.

Advocating for gender quotas is based on two faulty assumptions. First, the assumption is increased women’s representation in government will advance the gender question. Secondly, advancing the gender question will guarantee a dismantling of patriarchy which remains entrenched in our society.

By its intrinsic nature, the State is patriarchal in its conception and composition. Not only is it dominated by men, it is also founded on a dominator model of power. Since its inception in 1912, the ANC has never elected a woman as its President. Even the women’s wing of the party alluded at some point that the country is not ready for a woman president. Other political parties are not different. Election manifestos are largely silent on dismantling patriarchy other than perpetuating the rhetorical lie of building a non-sexist society.  

What has become clear over the years is that women in government are not accountable to women, neither are they committed to dismantling patriarchy. Instead, they remain accountable to their parties. After all, party interests coupled with internal battles trumps over the gender question.   

But what’s happening beyond South Africa?

Beyond national borders, Rwanda has recently announced 50% representation of women in government. This puts the country in the global top 5 for gender equality representation.  On the economic front, tellingly, the gender wage gap of 88 cents to a man’s dollar remains. This puts the country in a much lower ranking for economic equality among genders. In addition, many women in Rwanda are still subjected to gender based violence only a quarter of century after the genocide that tore the country apart.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also announced 50% representation of women in cabinet in addition to appointing Sahle-Work Zewde as the President. Even though the Ethiopian Office of the Presidency is ceremonial, President Zewde has a transformational opportunity to craft a path to women’s emancipation. The causes that she will prioritise during her tenure will be a measure of her contribution to gender consciousness.  

It is therefore clear if we are to dismantle patriarchy in governance, we need to go beyond enshrining gender equality in the Constitution to dismantling cultural, religious, economic, political and psychological forces that keep unequal power between women and men intact.

In its work as a feminist advocacy and social justice organisation, the Soul City Institute is committed to dismantling patriarchy in the private and public sphere. Not only do we wish to stir people’s hearts and energize their souls, we intend to go beyond politics-as-usual with its banal slogans and hollow promises.  

Working with our partners, Corruption Watch, Country Duty, TotalShutdown, and other organisations, the Soul City Institute for Social Justice is holding a landmark event on November 13 to mark the launch of the NotYetUhuru (NYU) content hub and our 2019 general election campaign.

Party leaders will be participating in an interactive session about, one, their party’s offerings to create an authentically equal society in which women can take their rightful place.  Two, they will be asked about their commitment to establish a feminist government like the administrations of Sweden and Canada have done.   

Sweden was the first feminist government in the world followed by Canada in 2015. Simply put, this means that gender equality is central to the Government’s priorities in decision-making and resource allocation. A feminist government ensures that a gender equality perspective is embedded in policy-making both nationally and internationally. It is predicated on the foundational belief that women and men must have the same power to shape society and their own lives. This is a basic human right as much as it a matter of democracy and justice.

Arising from this, we believe that NYU will become the definitive voice for the women’s liberation movement in SA. As a digital activist ecosystem, NYU seeks to create a platform for engagement with (and between) women to challenge patriarchy head on, and to inculcate feminist consciousness across Africa.

We will unleash the power of the new technologies to achieve our goals. Using multimedia platforms as a powerful advocacy tool, we will generate content - and encourage a Big National Conversation - to shift our country towards real gender equality and contribute to the building of South Africa's feminist movement.

We will do this by disrupting the mainstream media and amplifying the voices that have been silenced in the politics of our generation using podcasts, video, creative writing and photography.

Will you join us?

By Kgalalelo Kedijang: Head of Soul City’s NotYetUhuru multimedia content hub
This article first appeared in Independent Newspapers on Sunday, 4 November 2018  

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