A Gender Links study by Colleen Lowe Morna and Ntombi Mbadlanyana titled Gender in the 2011 South African Local Government Elections shows a disturbing trend in the gender balance at local level. The report shows that the 2011 local government elections saw a decline in women’s representation at a time when the country should be redoubling its efforts to achieve gender parity. The analysis shows that women now constitute 38% of councillors following the 18 May polls, down from 40% in 2006. According to Gender Links, the decline underscores the need for a legislated means to increase the number of women in both local and national elections.
In South Africa as elsewhere in the world, the number of women in leadership positions is increasing, even though women still lag behind men in management and executive positions. While the numbers are increasing, leadership is still perceived as ‘male’ domain both in the private and public sectors. However, different research studies show that women in leadership are just as capable as men, and in some cases, even more capable as men. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman conducted research of 7,280 leaders in 2011. In the study participants rated the leaders in 16 leadership competencies. The findings revealed that women out-scored the men in 14 categories. In 12 of the 16 categories, the women out-scored with a significantly high number. According to Zenger and Folkman, the categories where women outscored men the highest were: a) taking initiative, and; b) driving for results. These are considered to be more typically male traits.
Taking these findings into consideration increasing women leadership is an important feature of changing the poor performance at local government level. At the Pre-conference Seminar for Elected Women Local Government Leaders, Sylvia Hordosch of the Division for the Advancement of Women, of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said about the importance of women’s participation in decision-making at local and national levels:
“First of all, it is an issue of human rights. Women have the right to participate in all decision-making processes. Full participation means full citizenship. Second, it is critical that women’s views and experiences are represented in decision-making bodies to ensure that the interests of women are taken into consideration in policy-making and implementation of projects related to economic development and poverty alleviation. There is also the critical mass argument – women become more visible and influential when they achieve a certain number of positions. Women are more likely to enter and remain in political life if they have role models in the arena. The democracy argument tells us that the equal representation of women and men enhances democratization of governance. The lack of women, on the hand, undermines democracy. Of course, the presence of women in local government does not necessarily mean that women’s issues are addressed. By the same token, achieving equality between women and men is not just the responsibility of women, but requires also male leaders who advocate for equality.”
In recognition of the aforementioned, in 2011 the UNDP and the South African government gender focal point commissioned Gender Links to facilitate a nationwide training programme for women councillors to prepare them for leadership and management tasks before the 2011 local government elections. Training women councillors is critical to ensure that women’s participation at local government is not symbolic but meaningful. Hordosch further outlines the following points to highlight the gender perspective for effective leadership and management.
1. Mechanisms for increasing women’s participation and leadership
Political parties play an important role for women to be elected. They can be gatekeepers and prevent women’s access to elected positions, or they can open avenues for women with transparent and open processes for the selection of candidates or other positions within the party. In addition, political parties can provide support, such as funding for the election campaign, providing access to networks, training and skills development for women candidates.
While the type of electoral system remains critical for women’s access to politics, the most influential factor is whether or not a quota system is used. In 2006, countries that used gender quotas nearly doubled the number of elected women, compared with countries without any form of gender quota. In South Africa, only the African National Congress uses the quota system.
2. Measures to strengthen women’s leadership capacity at the local level
International and national organisations, including UN agencies, bi-lateral donors, civil society organisations, provide different forms of support to women at the local level. These programmes aim to empower candidates through capacity-building and training on decentralised governance, on the processes and rules, and women’s rights. Training programmes should not only target women, but also involve men as stakeholders.
3. The impact of women’s equal participation in political processes
We must also ask the question on the impact of women in local government. The way in which women can influence political institutions and processes depends on the norms, rules and procedures within local bodies and political parties. It depends on the autonomy of the local government, its actual access to power and resources. The success of women and men with a clear gender equality agenda depends on the support of their own parties, their linkages to a women’s constituency and other institutions. Women as citizens need to be educated about good governance in order to make their governments accountable at all levels.
To prepare women for leadership positions and decentralised governance, they must be given appropriate leadership education and specialised skills training, including on policy development, strategic planning, and public speaking and leveraging resources. The mere presence of women as executives in any area of societal development is not in itself a guarantee that gender equality issues will be placed on the agenda. More progress will also require greater willingness among men to question male stereotypes and to change existing structures and processes, including redefining the roles of men and women in the family and in public life. Women leaders need therefore to develop strategic alliances with men who are willing to actively support women’s participation and gender equality.
Despite some misgivings from some sections of the society, South Africa does acknowledge the strength of women in leadership position. Gill Marcus leads one of the most critical institutions in the country, the Reserve Bank. There’s also recognition of South African women in Africa. Dr Nkosazane Dlamini-Zuma has been given the responsibility to lead the Africa Union as 2012/13 Chairperson.
The official opposition in the South African political system is headed by women, i.e. Helen Zille as the Democratic Alliance leader and Premier of Cape Town; Patricia Dellile as the Mayor of Cape Town and Lindiwe Mazibuko as national Spokesperson. There’re also great women leaders like Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Dr Ravi Rajab. (1 122 Words)