South Africa: Political parties and the participation of women

Julie Ballington, February 2001

Extracted from Pottie, D & Ford, H (eds), Local Government in South Africa: Elections 2000, EISA.

After the previous local elections, less than 19% of councillors elected were women, which is in contrast to the number of women represented at the national level. Various reasons account for this, but the primary reason is that political parties did not prioritise gender parity and representivity at the local level. In 1999, the high number of women elected is largely attributed to the ANC quota system that ensured that women constituted at least 30% of list candidates. The aim of a gender quota system is to increase the political representation of the under-represented gender, women, so as to lead to a critical mass of women who will be able to influence political decision-making.

The Municipal Structures Act hints at a quota as it calls on political parties to seek to ensure that women constitute at least 30% of list candidates, and to make them "electable" by placing women and men alternately on lists. To date, the ANC is the only political party to state publicly its commitment to reach this target. The standard set by the ANC has not resulted in contagion, i.e. no opposition parties have yet taken up the challenge of implementing this quota. Despite the efforts of many women's organisations lobbying for a gender quota of at least 30% on lists, opposition parties are generally against the use of it. Opposition parties prefer that candidates obtain their places on party lists through merit, rather than through a quota. However, parties should not only put women on their lists, they should also forward women to stand as constituency candidates.