Analysis

A Deep Dive Into Gender And Elections

Women on the national candidate list

At a media briefing on April 23, DA leader Mmusi Maimane defended the party’s lack of gender representation within its provincial premier list. Despite only two women making the cut, Maimane argued that DA candidates are chosen based primarily on merit.

“I’m comfortable with the diversity of the list,” said Maimane.

“Ideally I would want more women, but I’m not going to set a quota for women because I don’t believe in quotas,” he noted.

The DA is not alone in its unwillingness to implement gender quotas. To date, the ANC is the only political party with a stringent 50/50 gender quota.

But according to Amanda Gouws, South African Research Chairs Initiative Chair in Gender Politics, quotas can also be used to silence women.

“The issue of using the quota to get people in is also an issue of making women compliant,” Gouws told Daily Maverick. “Even though women have a voice in Parliament, it can be very difficult for them because the men are so dominant, particularly in South Africa’s patriarchal society.”

But according to Dr Sithembile Mbete, lecturer in the Politics Department at the University of Pretoria, quotas can have some positive effects.

“In a patriarchal society such as South Africa quotas can be one of the only ways to ensure representation,” Mbete told Daily Maverick. But, like Gouws, she worries that women who feel they are only represented because they are a quota feel they have to be deferential to men.

“The other issue is that quotas are based on the assumption that if you have women represented, even if the situation is created artificially, then what will happen is that society will develop and catch up, and you’ll have more women candidates rising to top leadership organically. But we haven’t seen this in South Africa.”

Despite having implemented a diversity quota, the ANC, like the majority of political parties contesting the national elections, has only one woman candidate in their top five. When analysing the ANC’s top 25 candidates, only nine were women, or approximately 36%. So men still dominate the most senior positions within the party.

Across the majority of the parties, this proved to be a recurring statistic. Political parties with an average or above-average percentage of women in their top 25 did not necessarily have a similar percentage of women in their top five political positions.

The EFF, for example, has a diverse gender breakdown within their top 25 candidates – 44% – being women but only one of their top five candidates is a woman, leaving the roles of president and vice-president to men.

In fact, only seven political parties had women listed as their premier national candidates. The top three political parties, namely the ANC, the DA and the EFF all have men as their premier presidential candidates, making the chance of a female president unlikely, at least for another five years.

Despite the chances of a woman president being slim to none, South Africa still has one of the most gender-diverse parliaments in the world, ranking number three in Africa and tenth globally.

According to a recent study by Gouws, South African women are by no means politically inactive. In fact, this year nearly 2.7-million more women have registered to vote on May 8, just slightly more than the 2.5-million difference in the 2014 elections. After conducting a citizen survey, Gouws found that this gender gap is also present at the polls, with women more likely to turn up on voting day in comparison to men.

And yet political parties do not seem invested in appealing to women voters directly. Both Mbete and Gouws told Daily Maverick that during the 2019 election season, parties had failed to tap into one half of the electorate.

“Politics sees women as an add-on,” said Mbete. And according to Gouws, political parties need to focus on other issues pertaining to women, not just on gender-based violence. “Political parties could do so much with the women’s vote, but they aren’t interested,” said Gouws.

Of the 48 political parties contesting the national elections, eight do not have women candidates in their top five. According to Mbete, candidate lists are indicative of how political parties value women as leaders.

“The people you most want in power, you put at the top of the list,” she told Daily Maverick. “If you are a party that is not the ANC, DA or EFF, you’re very likely to get less than 3% of votes. If you are a party that is likely to get less than 3% and you don’t have a woman in your top 10 or even in your top five, then you are saying there are no women you want to represent you in Parliament.” 

OPINION: Tessa Knight