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POLITICS-SOUTH AFRICA: Women’s Participation Needs More Than Quotas

13 December, 2008

By Stephanie Nieuwoud



Last year, the African National Congress voted to improve gender equity by raising the list of candidates running at the local level from 30% to 50%.  Considering that women in the U.S. are still trying to achieve the 30% solution (as it is called here), one might easily get the impression that South Africa has made for more progress than the U.S.  That impression would be false.

According to an article from The Inter Press Service/ News Agency, woman are simply not well enough educated nor familiar enough with the procedures of governance and understanding of how the process works. This renders women more vulnerable to exploitation and corruption and not able to fully participate in the political process.  Poverty, lack of basic essentials including water, electricity, health care and education are obviously contributing factors.  

Many women see the position of local councillor as a way out of poverty and work hard to acquire the necessary skills needed to hold the position, taking advantage of the many classes and workshops offered by the government.

But, the most important impediment is that women are still not treated as equals by men. Appointments, quotas, and education are simply not enough to undo a history of looking at women as inferior.  

[Claire] Mathonsi adds: “The problem lies in the interpretation of what gender means and what needs to be done about the gender discourse. For the most part, equity has become a numerical thing. When a numerical target is met, it is wrongly believed that the issue of gender has been dealt with.”  




In the United States, this year’s election has raised serious (and frivolous) concerns about the possibility of women advancing in politics.  The answers depend greatly on one’s point of view, but the question remains: What tools do women need to enter politics and are numbers enough?  Many, if not all, of the difficulties mentioned in the article about South Africa can be applied to the United States:  there are still parts of this country without access to basic necessities.  There is also much inequity in education, health care, access to employment, and equal rights.

Gender equity is a complex issue with no simple answers, yet it is an issue that must be addressed if women around the world are going to be able to affect their own lives and the lives of their children. 

They might even help make the world better for the men they share their environment with.

read the story here

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