By Charles Tjatindi
While some SADC states have introduced measures aimed at boosting the level of women representation in government, the situation is far from achieving the 50 percent target for women in decision-making, as set by the sub-regional body.
Moreover, in countries that have embraced women’s participation and involvement in politics alongside their male counterparts, participation has only been at local government level, neglecting women representation at national level.
This emerged at a recently concluded workshop on gender here. The workshop, which had regional councillors, government officials and community members in attendance was organized and facilitated by Gender Links.
Gender Links is a southern African NGO that lobbies for the equal participation and involvement of both men and women in all aspects of public and private life. The workshop was part of a three-year programme that began with research on gender and local government in four southern African countries – Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa.
In 2003, Gender Links undertook the first comprehensive study of the impact of women in politics in southern Africa entitled, “Ringing up the Changes, Gender in Politics in Southern Africa”.
Through numerous personal accounts and case studies, as well as quantitative data gathered through questionnaires, the study explores the many barriers to women’s effective participation in politics at both national and local levels.
Amongst others, the study found that on average women participated more in meetings led by women, underscoring the importance of women occupying leadership positions such as mayors, chairpersons, and speakers.
While the study found that there are still men in local government who openly oppose gender equality – especially in countries with a low level of women’s representation – it cites several examples of men who have become champions of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Lesotho, with 58 percent women representation in local government, tops the list of SADC states in women representation in areas of governance. This mainly came about as a result of a legislated 30 percent quota in the country’s first elected local government in 2005. Namibia has had over 40 percent of women in local government for several years – a direct attribute of a proportional representation (PR) system and legislative quota, as well as a “zebra” system adopted by the ruling Swapo Party of one woman, one man on its electoral lists.
In South Africa, where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) fielded a substantially higher proportion of women in both the ward and PR seats in the country’s mixed electoral system in the 2006 elections, the proportion of women was boosted from 29 percent to 40 percent. Angola is the weakest link as far as women representation in government and leadership with the SADC is concerned, with a mere 1.2 percent representation.
The Walvis Bay Mayor, Uilika Nambahu, in her address at the workshop, emphasized the need for both men and women to correctly understand aspects relating to gender issues, in order to do away with stereotyping and marginalization.
“I believe that once the correct perception and understanding prevails in Namibia about what gender issues are, the better chance we have at changing stereotypes and marginalization for the betterment of the whole Namibian society,” she said.
Nambahu said gender roles should not be cast in stone resulting that men or women are treated inferiorly as a result of what society expects them to do. She noted that gender roles should be seen from the context that both men and women have specific needs and ability as regulated by their physical and mental strengths.
“As society, we have clearly defined gender roles that spell out what would be expected from a girl and ultimately a woman.
“Similarly, these gender roles should also clearly stipulate what shall be expected from a boy-child and ultimately a man,” she added.