It's time to start campaigning for a female president

During Women’s Month we are inundated with functions and programmes extolling the virtues of women and how far we’ve come, while trumpeting the myriad battles that still lie ahead. Lined with pink frills and ribbons, we are called to shout at the top of our voices: “I am woman, hear me roar!”

It’s all well and good I suppose. It makes us feel good.
Any message that reinforces this is welcome—it’s empowering and inspirational. But once the song and dance of the month is over, what is left?

Poverty still has a gender bias towards women, with the majority of those living in squalor or earning lowly wages being women.

Young and poor girls entrench the vicious poverty cycle by falling pregnant in their teens, further limiting their chances of a solid education that could liberate them from the shackles of poverty and servitude.

Recently released data from the employment equity report and that of the Businesswomen’s Association reflect the fact that men are still being recruited and promoted above women. It is only in the public sector that some positive gains are being made.

With this gloomy picture, then, why is the ANC’s Women’s League so silent in the current debate about who will lead the country when the ruling party holds its elective conference next year?

The party insists this process isn’t open yet, but all the power blocks in the alliance are already sending out oblique messages about who they want in the ANC’s top six. Where is the women’s league’s voice in all of this?

‘Generational mix’
The youth league, the loudest component of the ANC, has in the past few years vigorously campaigned around what it terms “generational mix”. This entails bringing young people into leadership structures. Those calls have been heard, judging by the younger mayoral candidates we saw emerge during the recent local government elections.

Why hasn’t the women’s league launched a similar campaign, around not just more women representation in the top decision-making bodies of the ANC, but also a female candidate to lead the party and the country?

Since the first democratic elections in 1994, representation of women in Parliament has soared, owing partly to the ruling party’s 50-50 principle at national and provincial levels.

After the 2009 elections, women’s representation in Cabinet increased from 34% to 43%, a 9% increase, and the country saw the rise of five women as premiers.

So why aren’t we seeing the same sort of enthusiasm about a woman taking the top job? It’s not as if there is a paucity of talent in the ANC.

The party has several dynamic, powerful, accomplished, formidable leaders who would do a sterling job. Is there a fear in the women’s league that perhaps they wouldn’t get support for this call, or is there a lack of unity among themselves?

When the national chair of the party, Baleka Mbete, allegedly attempted to stay on as deputy president after the 2009 elections, she was dismissed and shunned as being attention-grabbing, yet she was within her rights to display such ambition. She was frowned upon for wanting the job. Yet, even then, we heard not a squeak from the women’s league.

In opposition politics the Democratic Alliance is led by the feisty and effective Helen Zille. DA spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko is also blazing a trail in her own right; she’s seemingly destined for greater things in the party. Zanele ka Magwaza Msibi formed her political party, the National Freedom Party, on the eve of the local government elections—and trounced her Inkatha competition.

The call for a woman president was first made by Thabo Mbeki, but that was dismissed as a ploy to advance a candidate who would serve his interests.

This was a troubling deduction to make in itself. Since then, we’ve not heard the issue raised again. The women’s league has campaigned against the abuse of women and children, and for greater economic opportunities for women, but why are they so mute on this particular issue?

Where is the women’s league?

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