When election season rolls around, political promises increase exponentially – with the emphasis on jobs, service delivery and the eradication of violent crime and corruption. But how do they fare on gender issues? In particular, do this year's expected big players – the ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – walk the talk when it comes to women's rights' gender-based violence and sexism in general?
When it comes to representation, the ANC is known for having a 50% quota policy for Parliament, and 13 of the current 33 Cabinet ministers are women. In its 2014 elections manifesto, the party mentions planned initiatives that are certainly laudable, including school feeding schemes that would also empower local women and the "launch of a massive contraception and family planning programme" (sorely needed in a country with high rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality).
The health department should also be commended for its recent rollout of a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine campaign targeted at young girls. (HPV is a sexually transmitted virus passed on through vaginal and anal sex.) Social grants, especially the childcare one, have been shown to have a positive impact on the lives of their recipients.
There are still a number of marks against the ruling party, though. The lumbering, money-swallowing department of women, children and people with disabilities, well-intentioned as its inception might have been, is known for its ineffectiveness. As the same government attempted to pass the Traditional Courts Bill, it is difficult to take seriously the ANC's manifesto statement that "[in] democratic South Africa, women's voices are heard and women's issues are seriously addressed".
This is the ANC whose Women's League declared in 2012 and last year that the country is not ready for a female president. President Jacob Zuma has made gaffes on the topic, including his comment that it is "not right" for women to be single and that they should be having children.
The ANC, then, is doing remarkably well in some respects, but very poorly in others.
The DA's representation statistics are somewhat different: its most prominent members – party leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille and parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko – are women, and their campaign posters during the 2011 local elections featured the female trio.
But in an analysis on website FeministsSA last November, Rumbi Gorgens argues that this is "not the result of a focused strategy, or a party-wide trend of significant female representation": "Three out of the eight members of their senior national leadership team are women; 27% of their 71 members of Parliament are women. In the Western Cape, Helen Zille drew criticism when she selected an all-male cabinet."
In their election manifesto, the DA's consideration of issues around gender centres exclusively on sexual and domestic violence. While this is a crucial topic, it does not acknowledge women's health, the poverty implications that affect women in particular, or gender parity.
When it comes to sexual and gender-based violence, the party's planned interventions all involve methods of response to the crimes. These include specialised police units and courts, a 24/7 hotline that would allow victims immediate access to crisis support and police assistance, "[establishing] an electronic system for monitoring domestic violence registers … [enabling] the police to track repeat offenders and complainants between stations and provinces", and "[ensuring] that [police] receive training to implement the Sexual Offences Act, including protocols for gathering evidence and supporting victims".
These are all necessary interventions, for which activists and support workers have been clamouring for years. Also important, however, are measures to reduce the number of offences occurring in the first place.
The DA does have a Women's Network (Dawn), which aims, among other things, to promote "the empowerment and development of women" as well as "women's participation in every sector of public life".
As the new kid on the block, the EFF pulls no punches in the Gender Equality and Women Emancipation section of their manifesto: "The EFF recognises that while patriarchy and sexism is pervasive in our society, it is black women who suffer the most from gender-based violence. To date, the interventions to deal with violence against women have been superficial, half-hearted and based on an incorrect understanding of the root causes of the vulnerability of women."
Although the manifesto is vague on implementation details, the party's planned key interventions in this regard are progressive and informed; crucially, they focus on prevention as well as response.
These include plans for "gender education and training to be compulsory for all (eg school, work, family, church, legislative and executive sectors, civil society)", to "educate the police on gender justice and establish specialised law enforcement units to deal with women-related crimes", to "strengthen education of men on patriarchy, sexism and misogyny" and to "engage custodians of tradition, faith leaders and other cultural practitioners to collectively find means to combat the oppression of women".
The EFF also wants specialised courts and police units to be set up to deal with sexual and gender-based violence.
Given the progressiveness of its policies, commander-in-chief Julius Malema's comments about women and gender are disappointing. He infamously said that Zuma's rape accuser "requested breakfast and taxi money", and therefore must have had "a nice time"; he called Mazibuko a "tea lady" to Zille's "madam" and commented, in reference to athlete Caster Semenya, that there is "no such thing as a hermaphrodite in [se]Pedi".
One could argue that these comments were made by a younger Malema, the ANC Youth League president who would kill for Zuma. Unfortunately, as Beeld newspaper reported last month, at a rally in Ratanda township outside Heidelberg, Malema referred to Zuma's expensive Nkandla swimming pool and mockingly told the crowd to imagine MaKhumalo, the president's first wife, in a bathing suit.
Interestingly, the EFF held a seminar on issues affecting minority groups (specifically the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] community) last week. In their manifesto the party also specifically mention this group, although the document does not further address LGBTI issues.
However, in another analytical piece on FeministsSA, Sanja Bornman points out that it is "extremely hard to believe that the EFF truly opposes homophobia and discrimination on the basis of gender, given its open support for Zimbabwe's Zanu-PF, led by Robert Mugabe". Mugabe is outspokenly homophobic.
What about the Congress of the People (Cope), which emerged as the strongest opposition party after the DA in the 2009 elections, but whose support has since dwindled? And the initially promising Agang SA?
While Cope's constitution clearly supports gender equality, including the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation and the provision of a 50% female quota in its organisational structures, gender issues get nary a mention in its elections manifesto.
Most of the party's energy – and its airtime – over the past few years seem to have been consumed by its leadership battles.
Launched with much fanfare last year, Agang also has a woman leader. Its election manifesto does (briefly) mention violence against women, and party leader Mamphela Ramphele has spoken out on the topic.
At this point, though, especially following its disastrous attempt at working with the DA, it seems drumming up renewed support – any support, from any gender – is a much bigger problem."The interventions to deal with violence against women have been superficial and half-hearted …"