#16DaysOfActivism: 5 ways Parliament screwed up debate on women and children's rights

It seems that scoring political points is more important to some MPs than women and children's rights. (David Harrison, M&G)

It seems that scoring political points is more important to some MPs than women and children's rights. (David Harrison, M&G)

During a debate on 16 Days of Activism, members of Parliament were meant to prioritise women and children’s rights in a joint sitting at the National Assembly. Instead, they bickered and argued over which party treated women and children better, and some of the men MPs man-interrupted their way through the session. 

The 16 Days of Activism campaign, an annual initiative against gender-based violence and violence against children, is set to begin on November 25. These are the five ways, however, that MPs proved they’re not up to the task in their debate.

A man chaired the debate
National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete initially chaired the session, but she was replaced by Jomo Nyambi when her time was up. Surely women should lead discussions on their own rights, or is Parliament telling the country that men can dominate that, too?

When MPs choose politricks over women and children’s rights
Opposition parties wasted no time in lambasting the ANC for its failures. Members of the Congress of the People (Cope), the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) stood up to turn women and children into a soapbox to promote their own parties, while slating the ANC’s poor leadership.

“If we are to stop violence against women and children, we need ethical leadership and ethical political representation. It is clear that it ain’t coming from the ruling political party,” said Cope MP Deidre Carter.

MPs also reminded Parliament of the way in which Zuma’s fellow ANC supporters had discriminated against Fezekile “Khwezi” Kuzwayo, the woman who accused him of rape and who died earlier this year.

The EFF conveniently forgot that their commander in chief, Julius Malema, was one of those people at the time. Malema said Kuzwayo had a “nice time” with Zuma and “enjoyed it”.

While opposition parties used the platform to show up the ANC’s failings, the ANC defended itself.

“We are the only party in this country which is legitimate and coming up with the best laws,” Minister of Women Susan Shabangu said.

Yes, even the minister of women couldn’t stick to the topic.

2. When the EFF MP told the ANC MP to go look after her house
When ANC MP Lungelwa Zwane took the mic, an EFF MP tried to put her in her place – which apparently is the house.

“I understand this member is very old, so I don’t know what she’s doing here. She must be looking after oodada (the ducks) at home,” the EFF’s Hlengiwe Hlophe said.

Ah, feminism in action. 

3. SA’s largest opposition party chose to walk out

The DA chose to walk out of the joint sitting after its MP, Denise Robinson, refused to withdraw her remark that President Jacob Zuma’s name is actually “JZ 783”. The quip referenced the 783 corruption charges against Zuma.

“Honourable Robinson, I am addressing you and I am asking you to withdraw what you said,” Mbete ruled.

Before Robinson could give her reply, DA MP John Steenhuisen interjected, saying” no, she won’t”. Steenhuisen had risen on a point of order to protest Mbete’s ruling, but this was perhaps a good time to allow Robinson to speak for herself.

The DA walked out after Mbete ordered Robinson to leave if she would not withdraw her comment. Thus, the defence and name-calling of Zuma seemed more of important than women and children.

4. Members of the gallery don’t participate
The 16 Days of Activism campaign is meant to raise awareness on the ongoing violence against women and children in various communities. But during the debate on Tuesday, Mbete said that people sitting in the gallery should be quiet.

The gallery is where ordinary citizens sit to observe the proceedings. People began applauding after Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) told his fellow politicians to quit using the debate to promote their parties.

“I must say that I’m quite disappointed that we have a debate like this and then speakers of political parties comes here and they try to score political points. That in itself is the misuse of women and children - trying to score political points,” Groenewald said.

The FF Plus doesn’t always win applause in the house, so you know something is up when people get excited. More importantly, citizens should be allowed to applaud or heckle when they are the focus of  16 Days of Activism, right?

5. Nothing was done
The DA is threatening to take legal action after their disagreement with Mbete’s ruling and Nyambi wasted time resolving squabbles between bickering MPs, as all the politicians in the room failed to engage meaningfully on how women and children can be protected.

But never mind, at least some clarity was provided on when someone could raise a point of order, the procedure to be followed when a point of order is raised and, yes, MPs can be referred to as dogs as long as it’s an idiomatic expression.

Women and children can wait ‘til next year.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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