/ 6 May 2019

Women have the power to swing the 2019 election

Parties will have to do more to canvass the women’s vote and should show that they are committed to realistic platforms in their manifestos.
Parties will have to do more to canvass the women’s vote and should show that they are committed to realistic platforms in their manifestos. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)


It remains a mystery why political parties do not canvass the women’s vote when women can swing an election in South Africa. There are over two-million more women (14.7-million) voters registered for the election than men (12-million). If most women voted collectively for one party they could determine the outcome of an election. Yet parties do not campaign on platforms that will appeal to women.

Party manifestos are normally a good indicator of what parties can offer women. This is the first election in which gender-based violence features strongly in the manifestos of the ANC, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters.

The ANC calls for better police training, stricter bail conditions and longer sentences as well as the upscaling of the Thuthuzela care centres (one-stop centres for reporting of gender-based violence) at police stations. The DA wants better compliance with law and a national council on gender-based violence. The EFF links structural violence to gender-based violence and believes that violence will decrease if poverty is decreased. The party says it will also establish a whistle-blowing mechanism for reporting sexual harassment. But most of these measures will deal with violence only after it has happened.

Although gender-based violence measures may sound good on paper we need to assess the commitment of parties to deal with gender-based violence in reality.

In the recent past the ANC had to deal with the transgressions of a deputy minister, Mduduzi Manana, who beat up two women in a nightclub. It took months for him to vacate his position.

More recently, Zizi Kodwa and Pule Mabe of the ANC were accused of sexual harassment. It is astounding that the ruling party that has to implement legislation to curb sexual harassment does not have an internal policy on it.

Members of the EFF, who were dismayed at a WhatsApp message by journalist Karima Brown, asked for her to be raped and skinned alive. Where was the outcry over this misogyny of the EFF by its leaders or other parties? The silence was deafening.

The EFF is the only party that has mainstreamed gender in their manifesto. Women are referred to throughout the manifesto; for example, women (and youth) should get 50% of jobs in more than 20 sectors, such as mining, bank management and artificial intelligence. Although this may be laudable, the EFF is certainly aware that these promises are not implementable, given South Africa’s economic conditions, while dangerously escalating expectations. Is this a ploy by the EFF to get the women’s vote?

The electoral system is instrumental in getting women in through the closed list. The only party that has a voluntary quota of 50% is the ANC. No other party has accepted a quota — the DA, for example, believes that women should get in on merit, but the quota has shown that male dominance in representation can only be broken through the use of quotas.

Earlier on in our democracy, the ANC made a commitment to use a zebra list (every second name on the list should be that of a woman), yet it has now abandoned that commitment, with only one woman (Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma) in the top six, with clusters of women lower down. The list clearly shows that gender equality has been sacrificed for the sake of a compromise between the Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa factions. The DA has five women in the top 20, whereas the EFF, commendably, has a zebra list from number four onward.

There is one party — the Women Forward Party — that is contesting the election on a gender platform. Although it is important that there is a party campaigning for women, it does not seem to have a feminist agenda. Women are described in its manifesto as nurturing and caring and less competitive. In this way it essentialises women as caregivers rather than political leaders. The leader of the party, Nana Ngobese-Nxumalo, veered from this nurturing idea of women to call for serial rapists to be castrated — the most radical suggestion for dealing with sexual violence of all parties! Only two other parties have women leaders — the National Freedom Party (Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi) and the Good Party (Patricia de Lille). This still reinforces the idea that politics are for men.

Parties will have to do more to canvass the women’s vote and should show that they are committed to realistic platforms in their manifestos.

The question that needs to be asked is: Why don’t women hold parties accountable for delivery on women’s needs? Women can “punish” the bigger parties by voting for smaller parties that are more gender-friendly. The problem is that no party really makes gender issues a core campaign element.

Professor Amanda Gouws hold a SARChI chair in gender politics in the department of political science at Stellenbosch University. Her research areas are women’s representation, voting behaviour, women and citizenship, and gender-based violence