Gender parity in Cabinet does not guarantee progress for women — activists

In his announcement of South Africa’s national executive on Thursday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the centrality of gender parity on the national agenda. “For the first time in the history of our country, half of all ministers are women,” he said.

With women occupying 13 of the 28 ministerial posts, they form exactly 46% of those in charge of the country. Of the 38 deputy ministers, 16 are women.

According to UN Women’s statistics from November 2018, only 3 countries have 50% or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3%, Cuba with 53.2% and Bolivia with 53.1%.

“The representation of women in cabinet is a good move and a step in the right direction direction, but the conversation cannot end at representation,” political analyst Tasneem Essop told the Mail & Guardian. “We must talk about other deep and structural issues in relation to the centring of women and gender in the work that government does.”

Despite the appointments, women’s rights organisation Gender Links says that Ramaphosa missed out on making a decision which would have been a game-changer: appointing a woman as a deputy-president. “This would have brought us that much closer to a woman president, a dream that remains elusive, 25 years since the advent of democracy,” says Gender Links CEO Colleen Lowe Morna.


Several names of potential women deputy president candidates were touted on social media ahead of the cabinet announcement. These included Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (now Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs), Lindiwe Sisulu (now Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation) and Naledi Pandor (now Minister of International Relations and Cooperation). “It is heartening to have these senior women in cabinet, many in non-traditional areas,” noted Lowe-Morna. “It would have been great to have one of them closer to the top!”

Gender Links also welcomed the change of Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities from head of the ANC Women’s League Bathabile Dlamini to Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. “This crucial portfolio required renewal,” says Lowe-Morna. “Although Nkoana-Mashabane is not well-known in gender circles, she is a seasoned and senior minister.”

Newly sworn-in member of the Gauteng legislature Fasiha Hassan — the youngest MPL — says that the gender parity in the national executive makes her very happy. “As a young woman, it gives me a sense of hope in the fight against patriarchy, which is rife in the political space. And we shouldn’t celebrate it. It needs to the norm — we should celebrate when we get to 60-40 or 70-30 in the coming years.”

Hassan puts the representation down to two reasons: the ANC Women’s League’s internal pushes for further representation, and an overall progressive administration.

For Essop, the government now needs to demonstrate that leadership will be more than face-value. “Representation can and does assist in doing this to some regard, but it is fundamental that government represents progressive stances on issues impacting women in all the work that they do,” she says. “Also keep in mind that women are not a homogenous group and that simply having women represented does not mean that they will necessarily have the same view on many issues, nor is it automatic that they will take a particular position simply because they are women.” Gender activist Koketso Moeti also emphasises this point; “the idea that just you are of a particular group does not mean you have that group’s interests at heart,” she says.

Moeti cautioned against falling into the trap of holding women to account differently to the way that men are held to account. “We should not look at failure from the perspective that its a woman,” she says. “Women’s leadership is key, but it can also be desperately undermined,” says gender activist Koketso Moeti.

Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka wrote in 2018:“Democracy is not democratic without equality, and while women in politics experience violence and intimidation.”

The full list of women ministers:

Minister of Basic Education isAngie Motshekga.

Minister of Communications isStella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) isNkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans is Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries is Barbara Creecy.

Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation is Lindiwe Sisulu.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is Naledi Pandor.

Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities is Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

The Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure is Patricia de Lille.

Minister of Small Business Development is Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

Minister of Social Development is Lindiwe Zulu.

Minister of State Security is Ayanda Dlodlo.

Minister of Tourism is Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane.

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Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel was previously a member of the M&G’s online team. She holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand

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