The Salga Women’s Commission must ensure that no one is left behind as it develops gender-sensitive policies in local government – this was the message from the gender equality think-tank and advocacy group Gender Links delivered at the Salga Women’s Commission summit, which was held at Emperors Palace in Ekurhuleni this month.
Mariatu Fonnah, governance and economic justice manager at Gender Links, told the summit that, while South Africa had made strides in the improvement of female representation in elected representative office, including at local government level, the country faced many challenges in making local government gender responsive, with only one political party – the ANC – applying quotas for women.
Fonnah said female empowerment was guided by the fifth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality, which have been operational for a year. The goals seek to, among other things, “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”.
They also aim to “recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate”.
Fonnah said the Salga Women’s Commission could promote the goal to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”.
The commission could also “enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communication technology, to promote the empowerment of women”.
The Sustainable Development Goals also place responsibility on bodies such as the Women’s Commission to drive Salga to “adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels”.
Figures from the Independent Electoral Commission show that women account for 14 million of the 26 million registered voters, or about 55%.
The percentage of female representation at local government level rose from 19% in 1995 to 29% in 2000, when the current local government dispensation was introduced.
Female representation increased to 40% in 2006, before dipping to 38% after the 2011 local government elections.
Things have improved slightly since last year’s polls, with female councillors now constituting 41% of all municipal councils.
Of this figure, 33% of all ward councillors are women, while 48% were elected on a proportional representation ticket.
Delegates at the summit called on Salga to commission more detailed research that would show the proportion of women who are executive mayors, mayors, speakers of council, chief whips and chairs of municipal public account committees.
Fonnah noted that only the ANC applied quotas to proportional representative and ward seats, adding that there was a need for quotas to become standard.
“In the absence of legislated quotas, the representation of women is at the whim of political parties,” she said.
Fonnah said the ANC and the United Democratic Movement mentioned women the most in their manifestos, while some parties made no mention of women in theirs.
“Most references to women are on gender-based violence and very little is said on economic empowerment and gender mainstreaming,” Fonnah said.
In a programme it runs on entrepreneurship, Gender Links found that a positive increase in monthly income from no income at all could greatly improve the social and economic condition of women.
About 74% of women who started a business and followed through with it, earning about R532 a month, had experienced less, or much less, gender-based violence.