Challenges faced by women participating in politics and decision making in South Africa
South Africa women participating in politics undergo several challenges which can serve as a discouraging factor against the full participation of women in politics and decision making. Some of these challenges are enlisted below.
Violence and killings
Studies have shown that politics are often associated with violence and killings. Politics is also believed to be a dirty game which is accompanied by persecution, intimidation, conflict, and torture. Although both genders are victims of this, but women are more vulnerable. Violence against women is used as a destructive tool targeted at women participating in politics and during election period so as to discourage them from participating as election administrators, voters, and candidates. This is one of the problems which serve as a stumbling block hindering the full participation of women in the political process and in governance. This has created fear and discouragement in the heart of many women. Increased responsibilities
The limited participation of women in politics and decision making can be attributed to the great responsibilities associated with domestic, reproduction, giving attention to their family and heavy workloads in their place of work. The role women play in the home and the society at large are too numerous, coupled with the responsibilities associated with politics. Most of the women are breadwinners in their family and at the same time, they have to perform their duties as a mother, wife, full time worker and politician. They have to map out time for meetings out of their busy schedule. This can affect their effectiveness and participation.
Lack of funds
Most women lack the financial resources needed to fully participate in politics, leadership roles and decision-making. The government and NGO’s can help a great deal by supporting women in order to encourage them and increase their effectiveness in politics.
Most women in politics often face discrimination from men. Men believe women are not competent in decision making and as such should not be allowed to lead key positions and leadership post. They find themselves at every socio-political level under-represented in parliament and exempted from decision-making. In view of this, men participating in politics must be made to understand women has equal right as they do and therefore must be treated with respect and allowed to take part in decision making.
How do we strengthen women’s political participation and decision making in South Africa
The cost of campaigning is very high and lack of financial resources can limit full participation of women. Financial support from the government can go a long way to support women in politics. This will serve as an encouragement and motivation for them.
Support for women policymakers
There must be support for women legislators engaging in politics and policy making. Some of the women who scuttle through the rigor of politics to become law makers are the people who will represent their fellow women in policy making. They are expected to sponsor bills that can stop violence against women and also encourage women participation in politics. Such bills are expected to be supported by well-meaning legislators most especially the male counterparts.
Conducting leadership and gender awareness training
Leadership training and awareness programmes on gender inequality should be conducted to sensitise and train women on the need for their full participation in politics and their involvement in leadership positions. Conducting an assessment of the level of gender equality operating within the party, with the aim of identifying, and eliminating totally any practices or rules that may undermine women. Also, women’s NGOs should hold seminars aimed at sensitising men in decision-making bodies on gender issues.
Political empowerment strategy for women
Training must be conducted for women candidates in skills such as fundraising, media relations, message development and communication with voters. There is also a need for educating women on how the political mechanism work and how they can get into political decision-making positions.
Political parties should help promote genuine political participation of women in politics by involving and appointing more women in their political structures. There must also be changes in attitude and perceptions over women’s participation in politics. In addition to this, engaging women’s representatives in top positions in the parties which have been held by males over the years can also help encourage women participation in politics. By so doing, political parties can consolidate efforts towards breaking the current indifference. If possible nomination forms for women who intend to participate in any electoral positions should be made free to serve as encouragement for those who are not financially buoyant.
Women candidates for elected positions
Increasing the number of women candidates for elected positions can increase the flow of public funding to the party. If public finance laws can tie funding allocations to parties to the proportion of women candidates nominated. This will help political parties generate sufficient funds and also attract the support of other parties.
Access to quality education
Low level of literacy and lack of quality education is also a limiting factor against the active participation of women in politics. Women must have access to good and quality education in order to be self-confident and do not feel intimidated by the male counterpart. Promoting and establishing cooperative relationship with relevant branches of government, centres for women’s studies, research and educational institutes, private sector, the media, NGOs and all other sectors in civil society can go a long way to enlighten the women.
South Africa has made remarkable progress, being one of the most gender-diverse parliaments in the world, ranking number three in Africa and tenth globally. However, there is still more work to be done in achieving gender equality and ensuring women’s equal participation in politics and decision-making.
Dr. Lizzy Oluwatoyin Ofusori is a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Management, IT and Public Governance, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban. She writes in her personal capacity.