Political activity by African women dates back a long time. Present-day and historical politics show that women have had a tremendous impact on political and social issues in Africa throughout many eras and areas. For instance, in pre-colonial Africa (the Dahomey Amazons were female military corps that served as the kingdom’s defenders in the Kingdom of Dahomey [modern-day Benin]), anti-colonial movements (Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a well-known proponent of women’s rights and an anti-colonial campaigner from Nigeria); independence movements (In South Africa, Winnie Mandela was a well-known anti-apartheid campaigner who opposed racial segregation and fought for human rights). The concept of organised involvement of women in politics in particular leadership is essential to South Africa’s democracy. On a global scale, some societies discriminate against women, even in Africa.
With more women taking on leadership roles at all levels of government in recent years, South Africa’s political landscape has seen a substantial transition towards gender equality. This change has spurred discussions and arguments concerning the effect of women’s political leadership on the nation’s democracy because women activists were adaptable and effective in changing policy. This blog dives into the many facets of women’s political participation and considers how much female leadership has changed and influenced South African democracy.
Although South Africa is a “rainbow nation” i.e., has a diverse and multicultural society, the evaluation of its democratic change is evaluated from the viewpoint of black women. It is worthy of note that compared to many more advanced democracies, South Africa and Uganda have more women in politics. This observation may be due to affirmative-action policies for candidate recruitment and selection that were implemented by major political parties after pressure from its women’s wings. In Liberia (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president from 2006-2018: 1st woman to be democratically elected as a head of state in Africa), and Malawi (Joyce Banda, president 2012-2014: 2nd female head of state in Africa) women ran for the presidency and won, while in South Africa, a woman has not yet been chosen to lead. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has had four presidents, all of whom were men. Towards the end of the 1990s, women have, nonetheless, occupied important political roles in the nation, in the likes of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who held the positions of Minister of Health from 1994 to 1999 and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2009. In 2012, she also assumed the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Women in leadership positions in South Africa have helped bring about significant reforms in laws, regulations, and service delivery that have made the country’s governance more responsive to gender issues than it has ever been. This significant impact has given South African women unprecedented success in making the transition from active participation in the liberation fight to participation in administration.
The following points highlight the crucial contributions made by South African women to the development of the country’s democratic process. These points include historical turning points, policy shifts, and the experiences of women leaders.
The Fight for Gender Equality: Women were at the vanguard of the resistance and played crucial roles in opposing the cruel state throughout the apartheid era. Women’s inclusion in politics was facilitated by the important efforts of female activists like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Ruth Mompati, and Albertina Sisulu.
Legislative Framework: Advances in gender equality after the end of apartheid, South Africa began the process of constitutional change that paved the way for greater gender equality. South Africa’s constitution, implemented in 1996, stipulated the principle of gender equality and allowed women to participate fully in the political process. After that legislation, particularly the Electoral Act of 1998, enforced gender quotas, requiring that at least 50% of political part-time positions be held by women.
Policy Prioritisation: Women in political leadership have shown a commitment to advancing gender-sensitive policies, addressing issues like gender-based violence, economic empowerment, and access to education and healthcare.
A Growing Trend in Women’s Political Representation: The representation of women in politics has steadily increased since gender quotas were implemented. Gender quotas and women’s political leadership are positively correlated because of the phenomenal development of women’s participation in the South African parliament and municipal government.
Women’s Leadership: The varying perspectives of women leaders from various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic origins, along with the impact of their intersectional identities on their leadership and decision-making in government, is critical in understanding that women’s political experiences vary, and intersectionality is a significant factor in determining their goals and leadership style.
Overcoming Difficulties (Roadblocks and Obstacles): Despite substantial advancements, women in political leadership still encounter difficulties and barriers. Women’s full political participation is still hampered by patriarchal systems, cultural norms, and gender-based discrimination. The coming generations of female politicians will be strengthened as the outcome of these obstacles and its discussion of the methods used by female leaders to get through them.
The ripple effect (The Impact of Women’s Political Leadership on Society): Beyond politics, women’s leadership has made a significant contribution to society. Role models for young girls, and women in positions of leadership challenge conventional gender roles and inspire them. Their influence encourages a more democratic and kind political culture, encouraging empathy and cooperation.
In conclusion, it is impossible to overstate the influence of women in political leadership on South Africa’s democracy. Women leaders have been essential in influencing policy, prioritising gender equality, and encouraging younger generations as the country works to create a more equitable and inclusive society. Even while obstacles still exist, the advancements accomplished so far are proof of the transformative power of women’s leadership. The advancement of women in politics continues to be crucial to South Africa’s democratic process, making it crucial to keep strengthening women leaders to create a better, more just future. Women are actively participating in the discussions on how to advance gender equality in South Africa, there is room for more engagement. This active participation should be cut across all social strata because the values and attitudes of every woman differ. Electing men who support women as a political group in key parastatals and improving the recruitment of gender-conscious women candidates will help to improve women’s political involvement.
Dr. Nneka Akwu is an academician and writes in her personal capacity.