Date: 27 May 2024

Opinion Piece By: Dibeela Mothupi


As a country we come from an era where women’s representation in law making did not exist, where women did not have a right to vote and be voted for into legislatures and law making was exclusively for men while women became secretaries in political offices. The advent of democracy came with laws which pointed towards ensuring that women also become law makers, however the representation still favours men over women. Even though the number of women heads of missions, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and MPL’s has increased, majority of political parties still do not consider equal representation of men and women on their lists during elections.


We have seen the number of women speakers and deputy speakers increase to 89% and 56 % respectively, which is a sign of commitment towards affirming women in political leadership. However the number of Premiers remains in favour of men with only two women Premiers as at the 2019 elections. Since the advent of democracy we have had nine women premiers, four served in the Free State, two in Northern Cape, One in Mpumalanga and another one in KZN, the Mpumalanga and KZN being the current serving Premiers and the Free State one having been replace with a male premier when the ruling party leadership changed in the province.


One cannot deny the fact that party leadership becomes important when deciding who becomes a premier, that seniority play a vital role in who leads in government, while not forgetting that men are the ones who are seniors in political parties in terms of hierarchy of leadership within political parties. However the seniority does not mean that women are lesser seniors in parties, but it indicates that women are not given the same consideration when determining leadership within political parties and therefore do not end up being party leaders as often as men do. It is a fact that in most political parties women make up the highest number of membership and are the ones who become volunteers and become active in fieldwork within parties, it is women who are the majority of registered voters and also vote during elections.


Some political partes side merit when asked about representation of women, while one cannot argue with political parties forwarding of nominating people on the basis of merits, one can also ask as to why is it that political parties which side merits as a criteria, do not develop and empower women to also be armed enough to qualify to be on the top of the lists of to even be represented equally with men. This argument of merits does not in itself hold water because within the same political parties there are women who are equally as educated as their male counterparts and there are women who have the same leadership qualities as their male counterparts, but are not considered. What does not make sense is for the same political parties to take women and make them secretaries within their political offices, working closely with the elected leaders or representatives, does this mean that even after working so closely with elected leaders these women are unable to acquire the skills needed for them to also be put high on the lists? Women cannot be subjected to the placebo effect, whereby their leaders claim to be standing for equality whereas it cannot a practice.


We are a patriarchal society, but we expect political parties to do more in terms of changing the mindset of the society, we expect them to show their commitment towards the women’s agenda, they cannot lead the society and be comfortable with patriarchy giving the society misdirection all because the majority of leaders are men and they stand to benefit from the system. Political parties cannot conform to gender stereotypes and also become culprits of bias and unbiased conscious, if they truly believe in equality it must start showing.



South Africa is signatory to international conventions and treaties which calls for the empowerment of women and equal representation in politics, i.e CEDAW  states that

“ State Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure full development and advancement of women for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”


“ State Parties shall take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular shall ensure to men, on equal terms with men the right; (a) vote in all elections and public referenda and be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies”


Can we therefore as South Africans not be subjected to the placebo effect as a society, where there is talk about equality whereas it is not practiced, its about time that we see a difference in all the legislatures in the country, patriarchy must fall in all its forms and this starts with those we give the responsibility to lead us as a society.

Dibeela Mothupi is the Commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality.

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