2021 Local Elections


South Africa’s political parties do little to manifest gender equality in their 2021 manifestos

It is only when our mindset as society becomes reformed to fully embrace gender equality in all spheres of our lives that things will begin to change. (Photo: news.miami.edu/Wikipedia)

It’s fair to say that representative equality (equal numbers of all genders on a party list) can’t tell you much about whether a party will govern in a substantively equal way when in office (whether they will act in a way that promotes lived gender equality for the citizens in the areas they govern).

As the previous two articles in this series on gender in the local government elections highlighted, South Africa is falling behind in gender representation at the local government level and has not gone far enough to promote LGBTQI+ inclusion and participation in elections. Now that candidate lists and manifestos are (mostly) out, there is room for us to consider whether things will be any better in the next five years.

What promises have been made for gender equality in 2021 manifestos?

At present, it’s impossible for a lay person to assess the 2021 candidate lists released by the IEC in terms of their gender breakdown. A request to the IEC for this information has been acknowledged but the information hasn’t yet been shared with Daily Maverick. It’s also fair to say that representative equality (i.e., equal numbers of all genders on a party list) can’t tell you much about whether a party will govern in a substantively equal way when in office (i.e., whether they will act in a way that promotes lived gender equality for the citizens in the areas they govern). A better indication of their intentions is a consideration of party manifestos.

Specific and detailed commitments to women and LGBTQI+ persons can give us some indication that parties have a gender agenda to begin with, and that parties understand that women and LGBTQI+ persons have specific needs, require targeted programmes, and can’t just be lumped together as “vulnerable groups” because this latter approach risks reinforcing existing inequalities between the marginalised. An intersectional approach is key.

Sadly, reading through these manifestos leaves one feeling a bit disheartened about parties’ vision for a gender equitable future that is inclusive. Women and LGBTQI+ groups are frequently conceptualised only as victims of crime, or as segments of “the vulnerable” and, far more rarely, as important stakeholders in the development of the country.

  • ANC – the party will ‘defeat the toxic culture of patriarchy’

In its commitment to choosing the best people to run municipalities, the ANC also commits to encourage and build capacity for gender-sensitive and gender-responsive budgeting, and to prioritise disability as a cross-cutting issue. Important to note is that, as the ruling party, the ANC introduced a framework on Gender-Responsive Budgeting, Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Auditing in 2018 (which the national Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities is supposed to lead). The department’s report on progress on this to Parliament in October 2020 still included a lot of “aims to” and “will do”, but it does seem that there has been buy-in from Treasury on this commitment.

To fight corruption and end wastage, they commit to overhauling government procurement to make it transparent and free of corruption and to use it more effectively to promote the development of black- and women-owned businesses and cooperatives. In 2020 President Ramaphosa committed the government to 40% procurement from women-owned businesses (with no data available on the current context or how it would measure this allocation) – a call that was rejected by the DA. 

To build safer communities and unite communities, the ANC manifesto commits to revitalising arts and culture facilities and creating opportunities in these sectors, especially for women and youth. It also plans to revitalise safety committees that can accompany women and children when walking from one area to another. 

The ANC manifesto includes a focus on GBV and ending violence against women and asserts that it will “defeat the toxic culture of patriarchy”. It commits to making sure homes, public spaces and places of work are safer for women and children, to dealing with the root causes of gender disempowerment and GBV and moving with speed to implement “the three pieces of gender-based violence legislation” and the ILO convention on sexual harassment in the workplace. It also commits to “discourage and act to tackle” hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community. Finally, it commits to ensuring that programmes of infrastructure development, basic services, housing and local economic development address the specific needs of women, people with disabilities, the elderly and children.

This sounds great, but an assessment of these commitments suggests we remain sceptical. We know that economic gender inequality drives gender inequality and disempowerment, yet the ANC does not mention women in the manifesto section on jobs, education or training for young people. 

The ANC’s commitment to implementing three pieces of legislation on GBV doesn’t mention which three laws it means. One can hazard a guess that this refers to the three GBV bills passed in 2020, but given that we have many pieces of GBV legislation (Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act, Prevention and Combating of Trafficking Act, the Protection from Harassment Act, among others) and most of these are (poorly) implemented at national and provincial level, this is a vague commitment.

Of interest too is the commitment to working with the “multi-sectoral coordinating structure inclusive of all key stakeholders that has been created to deal with the plague of GBV in our society”. Although SA’s National Strategic Plan on GBV and Femicide commits to setting up a National Council on GBV, the Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities issued a government notice that she “intends introducing the National Council on Gender Based Violence and Femicide Bill, 2021 to parliament in the current financial year” this structure has not yet been set up – three years after the GBV Summit. So, the words “has been created” are optimistic at best, dishonest at worst.

The same can be said about the commitment to tackling hate crimes. 

The Department of Justice said this June that it had no means of pushing to expedite the passing of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, first introduced in 2018. The Bill lapsed in 2019 and was revived by the National Assembly this year. How your ANC local government councillor plans to change this is worth asking. Of course, a law doesn’t often prevent crime, so the ANC’s commitment to discourage and act to tackle hate crimes remains important, regardless of the legislative status. A few details would be nice.

Finally, the ANC commits to building a non-sexist society committed to gender equality and gender parity in representation at a community level, and to the appreciation of the role women play in society and communities. It again reiterates the commitment to ensuring that infrastructure, basic services, housing and local economic development address the specific needs of women, people with disabilities, the elderly and children.

So, the overall assessment is that the ANC’s local government election manifesto at least attempts to consider gender equality, at times with vagueness and at others with overreach.

  • DA – Gender not even on the agenda

The DA, in contrast, does neither. In fact, the DA’s manifesto does not include any mention of women or LGBTQI+ persons or any commitments to promote gender equality or non-sexism. Enough said.

  • EFF – ‘Prioritising women when it comes to the benefits of economic emancipation’

Although the manifesto mentions that the EFF held consultations with LGBTQI+ people to develop it, there are no explicit commitments focussed on LGBTQI+ people. The EFF manifesto however does include a focus on economic equality for women and ending GBV.

In terms of economics, the EFF commits to supporting women in the land and agrarian economy by building a fresh produce market for small-scale food producers in every municipality with a minimum of 50% access by women and the youth. Given that an estimated 70% of South African households normally obtain their food from informal markets, this promotion of women-owned businesses could have many positive benefits for the women who trade there, as well as for the communities that access food from these markets. Strangely, however, the EFF’s broader commitments focussed on the economy do not mention gender or targets for women.

The EFF also commits to lobbying to increase the value of social grants and to ensure that households that depend on social grants (the vast majority of which are female headed) will qualify for free basic services. With over nine million women in South Africa receiving a social grant, this is an important commitment to improving the lives of women. Similarly, the commitment to establish early childhood development centres in every EFF municipality will be important for women seeking work, as the absence of affordable childcare continues to hinder women’s re-entry into the labour force since the first Covid lockdown.

The EFF manifesto includes a dedicated section on gender and women, with commitments to ensuring 50% representation of women in all spheres of the municipality; and to establishing a special unit to monitor, report on and enforce gender parity and equality in all economic matters within municipalities.

The EFF plans to introduce a whistle-blowing mechanism for reporting workplace sexual harassment, including sex-for-jobs schemes and other GBV at the workplace. Sexual harassment is already defined as a form of unfair discrimination in the Employment Equity Act, and in 2020 the Department of Employment and Labour introduced a draft code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work for public comment, which includes a whistle-blowing mechanism. It’s not clear how the EFF’s mechanism would interact with this. 

The EFF commits to not hiring and not doing business with anyone who has been found guilty of GBV or child abuse. It also commits to developing enforcement strategies to deal with GBV and drug abuse in each municipality and to building shelters for victims of GBV and child abuse. Given that few cases of GBV ever result in a conviction or guilty verdict, this will only eliminate a small number of perpetrators from doing business with the EFF. However, it’s positive that the manifesto states that ‘No EFF councillor will abuse women or children’. Though one would hope this would be implied, it provides a good mechanism for removing accused councillors from positions of power pending investigation.

The EFF also commits to building shelters for victims of GBV and child abuse, and to distributing free sanitary towels – two issues that have garnered much public attention in recent years, and where action is much needed.

  • FF+ – Gender equality initiatives may be antithetical to their agenda

The FF+ 2021 LGE manifesto did not include any mention of women or LGBTQI+ persons or any commitments to promote gender equality or non-sexism. In fact, their manifesto proposes an end to affirmative action, suggesting that everyone should just be treated the same when it comes to jobs. This clearly ignores the fact that the majority of the unemployed are black, and female.

  • GOOD – gender as part of social justice

GOOD’s manifesto commits the party to social justice, to ensuring the equitable treatment of all people and to ending gender bias and unfair privilege. It doesn’t specifically mention LGBTQI+ persons.

The manifesto states that social justice should include fair and equal pay for equal work. Given that a gender pay gap persists at all levels of the South African economy and that recent research suggests sexual orientation remains a contributing factor to unequal pay, this is an important commitment. Like the EFF, GOOD commits to “delivering” enough shelters and safe spaces for women and children. How they measure “enough” is unclear, as is what it means to “deliver” them.

  • IFP – ‘Your partner in protecting the vulnerable and empowering women’

The IFP manifesto only makes mention of LGBTQI+ persons with respect to prioritising their safety and “plight” (alongside the safety and plight of women and children), through dedicated funding for the provision of resources for crime prevention and victim support. 

The IFP and their women’s brigade pledge to “raise their voices in defence and support of the voiceless” and to protect the survivors of GBV. However, the diagnosis of how this can best be done is problematic. They plan to fight GBV by strengthening law enforcement to protect the vulnerable – something that many parties (and politicians and budget makers) seem to think will end GBV. However, the reality as we know it, is that most people who are a victim of GBV suffer this violence at the hands of their current, former or rejected intimate partner – and law enforcement will do little to change that.

In terms of economic support for gender equality, the IFP manifesto commits the party to ensuring that women are empowered (alongside other target groups) with skills development programmes, bursaries, resources and training to create self-help and self-reliance, and by supporting women-led subsistence farmers, developing cooperatives and assisting emerging farmers. Recent research from the Commission for Gender Equality suggests that skills development training is sorely needed for women entrepreneurs and small business owners, as is connecting them with markets, so it is positive that this is the IFP’s position. Like the EFF, the IFP also commits to prioritising sanitary dignity for indigent school girls. MC


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