Gender equity is a right

Kubi Rama

Kubi Rama

A conversation with my 12-year-old daughter triggered a series of very uneasy questions that have preoccupied my mind ever since.

The conversation revolved around the idea that Jacob Zuma would be the country's next president. Her concern was that he has not treated women very well. Her evidence was the rape trial and the way Zuma's supporters vilified the woman concerned. This future voter was clearly not impressed!

It got me thinking, not as a gender activist, but as a woman voter. I want to vote, yet looking at the options available, I ask myself what the contesting parties have to offer me.

The entrenched inequality between the sexes is a leading cause of very high levels of gender violence, women's increasing poverty and lack of access to resources and services. As such, gender equality is central to addressing the needs of the country as a whole.

This is not to say that gender equality has a single, straightforward solution. Thenjiwe Mtintso, South Africa's ambassador to Cuba and a board member of Gender Links, recently highlighted how very different women's needs are.

Mtintso said that some women are fighting to get out of the kitchen and into the workplace while others are still fighting for kitchens, along with water, education, housing, and other necessities.

So, how will parties help women get out of the kitchen, or get their kitchens?

Last year SADC leaders signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which among other provisions commits SADC states to 50percent representation of women at all levels of decision-making by 2015.

Given the very small increases (3 percent between the last three elections), parties must make substantial gains in this year's elections to meet this goal.

The ANC raised their quota from 30 to 50percent for the upcoming polls. But none of the other parties have quotas and voluntary party quotas mean that if the support of that party declines, the representation of women also drops.

There have been two important developments since the last election. First, Helen Zille became DA leader. It will be interesting to see if Zille pushes the gender agenda. The other major development was the launch of Cope, which has 50percent women represented in its national executive committee.

The challenge for all parties is to ensure that their lists include substantial numbers of women appearing high up on their lists. In addition, they should demonstrate a clear strategy to meet the 2015 goal of 50/50 representation.

l Rama is the deputy director of Gender Links.