Sky is limit for women under ANC

Mbuyiselo Botha

The ANC should be congratulated for the bold, innovative and historic decision of appointing four women as premiers. The same can be said about the high proportion of women in Cabinet, Parliament and provincial legislatures.

There is no other way of dealing decisively with the debilitating effects of patriarchy in our society than empowering and affirming women in public office. This can, and will, go a long way towards creating an environment for girl children, who for many decades have been told a lie that leadership is the sole preserve of men, to see and embrace the possibilities that our democracy and our country offer.

Young, talented women will realise that the sky is the limit. They will be inspired to move beyond the so-called women professions. This decision is significant as it comes at a time when the ANC is about to celebrate its centenary. It would have been a travesty for a 100-year-old political organisation to mark its centennial without any demonstrable commitment to total women emancipation.

The ANC has acknowledged that it has not always covered itself in glory when it comes to women leadership. Until a few years ago, its ranks have reflected a low proportion and visibility of women in its national leadership - a pattern that continues in its provincial leadership. There is not a single woman provincial chairperson. Unless the ANC, as the ruling party, had taken the decision to mainstream women in politics, women's insignificant representation or absence in national and provincial legislatures would have largely remained a permanent feature. That it recently chose not to deploy for premiership some of its male chairmen, but appointed women, speaks volumes about its commitment to gender equality.

Let us not fool ourselves here that these achievements would have been possible without the women's league being vocal and debating, inside and outside the party, subjects concerning women. Latter day analysis of the women's league claims, quite wrongly, that it has become weak. The subtext of this view is that whatever is being achieved for the women's cause,in the ANC and public office, is happening solely because of the kindness of male comrades.

I find this an affront to women in the ANC and even more insulting when it comes from gender activists. Judging by the urgency the party has shown on this matter, the league is alive, vibrant and assertive. I just don't see how the generosity or change of heart by male comrades can, of itself, result in four out of eight premiers being appointed and the number of female cabinet ministers increased to 14.

It should also not be lost that the pace of women main-streaming in politics has increased under the Jacob Zuma presidency. Zuma has already signalled his seriousness about women leadership and has, for now, proved that he is not the misogynist some have projected him to be. Like his comrades before him, he may well prove that the fears of some in the gender movement, myself included, are misplaced.

l Botha, a gender activist at Sonke Gender Justice Network, writes in his personal capacity