Most countries, including South Africa, accept the right of women to participate in government at all levels. However, local government it is argued is the political coalface at which a country’s citizens can make their voices and concerns heard most clearly and powerfully. For women and other sectors, it theoretically offers a platform most contiguous to their Communities, for participation in structures and processes in which they can raise women’s specific, generally overlooked concerns, needs and interests. More importantly, it is a place at which they can, as citizens, positively influence decisions around these, based on women’s insights and wisdom.

The latest round of South Africa’s local government elections took place in Women’s Month, on the 3 August 2016. If nothing else, the herstorical significance of this month should have jolted even the most hidebound of gender-blind politicians and political parties, to the possibilities of garnering the ‘women vote’. However, it is patriarchal concerns around political party dominance, power and influence that have loomed large in the agendas of political parties and the media both before and after the local government elections.

This continues in the current male-dominated negotiations around “coalitions” in which no party is substantially talking about a clear agenda for service delivery. Women’s concerns here are, amongst others, access to decent housing, basic services such as water and sanitation, land, efficient health services, protection against violence against women, support for care work, etc. These and important questions around women’s representation and participation and the meaning of this for democracy, have been largely a non-item in the mainstream media, signifying the industry’s bias as to what constitutes “news”. They reflect political parties’ lack of specific focus on issues that impact on South African women who constitute over half of South Africa’s population (51.3% in 2011) – an indictment indeed of our political parties’ commitment to gender equity.

It is the research of women’s organisations such as Gender Links (who rated political parties’ gender awareness on the basis of their political manifestos) and institutional women’s focus groups which present important issues around women and the 2016 local government elections. Some of these, which this Dialogue hopes to address include:

* Political parties have generally failed to mainstream gendered concerns in their manifestos.
* While some parties fielded more women candidates than others, and women were slightly higher up in their PR lists, overall there were fewer women candidates.
* Political parties are not committed to gender equality despite the 2015 commitment to 50/50 representation of men and women in political parties.
* The local government elections were highly politicised and violent; in some areas women candidates too, were murder victims. What impact will this have on their future participation?
* Despite the national increase in the representation of women at local government level, they remain a minority in their local government areas, with the ratios between men and women in local government not matching such ratios in provincial populations.
* Women themselves entrench patriarchy in their parties eg they vote men into senior administrative and management positions while they “choose” to be clerks or workers at lower administrative levels.

How do women begin to dismantle patriarchal institutions such as local government to enable them to be the egalitarian spaces they should be, especially for women? What message have the 2016 local government elections sent out to women? Please join us and share your views at our Feminist Dialogue “The 2016 local government elections – a Game of Patriarchs?”

Venue: The Well – Diakonia Centre –20 Diakonia Ave, Durban, 4001
Date: 26th August 2016
Time: 10.00am to 12.30pm
Cost: None

Kindly RSVP by 25th August 2016 to admin@agenda.org.za – 0313047001