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SA's 2009 election to see 50% women representation

by Shaun Benton
on 14 Apr 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

The next election in South Africa may see women reach a critical mass of 50 percent representation in parliament, says Deputy Speaker Gwen Mahlangu.

Saying South Africa "might be bragging a little bit", she added on Sunday that the ruling party has made a commitment to ensure that women were treated equally.

She further pointing out that Rwanda now led the world in terms of representation of women in politics.

Ms Mahlangu was speaking at a press conference hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which is holding its 118th gathering of Members of Parliament from around 140 countries at the International Convention Centre in Cape Town.

She was joined at the press conference where the results of an IPU survey on Equality in Politics was released by IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson, a Swedish MP, who said that the average representation of women by all the IPU's members stood only at about 18 percent.

Ms Mahlangu said at a briefing on the IPU last week that the IPU, which was founded in 1889, had a strong reputation for the accuracy and depth of its surveys and studies of parliaments around the world.

Mr Johnsson added that the IPU was aware that women brought something "unique" to politics, and that by virtue of being women, they tended to bring a stronger focus on social issues, as well as issues of overall equality.

In candid remarks, Mr Johnsson said: "If you want a parliament that serves the interests of the people, you are better off having lots of women [represented]."

Ms Mahlangu underscored these remarks by adding that women "take along the family all the time - women think about the family, children".

This considered, Mr Johnsson pointed out, however, that the realisation in many of the democracies of the world of the important role women had also raised the constraints they faced.

Such constraints were often relatively simple issues, such as meeting times - when women had commitments to care for children - as well as lack of childcare facilities in parliaments and other logistical hurdles they faced because of the often dual role in caring for children and families while also working.

Another observation found by the IPU survey, he said, was that the type of language used in parliaments often was "less confrontational" the more women were represented, and this resulted in a tendency "to reach more of an understanding on the issues" under debate.

At the same time, male MPs tended to prefer the seemingly more glamorous portfolios of foreign affairs, finance and defence, while women brought sense of community to social issues.

However, Ms Mahlangu pointed out that because of the existence of the Women's Caucus on South Africa's parliament, women MPs were able to touch on - and effect to some degree - virtually all legislation being passed by the House, including the so-called traditionally male areas of defence, finance and others.

At the same time, Ms Mahlangu insisted that women's issues were not about exclusivity, and that men were continually encouraged to participate in discussions on gender.

This was true not only of parliament in South Africa but in wider society, where she added that the almost 1 000 items of legislation passed since 1994 that had some relation to gender would have less effect on men unless men participated more actively in their implementation. - BuaNews

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