ANC has a gender issue

… but to talk about it might upset our new president warns Lindiwe Mazibuko*

The article by Jackie May (The Times, May 18 2009) shows why women remain so oppressed in our society. May implies that we should respect the taboos that prevent women from criticising the sexual examples set by male leaders — despite the fact that this behaviour establishes the social norms that underlie female subjugation.

If polite rules of debate prevent us from making this point, what points are worth making in the debate on how we liberate South African women? This debate should be driven by truth, not taboos.

Let us be clear about what some of the root causes of female oppression in our society are.

The belief still held by many men that unprotected sexual encounters with multiple partners is their right;

The failure of many men to take responsibility for the children who result from their behaviour in this regard;

The extent to which these sexual encounters drive the spread of HIV-Aids — and why it is women who carry the burden of this disease; and

The violence against women which results from failed relationships.

People with HIV-Aids are often told to speak openly about it. We break the stigma by breaking the silence. But clearly it is still taboo to talk about how it is spread. The only issue we debate is the right to free treatment — not the responsibility of every individual to stop the spread of HIV-Aids.

Commentators were critical of Thabo Mbeki’ s denial around the HIV-Aids crisis. But it seems that denial is resurfacing, this time because breaking the silence could imply criticism of President Jacob Zuma who, since his inauguration, seems to be walking on water.

How else do we explain the bizarre ironies of the past few days?

The first irony: a party whose leader has questionable credentials when it comes to gender issues, and which has never been led by a woman in all the 90 years of its existence (the ANC), has attacked the gender composition of a cabinet established by the only two major political parties in South Africa led by women (the DA and the ID).

The second irony: that a state entity, the Gender Commission, has launched a high-level campaign against the Western Cape provincial cabinet but has remained silent on the overtly threatening and sexist remarks of the ANC Youth League and the MK Veterans’ Association against the Western Cape premier.

The third irony: that the most vociferous attacks on the gender composition of the DA and ID provincial cabinet have been from Cosatu, which is almost entirely led by men . Indeed, many of its affiliates, such as the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union, have almost all-women memberships but are nevertheless led by men.

As was the case in Cape Town when the DA took office in 2006, this assault by the ANC and its alliance partners will probably be the first of many more attempts to discredit, de-legitimise and undermine the new administration.

Be that as it may, we will not shy away from the question raised by the media as to why Zille’s new cabinet is made up of 10 men and led by one woman:

Of the five women elected on the DA ticket in Western Cape, (from a 22-member caucus), one became premier, another became chief whip (Alta Rossouw) and the other three became portfolio committee chairwomen (Jenny Hartnick, Cathleen Labuschagne and Anroux Marais).

During the DA’s candidate-selection process, most of the senior women leaders in the party’s Western Cape region decided to stand for the national instead of the provincial parliament.

Given the fact that the DA holds democratic election processes, and does not practise “cadre deployment”, it was not for any of the other leaders of the party to force our women candidates to stand for provincial parliament.

For those people and organisations that are genuinely interested in the challenges facing women in South Africa , the proof of the DA Cabinet should be in its performance.

This Cabinet should be judged both during and at the end of its term of office, not at the beginning. Judging people before giving them a chance to prove themselves is the exact definition of the word “prejudice”.

In Western Cape, the DA will address the real gender issues by improving access to opportunities for girls and women through better education and improved health care, and through policing and infrastructure investment.

We will not lose sight of the real gender issues in South Africa by getting bogged down in discussions about gender tokenism. In government, we can only deal with discrimination against women by getting the basics right, not through window-dressing.

This week’s furore is just the start of the ANC’s efforts to make this province “ungovernable” .

We will not allow this to distract us from the task at hand. In just over a week the premier will set out her plans for the year ahead in her state-of-the-province address, and we will move forward from there, no matter how much mud is flung in our direction.

* Lindiwe Mazibuko is the DA’s spokeswoman

See also:

Julius Malema’s comments on President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser have contributed to the “culture of silence and shame” attached to being a victim of sexual violence – and are very likely to result in the under-reporting of rape cases. This is according to gender activist Lisa Vetten, a key witness in the upcoming Johannesburg Equality Court hearing on Malema’s controversial suggestions that Zuma’s rape accuser “enjoyed herself”.


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