The widely publicised American presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump causes me to question the lucidity of the voter pool.
The controversial, misogynist Trump can be likened to a babbling dunce sitting in the corner spurting discriminatory hogwash. Phrases he has actually spewed out include:
“Ariana Huffington [the American author and syndicated columnist] is unattractive, both inside and out.
“I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
And then there was this crassest of nuggets.
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
How is it possible that a man with such archaic and offensive views is able to generate the support of such large numbers of American voters?
What does it say about the country’s collective view in respect of the rights of all people – including the right of women to play a role in society far beyond their physical attributes, their right to dignity in all its manifestations and the right to have representative government of their choice? Indeed, what does it say about that voter pool?
Domestically, my concerns are exacerbated with the impending local government elections.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women are hot phrases which easily slip from the tongues of politicians who wish to coax us into voting for them.
But what impact will we see from these platitudes after elections have come and gone?
The local government sector is governed by the Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998, which specifies that a party’s candidate list must contain gender parity as per section 11(3).
“Every party must seek to ensure that 50% of the candidates on the party list are women and that women and men candidates are evenly distributed through the list.”
Despite inclusion of this provision, there is no associated sanction or penalty which can be imposed on parties that do not comply with the legislative prescript.
In essence, it’s merely a directive, a resoundingly empty threat – there is no looming wallop for non-compliance.
The cliché of “water flows downwards” rings true in the political pool, as without women being represented in such echelons, gender transformation and women emancipation will always remain utopian ideas, far removed from the daily lived reality in our society.
This is aggravated by women who despite forming the majority of voters do not vote for women but rather men. Many may frown on this notion as it seems self-evident that the way one votes should not be based on one’s own or the gender of the candidate one supports?
But perhaps that explains how Donald Trump in the United States has emerged triumphant as the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidential elections.
In South Africa, the right to vote is a constitutional right afforded to all regardless of one’s gender.
This right is further delineated in the Electoral Act No 73 of 1998 which states that every registered party and candidate must facilitate the full participation of women in political activities and take all reasonable steps to ensure that women are free to engage in political activities.
The Electoral Act has come under criticism for not including specific quotas to be fulfilled.
Renowned academic Professor Louise Vincent stressed the importance of quotas in the political system as “public demonstration of a society’s commitment to equality.
“They place women in positions of power and this makes other women feel that they have role models, that they are not excluded, that the political process is legitimate.”
This view is not wholeheartedly supported and, in some circles, might elicit quite violent opposition.
What cannot be debated is that the local government sphere lags in terms of its reflection of South Africa’s national commitments to gender equality and various international instruments which may be used to assess such equality.
In its report on “Gender in the 2011 South African Local Government Elections” Gender Link notes a decline in women’s representation in local government elections.
The analysis shows that women constituted 38% of councillors following the 2011 elections, down from 40% in 2006.
It is not yet possible to see if this trend will continue into the upcoming local government elections, as the Independent Electoral Commission’s website does not yet provide the full party lists for the August 3 poll.
We should all take a keen interest in which parties have complied with the country’s laws to ensure that the local government sector shows gender equity.
And then – we must be alert to the number of women candidates who are voted into leadership positions within local authorities.
It might still be possible for our relatively young democratic state to show a mature democracy like the United States how women’s rights can be asserted, even if we never convince the misogynist Trump to change his outdated views.
Kerry Oosthuysen is a lawyer in the Eastern Cape provincial office of the Commission for Gender Equality. She writes in her personal capacity.