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Political Leadership and Gender Equality among Women in South Africa

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South Africa has been experiencing various changes in the number of women elected in offices and other leadership positions both in the government and other non-governmental organizations. At the beginning, the number of women in offices was very low compared to other countries like the USA but the number has since changed to make South Africa one of the countries with the highest number of women working in government positions. However, having women get into leadership positions has brought about its own challenges as has been discussed in this research paper.

Political Leadership

In South Africa, women have continually been making major strides in each and every sector of the society –technology, engineering, science, the economy, media, academia and many more. For instance, South African women have made very many incredible changes to get to where they are today. Before the year 1994 (the time when democracy was first introduced in South Africa), the representation of women in parliament was 2.7% of the whole population of legislators, a rate that was so low compared to that of other countries like the United States. However, since the introduction of democracy to South Africa in the year 1994, many changes have been experienced in the country more so in terms of a drastic increase in the number of women who have been elected in various positions in the government.

In the current government, the representation of women in the cabinet is more than 41% where as deputy ministers who are women are approximately 47% of all the deputy ministers in South Africa. On top of that, the number of women who have been either been elected or nominated in the parliament make up over 48% of all the members of parliament in that country. These percentage rates were higher than those of the United States. Before the current representation of women in leadership positions, men used to dominate by having an incredibly high presentation in the government. The government of South Africa has included the remarkable entry of women into the various positions of leadership in its “narrative of triumph”, an initiative that has over the years become globally recognized. On top of embracing the high number of women who have managed to take up the various leadership positions, the government has also come up with several policies in order to ensure that that position of women remains.

In the year 1999- during one of South Africa’s general elections- women accounted for about 29.8% of all representatives of public matters who had been elected, an act that raised the country’s ranking to make it among the top ten nations among the states with the highest women representation and also the second highest represented country in terms of women in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Whereas the situation of women rising to become that highly represented may seem like an easy task for many, it was one of the hardest journeys that the country has had to take since it gained independence especially for its female population.

In order for women to have such a high representation in the public institutions of South Africa, the first thing that they had to do was become extremely active in ensuring that they call for change, a move that led to a shift in the policies that the country had back then. It all started on the constitution that the country was coming up with through the seemingly simple but in reality difficult task of women ensuring that they had their rights well included in it. In order to become effective in doing that, women in South Africa had to convince their parties that beyond any reasonable doubt, they had the right to be included in the constitution and have their rights voiced out (Makeba, 2008). As if that was not enough, the same women were forced to appear before the entire constitutional assembly to explain to its members why it was so critical to have the rights of women well addressed and documented in the constitution to ensure that they would always be well represented and would as a result be considered for all leadership positions.

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After all the struggles that women in South Africa underwent in convincing both the members of the political parties that they supported and the constitutional assembly, the constitution was drafted in favor of women in many ways. For instance, the constitution protects many vital women’s rights some of which include the right to freedom and security of a person and protection any violence, the right to have control over person’s own body, the right to equality and the right for making decisions about reproduction. In addition to that, the constitution took into account the Women’s Charter (a document that was drawn up in the year 1954 with its main aim being to enshrine the rights of women) and adopted it under the Women’s National Coalition Campaign that happened in 1994 (Kim, et al., 2007). On top of that, the constitution has a clause that gives women the ability to bring forward a number of charters including the Women’s Charter with the main aim being to have them adopted as policies of the government. Such measures, when put into practice, make it extremely possible for women to have the much needed power in the government of South Africa and ensures that their representation in all leadership positions- both private and public- is ultimate.

In terms of the changes that took place in terms of policies, the government ensured that various organizations and departments were established in order to ensure that all those changes are put into consideration and that they were accorded all the power and resources that were required. On top of that, the presidency established an office on the Status of Women (OSW) whose main aim was to see to it that all policies concerning women at the national level were well co- ordinated and worked upon (Gouws, 2011). In the year 1997, the National Commission on Gender Equality was launched and started working immediately after with its main role being to make sure that the government and other non-governmental organizations stick to their promises that they will promote gender equality and also take the necessary steps towards promoting it.

With the increasing number of women being elected to parliament, various changes have had to be made on the building itself in order to accommodate them with the main reason being the fact that most the available facilities e.g. toilets were meant for men and some had to be converted in order to fit women’s needs. On top of that, a day care was also constructed in order to allow women who had young babies to continue with their normal activities while their children were well taken care of in the parliamentary day cares. This action was an important way of empowering women and ensuring that they were always in the parliament building working for the voters who elected them with no disturbances like children who would obviously make it hard for them to work. On top of that, many deaths were experienced during the journey through which women were fighting for their rights (Gouws, 2008). For instance, during the apartheid rule in South Africa, many men and women who tried to support the idea that women should be given enough power and also awarded seats in both government and non-governmental leadership positions were killed and others jailed.

In the current days, having women in any leadership position has become so obvious that failure to have them would seem like an unfair thing that could even lead to demonstrations. This is unlike many other countries which have a very limited representation of women in any positions of leadership. For instance, the United Nations Women (UN Women) states that the rate at which women are able to get into politics is astonishingly low compared to that of men which is high (Krook, 2006). The organization is worried about the slow pace in most other countries and claims that a lot of changes have to be seriously and powerfully implemented if at all the high level of gender inequality is going to change and have women well represented in both government and other non-government positions.

In the whole world, the number of government ministers who are women is approximated to have increased by slightly less than fifty from the year 2014 to 2015. That figure indicates that of all government ministers in the world, only 17.7% of them are women. Since the year 2005, the rate at which women are becoming ministers has been increasing by only 3.5% with only 30 countries in the world having more than 30% of the total number of government ministers as women. Worse still, it has been proven that there are some countries that have no female ministers at all, some of them being Tonga, Slovakia and Saudi Arabia. However, if all countries gave women equal chances like South Africa does, the issue of gender inequality would become extinct.


  1. Gouws, A. (2008). Obstacles for Women in Leadership Positions: The Case of South Africa. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(1), 21-27.
  2. Gouws, A. (2011). Women’s Representation in Government: Quotas, substantive equality and self-interested politicians. Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa, 77(1), 70-89.
  3. Krook, M. (2016). Gender Quotas, Norms and Politics: Politics and Gender, 2(01).
  4. Makeba, M. (2008). South Africa: Miriam Makeba (1932-2008). Africa Research Bulletin: Political Social and Cultural Series. 45(11).
  5. Kim, J., Watts, C., Hargreaves, J., Ndhlovu, L., Phetla, G., & Morison, L., et al. (2007). Understanding the Impact of a Microfinance- Based Intervention on Women’s Empowerment and the Reduction of Intimate violence Crime in South Africa. American Journal of Public Health. 97(10), 1794-1802.

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Political Leadership and Gender Equality among Women in South Africa. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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