Why wait for change when our collective voice gives us the majority? Given that 54.9% of voters in South Africa are women, this majority should yield serious negotiating power to drive policy change, bring about a real focus on gender equality and level the playing field. But it hasn’t.
Ahead of our 2019 election, there is no better time for us to engage – as voters, potential candidates, or just ordinary women who care about each other’s safety and equal opportunity – for a more balanced and diverse representation on the issues that matter to us. More than two decades into our democracy, with a lack of female representation in positions that matter, we are facing a crisis. So how do we go about inviting the next generation of public leaders into the fold? And how do we mobilise for change, if we don’t want to run for office ourselves?
We surveyed hundreds of South African women on how they think we can start leveraging for change for women. Respondents are sick of the crisis of gender based violence, unequal pay, disproportionate domestic responsibilities, and harassment. We asked YOU how we can reclaim our powers and step forward. Starting with the Power Summit and the Power Survey, Marie Claire will be keeping women connected and informed ahead of the 2019 election. Based on what women said in the survey, here are 5 reasons to join the Power Network.
1.Women think things are getting worse, BUT they think they can do something to affect change.
We asked women for their perceptions of whether things are getting better or worse for women in South Africa. An astonishing 77% of women felt that things are getting worse, and many women had a lot to say about why. Femicide, domestic violence, unequal pay, pink tax, and general sexism were high among the list of complaints. Read some of the testimonies here.
But at the same time, women do not feel totally disempowered, in spite of all the very real obstacles facing them in their daily lives. We asked women if they felt that THEY could do anything about it, and a strong majority (62%) said yes! We salute the strength and resilience of South African women!
3. Women don’t feel represented by leaders in politics
Women think that politics and politicians CAN make a difference for women, but they do not feel that politicians represent them, or work for their interests. 70% feel that politics can make a difference for women, but at the same time, 77% do not feel represented by politicians.
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3. 77% of Power Survey respondents feel that if more women like them were in leadership positions in politics and government, things would be better in South Africa!
We asked women if women like them could get into positions of power, things would be better, and an overwhelming majority said yes.
The majority of women felt that representation in positions of power is a sure path towards change, but 11% felt that it’s not that simple. Putting women in seats of power is a necessary step, but it won’t change things on its own – some of our worst ministers have been women. From gate-keeping at the top, to lack of opportunity and encouragement regarding political involvement, many respondents explained that ‘female’ does not always equal ‘feminist interests’. Women in power are not necessarily going to represent or fight for women, and many suggested we need younger women in power that reflect the realities of the new generation.
4. Getting women into politics is not the only way to drive change: it could be time for a national movement of women.
Of our Power Survey respondents. only 15.8% are members of a political party. Of those women, only 3.5% have run for a leadership role, and most women did not express interest in politics as a career, possibly due to disillusionment with South African politics. We asked you: given the opportunity, would you be interested in joining a national movement of women, that is NOT aligned to any political party? The response was a two-thirds majority: 69% of women surveyed would join a national movement, if it existed and they were given an opportunity. 24% said maybe, and 7% said no.
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We also asked women what they would want a national movement for women to do and be – you can read their responses here. Here is a small sample of what you said:
1. ‘Petition government to launch a HUGE campaign aimed at MEN, on the same level as the AIDS campaign – this is a national crisis!’
2. ‘I would want it to be an unbreakable sisterhood. A place of refuge to those troubled, and a place where you can express all your thoughts, fears, trials and tribulations. Most importantly, a place that all women can call home.’
3. ‘I want women to give themselves permission to “Sit at the table”. We need to stop acting like we need a man to give us permission. We need to just act now, and apologise later.’
4. ‘If I had to start a women’s movement, it would be based on safety and education on sexual harassment.’
5. ‘Firstly, I would want the movement to focus on celebrating all women, not only those that society and social media deem worthy. So often, young girls are trapped in the “I can’t make it” mentality because if you don’t look, speak or think a certain way you aren’t worthy of success. Secondly, the movement should be based on teaching gender relations and it should be inclusive of young men too. The reason we have a femicide issue is because our society has deep-rooted patriarchal principles and if we don’t teach young men and women the importance of respect, choice, dignity and accountability, we will continue on a path of femicide.’
5. Working with women with shared concerns would be a good place to start
So women have had enough, and they would be interested in doing something about it. But are they ready? We asked: what would make make you feel empowered to get involved in fighting for change? While 20% of women are already ready, almost 50% said they would like to join a small group of women that shares the same concerns and interests as them. This suggests that mobilising at a neighbourhood or interest-group level will be an important ingredient for success, if women are to take action. Mentorship was also a requirement for 20% of women.
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