Our Power Survey saw over 850 South African women have their say on the state of women’s rights and representation in politics. Most importantly, it asked the big question: Do you think that if there were more women like you in leadership positions in politics and government, things would be better in South Africa? 77% who participated answered yes, 11% said no and 5% said maybe.


But one thing that most had in common no matter their answer was that they had something further to say. And girl, did they! While we tend to automatically revert to representation as the key to effecting gender-related change, having more women in power may not be enough on its own. The concerns of real women when electing other women into power go much further than gender. Here are the main points you brought up:

1. Oh hell yes – we need more women in power!

As we reported in Get Elected, just under 55% of the South African population able to vote are women. It would make sense, then, for women to be present when discussing issues that affect them, and legislation that is being debated regarding them. Many respondents agree with this sentiment saying. Marian* argues that leaders need to ‘understand our plight, and not just in a sense of policy, but in lived experience’. For example, ‘pink tax and tampon prices are two [things] that need to change [which] men don’t understand,’ says Thobeka*.

Marissa* highlights the need for ‘strong, smart, educated women to have the tough conversations and make the tough decisions to improve the lives of those who may not have a voice (or are at least told that they don’t).’

But beyond representation of gender, intersectionality needs to be taken into account when speaking for women across binary and minority demographics. Respondents would like to see more queer women of colour and trans women being represented. ‘I would hope a younger, intersectional, diverse representation would be a great starting point to shift politics and government in SA,’ says Sinthemba*.

2. BUT: female does not equate to feminist

‘Bathabile Dlamini really let us down…’

‘If there were more women of integrity in office, who were respected and whose points of view were listened to, then I believe [having more women in power] would have an impact,’ says Andrea*. A very important issue raised was that ‘female’ does not equate to ‘feminist’. Corruption among current female representatives is an issue that many women think cannot be dismissed as a factor in electing women to parliament. Respondents outlined women like former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and  former Parliamentary Leader for the Opposition Lindiwe Mazibuko as prime examples of women in politics to admire at the moment.

‘We need women to be at the forefront of raising and solving issues faced by women…’

On the other side, politicians like MP and Minister of Women Bathabile Dlamini were brought up as representatives that discourage us from seeing women in politics as positive role models, with many believing that the women in power at the moment are enforcing negative stereotypes, are self-driven and are not interested in women’s rights at all.

‘At present, most women in South African politics are complacent,’ said Aneesa*. ‘The ANC’s Women’s League is never at the forefront of women issues and we have a defunct Women’s Department (one that undergoes name changes and mandates) which is a department we only see active during Women’s Month. They also vote with the patriarchy and perpetuate these ideas.’

3. We need younger women in leadership

‘…who understand intersectionality and the plight of women at large.’- anonymous

Many respondents believe that the women currently in power are not reflective of the women in SA, with the average age in SA being 19. The younger generation wants to have their unique issues and their understanding of the world around them reflected in their leaders.

‘Not everyone is designed for a life in politics, however there should be an increase of female representation in leadership positions in politics. We need young, fresh dynamic woman because the struggles the women of the past faced are not the same as today.’ – Lindiwe* 

Perhaps this is a reason behind the difference in voters’ ages, with women 18 to 19 only casting 114 927 votes, compared to women aged 20 to 29 at 2 830 191, and 30 to 39 being the highest registered voter percentage with 3 472 005 ballots under their belt.

Why are young leaders important? ‘The current government is full of older men and women with beliefs that are outdated. This is ofcourse a result of trauma from the generation they grew up in however this helps no one. Our generation is willing to call themselves out and learn from past traumas and that is what would make us better leaders.’ – Sbahle*

4.  We cannot tackle ‘women’s issues’ without getting men at the table

Many respondents believe that women in power need to encourage young women to join the fight. They encourage the conversation to include more than women, by discussing the role men play in allowing space for women.

‘Women are the backbone of our society. If empowered as well as teaching and raising our men to handle and co-exist with powerful women it would have a positive ripple effect. I’d also work towards re-socialising our society and target children and youth as the future.’ – Aneesa*

‘We can’t stop at increasing the number of women. We need to take it a step further and also elect men who are able to understand the issues that women face.’ – Mandisa*

5. Women need support to get into politics and be heard once they get there

We would like to see more women in power, but the tools to do so are not readily available or easily accessible. ‘Our democracy as a country is rather young: offering women platforms to lead and make a greater contribution to the decision-making should be a priority,’ Mbali* points out.

Janet* believes that a key in encouraging more women to run for office is to ‘be taught at a school-going age that they can go into politics and government.’ But the onus is not just on electing more women, or creating more opportunities, it’s on us to also to choose wisely when we vote across the table.

Many women also felt that it was pointless to elect more women if we are not being heard regardless. Patriarchal political attitudes (in men and in women) are an obstacle that needs to be addressed before any real progress can be made. Patriarchy hinders women from entering, and then being taken seriously within, the political field.  ‘Women who speak out and are active in their roles are vilified and ousted – look at Makhosi Khoza,’ says Nomzamo*.

‘…we cannot adequately do this whilst we remain in disempowered positions or rely on men to create a narrative for us or decide on our behalf about what is best for us’. Zinhle*

Marie Claire will be keeping South African women informed and connected ahead of the 2019 elections. Join the Marie Claire Power Network to hear about opportunities to get involved here