Where are the women?

Women are lagging behind men in top political and decision-making roles. Should we be worried?

While the South African media sit and admire Jacob Zuma's newly appointed Cabinet, a gender advocacy group, Gender Links, is somewhat apprehensive.

Last year, the 2008 Global Gender Gap report exposed the distressing reality that had women lagging far behind men in top political and decision-making roles.

Fast-forward to SA's new administration and it seems that not much has changed. Or has it?

According to a Gender Links election report, there are obvious grounds for concern:

"...the lack of gender parity in top structures of government and parliament; the declining proportion of women deputy ministers and of women in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP); questionable credentials of some women ministers and the establishment of a women's ministry."

So, 14 out of the 34 new Cabinet ministers are women. Big deal. Call me cynical, but I'd hardly describe it as 'making strides'.

With a bit of math, we know that female representation in top government makes up a mere 41%, which signifies a drop compared to the 42% represented under Thabo Mbeki, and the 43% under Kgalema Motlanthe.

What happened to South Africa's progression and our so-called 'move forward'? From where I'm standing, it seems we're headed in the wrong direction. Or Zuma is.

You'd think that while selecting his Cabinet, our new President would reflect on his past legal battles with newfound sensitivity. Especially towards women.

The Sowetan recently quoted Zille, one of South Africa's few high-ranking female political figures, as saying, "Zuma is a self-confessed womaniser with deeply sexist views, who put all his wives at risk by having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman."

While I may not agree with Zille's statement, it highlights some disturbing revelations about our President's attitude towards women.

Perhaps we ask too much of the man but, in an age where gender representation is vital to social development, should the President's Office not show exemplary direction in this regard?

While women in our society are struggling to make headway in male-dominated industries, we've seen some remarkable progress – even in politics.

During the run-up to the elections, two of the four major political parties – the Independent Democrats (ID) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) – have posted women as their presidential candidates.

Meanwhile the ANC did not promote a woman candidate for president. Why has the ANC's Women's League remained silent about the overlook of the party's 50/50 gender policy?

But percentages don't tell the entire story.

The goal is to make sure that women's voices are heard on important issues such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and economic development. For that, we need women in top leadership positions.

Between 2005 and 2008, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka became our country's first female Deputy President, and the highest ranking woman in the history of South Africa.

Now to me THAT is making headway. Where are the women this time round? Perhaps it's time for the Women's League to finally speak up.

What do you think of the lack of female representation in top leadership roles? Share your views with us in the box below.

- Women24

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