A Critique of the Article by KwaZulu Natal Provincial Treasurer of SASCO Cde Ntuli Lebohang.
My fellow comrade introduced to all of us a very important debate on the gender struggle in an article written: “The Gender Quota a Decoy” which was published by SASCO on its website on the 12th of July 2017. I took the time to respond to this article because I was so sceptical that a critique of a fellow comrade’s thoughts might be interpreted in this Congress year as a political plot, as well as a way of discouraging other comrades to write due to fear of preceding criticism. Nevertheless, I decided to write, considering that keeping quiet might again be interpreted as if we are all in agreement with the views raised in the said article. Herein cde Ntuli argues that “The gender quota in its nature is oppressive and it generally undermines the women populace and robs them of the chance to be capacitated in their full potential. It lacks objective reality and clarity. The gender quota has given women in politics a perception that leadership positions are owed to them on the basis that they are women. We are at a point where women get elected to positions as a matter of necessity in order to satisfy constitutional requirements”. From the onset I totally disagree with this proposition raised by my comrade because of a number of reasons amongst these are that; Comrade Ntuli failed to appreciate that the gender quota does not undermine women but it empowers them to take up the challenge of participating in leadership. In fact, the point that she is raising seeks to suggest that it’s only women who are not capacitated and all men are well capacitated whilst in reality, we do have dozens of men who are weak and lacks capacity. It was too malicious for the cadre to suggest that women get elected to satisfy the Constitution which I think is not the case because looking closer SASCO leaders and deployees we have seen many female comrades ascending to higher political office in order to serve the people, not in order to constitutionally fit in.
I also refuse to raise my hand in agreement with a wrong argument raised by cde Ntuli that “It is safe to say that the gender quota is a decoy, it is a delaying tactic that does not truly speak of empowering women in the political sphere. The 50/50 gender quota is too ambitious and it can be a downfall of the women struggle as it is a dangerous shortcut”. If we are to point one of the best achievement that we have ever made as a student movement over the past decades is to have a 50/50 gender quota because it takes away the culture of discrimination and stifling of views of either of the genders.In fact, I would want to suggest that the gender quota is not a decoy but a remedy that an organization like ours needed the most as a way of dealing with gender stereotypes, gender discrimination and gender inequality.
It is not true that the gender quota has reduced women to objects rather than subjects as Ntuli suggests in her writing, but instead, we have seen a revolutionary commitment and involvement of women in the national democratic revolution.It is actually misleading to argue that “the gender quota has resulted in the increasing number of women being liberals and reactionaries rather than producing leaders and revolutionaries. therefore, the gender quota is not a solution”, there again with all due respect I think Cde Ntuli was in denial of the history of the mass democratic movement, because with the gender quota we have seen more representation of women in decision-making process and participation as a result more progressive not reactionary women were produced by the revolution and we can mention them the list is endless.
Susan Franceschet, Mona Lena Krook, Jennifer M. Piscopo (2012) in their book titled “The Impact of Gender Quotas”, argues that, the introduction of gender quotas in politics has no doubt increased women representation worldwide especially in some countries such as, Sweden Rwanda, Argentina, South Africa, and Costa Rica, and it led to historical leaps in the presence of women in parliament, in regional and in local assemblies.Gender quotas are a very simple answer to a complex problem of women’s historical exclusion from political life. It is imperative to note that women were able to make a remarkable contribution to change people’s lives using their leadership positions in state institutions and such examples are in these countries mentioned above and many others such that it is not fair to reject the role the gender quotas are playing in the world politics. Perhaps for one not to undermine the victories thus far let us look at some facts, that today 16%of world parliamentarians are women and this underrepresentation have serious consequences on the political articulation of women interests(Drude Dahlerup 2006). Likewise, the less represented women are in SASCO the more their aspirations are ignored. Unequal power relation in decision making is also as a result of discriminatory practices exacerbated by the patriarchal system in society. All that is needed for an equal society is an equal treatment of different people and the gender quota speaks exactly unto that treatment.
In seeking to legitimise women’s struggles and to put women’s demands on the agenda of the national liberation movement in favour of the gender quota, we have to emphasise the strategic value of women’s involvement in politics. Vladimir Lenin conceptualised in reference to the communist party the importance of women representation as a strategic revolutionary task, According to Lenin:
We derive our organisational ideas from our Ideological conceptions. We want no separate organisations of communist women. She who is a Communist belongs as a member to the party, just as he who is a Communist. They have the same rights and duties. There can be no difference of opinion on that score. However, we must not shut our eyes to the facts. The party must have organs – working groups, commissions, committees, sections or whatever else they may be called – with the specific purpose of rousing the broad masses of women, bringing them into contact with the Party and keeping them under its Influence. This naturally requires that we carry on systematic work among the women. We must teach the awakened women, win them over for the proletarian class struggle under the leadership of the Communist Party, and equip them for it…. We must have our own groups to work among them, special methods of agitation, and special forms of organisation. This is not bourgeois ‘feminism; it is a practical revolutionary expedience (Tucker, 1975:695).
In essence, Lenin accepted the need for equal representation complemented by intense political education. To me, women also do have a duty before and/or after being elected to read books of politics and equip themselves for any revolutionary task ahead. It is equally true also that we do have male comrades who do not read documents of the organization too and who suffers from serious ideological confusion, hence men as equal beneficiaries of the gender quota must also learn about the revolution.
The issue of gender quota is an issue of emancipation of women because when elected into a position of responsibility, women like men can use such a position of influence to advance all programs and activities that will develop women in a sustainable way. A position of responsibility in any political setup such as that of SASCO is about power and for power to work it needs ideas. Circumstances or conditions that the working class women are subjected to are of prejudice and oppressive in society make both men and women to have ideas that guide their consciousness and in that regard I do not see any reason why women would not use their power and ideas to change the situation, hence I strongly believe that the gender quota is a significant milestone. Furthermore, one of the critical lessons can be derived from the gender struggles advanced in Mozambique, summed up when Samora Machel argued:
There are those who see emancipation as mechanical equality between men and women. This vulgar concept is often seen among us. Here emancipation means that women and men do exactly the same tasks, mechanically dividing the household duties. ‘If I wash the dishes today, you must wash them tomorrow, whether or not you are busy or have the time’. If there are still no women truck drivers or tractor drivers in FRELIMO, we must have some right away regardless of the objective and subjective conditions. As we can see from the example of the capitalist countries, this mechanically conceived emancipation leads to complaints and attitudes which utterly distort the meaning of women’s emancipation. An emancipated woman is one who drinks, smokes, wears trousers, and miniskirt, who indulges in sexual promiscuity, which refuses to have children. (Machel, 1974, quoted in Kimble and Unterhalter, 1982:13).
It can be derived from the sentiments above that the gender quota is by no any means a hindrance to equal participation rather it necessitates not only equal representation by equal participation. Student politics like any other form of politics involves competitive activities for leadership authority and as such, it is about the survival of the fittest. Similarly when women are chosen for any leadership position in SASCO, it is my conviction that the best amongst the army of female cadres are chosen by membership to lead in positions, that even if such vacant positions came as a result of the gender quotas, will not change the background of the incumbent but can be used to change the lives of our people. Notwithstanding the fact that the gender quota is a policy matter that requires the national congress to change it, but the 50/50 gender quota came as a result of serious debate amongst delegates women included. Perhaps we must be geared for further debate at the national congress in December in anticipation that comrades might bring this debate forward.
In conclusion, examples are in place in Rwanda and Sweden etc. showing the successes of the implementation of gender quotas, Scholarly articles are available to this effect and locally we have seen in the YCL, SASCO, YL and COSAS females leading in different levels in critical positions and making a difference. In the ANC we have seen successful achievements made by women nationally and in the continent. Therefore I will not be able to accept that the gender quota is a decoy. What is only needed is for women to stop suppressing one another, and to stop undermining themselves. Political education helps to build political consciousness and women in power can help SASCO to arrive at that destination. Therefore the gender quota is a remedy and a means to an end.
Misheck T Mugabe is a Masters student at the University of Fort Hare and also the Treasurer General of SAUS. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org/0760942850.