Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation

Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation

Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation

Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation


This book traces the history of women's political involvement in Southern Africa, in anti-colonial struggles and against apartheid, analyzes the post-colonial outcomes and examines the strategies that have been employed by women's movements to gain a foothold in politics. It looks in detail at the experiences of women both in and with the women's wings of political parties through the early years of independence up to today, discusses the successes and failures of national machinery for the advancement of women and analyses the activities of women's movements over time. Extensive material from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa is compared and juxtaposed, as women politicians and women's movements learned from each others' experiences over time. The study also critically addresses the uneasy relationship between the women's movements and the state, and between women activists and women politicians as they have negotiated cooptation, integration and exclusion. Based on an extensive literature review and innumerable interviews with women politicians and activists as well as fieldwork, and spanning half a century and half a continent, the historical depth and geographical spread of the study put it in a class of its own.


The participation of women in national decision-making has been growing in many countries throughout the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade Anne Phillips described women's participation in national parliaments outside Scandinavia as ranging between 2 and 10 per cent (Phillips 1991:60). In 1999 the per-centage range had increased to figures of between 1 and 36 per cent, closing the gap to the Nordic countries, where percentages stood at between 36.4 and 42.7 per cent. Amongst regional averages only the Arab states fell under the 10 per cent benchmark of 1990 (3.6 per cent) (Inter-Parliamentary Union 1999).

In Africa, were women were said to have opted out of politics throughout the 1980s and patriarchal power structures were found to be hostile towards the entry of women into politics, they managed to force their way into the almost exclusively male domain with amazing speed and determination. In 1987 on average only 7.1 per cent of representatives in parliaments in sub-Saharan Africa were women, and in no country did the number of ministerial positions reach more then 4, with 60 per cent of all countries having no women ministers (United Nations 1991:39–40). Just over ten years later, in 1999, the figure for parliamentary representation of women had risen in sub-Saharan African countries to an average of 11.5 per cent. Out of the 23 countries world-wide with women representations of 20 per cent or more, four were African, all of them located in Southern Africa (Inter-Parliamentary Union 1999). In the member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) the average percentage of women in parliaments and cabinets stood, with 15 and 12 per cent, above the rest of sub-Saharan Africa (Molokomme 2000). South Africa, with a representation of women of 30 per cent after the 1999 elections was in 1999 ranked 8th on a world-wide scale, behind the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Germany (Inter-Parliamentary Union 1999).

Moreover, in 1997 “decades of organising and lobbying for gender equality by women NGOs in the region” led the SADC summit to issue a Gender and Development Declaration. It commits its heads of state to achieve at least a 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making by 2005, to promote women's full access to and control over productive resources; and to repeal and reform all laws, amend all constitutions and change all social practices which still subject women to discrimination, and to take urgent measures to prevent the rising levels of violence against women and children (Kethusegile and Molokomme 1999).

These successes were, perhaps, not accidental in a region that has seen women's active participation in armed independence struggles into the 1990s and has produced women leaders who, during the UN Decade of Women, questioned Western feminists’ focus on fighting personal battles against men. They . . .

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