Monday, August 4, 2008


Weekend Observer

2 August 2008

The position of women in leadership

By Alec Lushaba

Government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Gender Unit, together with civil society organisations are on a campaign to increase the numbers of women in Parliament and other lower administrative political decision-making bodies like Indvuna Yenkhundla or Bucopho.

The ‘Vote for a Women Campaign’ launched early this year takes its cue from the Constitution which calls for 30 percent women representation in Parliament and other international conventions the country is party to.

Yesterday morning, the Co-ordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisation (CANGO), as part of the campaign, launched its snap survey, which was conducted by Women and the Law in Southern Africa (WILSA) on women representation in power, influence and decision-making level.

Even though the report did not go as afar as revealing in quantitative terms, the representation of women in positions of power, it managed to provide profiles of women in public and private bodies between 1997 and 2007.

The sectors were as follows: women in politics, women in public service sector, women in the judiciary, women in profession (lawyers, doctors, economists, educationists and dentists), women in private sector, women in NGO.

Of significance importance, particularly in line with the spirit of the Vote for Women Campaign, the survey indicates steady increase or involvement of women in the Executive arm of government between 1993 and 2008.

For instance, in 1993 Dr. Fannie Friedman, the then health minister, was the only female voice in the entire cabinet.

The situation improved in the 1998-2003 cabinet as two female ministers were appointed into cabinet, being then Housing and Urban Development minister Stella Lukhele and Health and Social Welfare minister Dr. Phetsile Dlamini.

In the 2003-2008 cabinet, saw at least four women cabinet ministers appointed, the first being the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Constance Simelane, Tourism, Environment and Communication minister Thandi Shongwe, Natural Resources and Energy minister Dumsile Sukati and Regional Development and Youth Affairs’ deputy minister Hlob’sile Ndlovu.

There has been a similar trend even within the Legislative arm in the same period.

In the 1993-1998 Parliament, women legislators were only eight, whilst in the 1998-2003 there was a slight movement, as they increased from eight to nine.

Women’s influence has shown in the 2003-2008, from a mere nine the previous Parliament to 19.

They did not only make the numbers but the Senate President is Gelani Zwane, whilst Trusty Gina held the deputy Speaker position.

In recent times, women have not been holding their own in politics, but both in the public and private sectors their involvement has been enormous.

The Anti-Corruption Commission is sitting with two deputy commissioners, whilst the Civil Service Commission, which comprise five members has three woman commissioners.

At Principal Secretary level, there are four women and a number occupying the Under Secretary positions.


WILSA Director Lomcebo Dlamini, who also serves in the Judicial Service Commission herself, when presenting the report stated that despite the changes over the years as shown by their survey, the situation of women in leadership can still improve.

She said what came out, as issues for advocacy in the survey were the following;

(i) Leadership as a male gender role: A number of respondents were of the view that the number of women present in leadership positions was less due to the historical perception that leadership, at all levels, from the family to the community and national level – is essentially a male function. As stated above, this view has been coloured by gender constructed societal roles, which apportion certain attributes as belonging to the male or female gender and hence dictate the functions and roles that women and men play in society. Men are perceived as strong and decisive while women are perceived as weak, emotional and indecisive. The latter characteristics are regarded as inappropriate for leadership and hence they are associated with women, and this has acted as a basis for excluding women from leadership positions unless the women portrays what are perceived as ‘manly’ traits.

(ii) Multiple roles of women: A number of respondents noted that the multiple roles played by women because of family responsibilities also exacerbate the challenges that women face in participating effectively at the leadership level. Whilst women are expected to prove themselves in the work arena by going the extra mile, the expectation remains to also fully perform on the domestic front in terms of their family and be carers and nurtures as expected by society. Men – even when they have families – are not burdened with the same expectations, as their wives are the ones who take care of the home and family thus allowing them to concentrate on their leadership functions. It is difficult to balance the two sets of expectations and as a result some women opt not to avail themselves for these positions, not because they are incapable but because of these additional expectations.

(iii) The impact of cultural practices: Women also pointed out some cultural practices, in particular the practice of observing the mourning period that contribute to women facing challenges in the leadership arena. Pertinent example was the area of politics where it was mentioned that a women in mourning gowns would be restricted, in terms of her newly-acquired status, entrance into certain institutions that are critical at the level of national governance. The restrictions would also be applicable in terms of her interaction with key persons in national decision-making such as the King and that would result in her having to either relinquish her position or, at least, not perform the requisite responsibilities until the mourning period is over.

(iv) Institutional impediments: Women’s participation is at times inhibited by the infrastructure of some institutions, and the way in which they operate. For example, in many institutions, issues of operating hours, security concerns and facilities such those relevant for maternity, breastfeeding and day care of children are often not ‘friendly’ for women in the sense that they are not provided for which gives the impression that women were not envisaged as part of the leadership of those structures because they do not cater for additional requirements pertaining to women.

(v) Empowerment issues: The report reveals that the gendered socialisation that has placed emphasis on women being prepared for marriage and the domestic arena has resulted in the lack of confidence to operate in decision-making because they are not as exposed as their male counterparts, who are encouraged to be more vocal from an early age. Thus it is difficult to expect women who were socialised as young girls to be submissive to the assertive as adults in the same way as men who received a different socialisation as young boys, which prepared them for leadership.


As means of mitigation, the report proposes the following to be undertaken:

(a) Awareness-raising and sensitisation: There is need to raise awareness and sensitisation on gender issues and the impact they have on various areas of life, including those pertaining to power and decision-making. The reality is that the social deconstruction of gender identities and roles is also linked to attitudinal and behaviour issues, which usually need addressing over a long term.

(b) Capacity building: Capacity building for women at all levels of leadership would also comprise a key area of advocacy. This could be aimed at addressing the following; leadership skills, networking and self-esteem.

(c) Institutionalisation of leadership training: Lobbying relevant structures for the institutionalisation of leadership training so that leadership skills are integrated from an early age into the life skills educational curricula at various levels. Campaigns like ‘take a girl-child to work’ which have been successfully conducted in other countries could be undertaken so as to inspire younger women to understand that they too can aspire for positions of leadership. The establishment of mentorship programmes that enable institutions to ensure skills transfer within the institution so that capacity is built and sustained. Institutions like parliament should provide orientation for new women MPs, and also the establishment of an institution that focuses on leadership training and has specific programmes for women leaders.

(d) Support structures and mechanisms: The establishment of support structures for women in decision-making could also be an advocacy strategy as it could increase women’s interest in participating at that level if they were assured that they would be able to meet with other women in similar positions and share experiences as well as be able to receive assistance where required. This could take the form of discussion convened once a month or quarterly dependent on the preference of members.


Swaziland has an enabling environment regarding issues of increasing women’s participation at decision-making levels. This has been provided by a number of important developments, amongst which are the adoption in 1997 of the SADC Gender and Development Declaration, ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by government in 2004, and the adoption of the national Constitution in 2005.

The Constitution is even more specific as it provides for a minimum quota of 30 percent women in Parliament and a mechanism provided if the quota is not achieved.

Amongst the relevant instruments ratified were CEDAW, which has been hailed at the “international bill of rights for women”, as it advocates for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in all sectors of society.

With regard to the political arena article 7 of CEDAW states: “States parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:

(a) to vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies

(b) to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

(c) to participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.


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