Address by UDM Member of Parliament Commission on Gender Equality 50/50 dialogue (27 August 2008)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The survival of any organization depends on the calibre of its representatives and the way they portray the image of the party. The UDM has progressive policies on gender equality. In Parliament 50% of our public representatives are women. As we have done in the past, we need to identify strong women candidates. To us this means much more than just the implementation of a quota – we are constantly developing strategies to identify and encourage suitable women candidates.

As the leaders of the UDM and its various structures have said on many occasions: WOMEN’S ISSUES ARE NATIONAL ISSUES.

From unemployment, to poverty, to education, to health, to crime and every other major national issue, it is clear that women are often among the majority of the sufferers.

This is a demographic reality that is partly based on the fact that there are more women in the country than men, and party it results from the Apartheid legacy. The years of discrimination against women may be over in terms of the law, but in reality the legacy is still with us.

In addition, there are still men who refuse to accept the new dispensation, and who hide behind religion or culture to continue with discrimination against women.

For these reasons, the challenges that face the nation are often much larger challenges for women than for men.

In preparation for an election any party must consider what the major issues are that face the nation, develop solutions, and sell these to the electorate. In South Africa it means that any truly democratic party, such as the UDM, must consider the role of women.

Therefore the UDM Women’s Organisation plays a role in all the aspects of the UDM election strategy. Women are not only represented on the relevant decision-making committees and forums, they actively participate. This means that as much as it is the mother body’s responsibility to ensure women’s representation in these forums, it is also UDEMWO members’ responsibility to be constructive participants in the development and implementation of the UDM election strategy.

The election strategy can be divided into three broad areas, all of which women play a role in. These are:
• The Election Manifesto
• Election Candidates
• Election Campaign

As indicated above the challenges facing the nation are all challenges that face women, often more so than men. What is however required, is that the perspective of women are considered in the policy positions that are adopted.

UDM policy development has always considered the perspective of women, but perhaps we should look at ways of ensuring that it is readily apparent to female voters that the Manifesto addresses them and their concerns. For instance, the failure of Local Government to maintain and construct adequate community health clinics affects women because they have unique maternal and child health needs. The absence or inadequacy of such facilities translates into long distances (often on foot) of travel to these facilities only to stand in queues and find that the necessary medicines and treatment is not available.

Whilst Manifestoes, as a rule, tend to be written in broad terms we still endeavour to produce a document that is easily accessible and will communicate the message to women voters that their needs and concerns are a priority for the UDM.

Nothing succeeds in convincing women voters of a party’s commitment to gender equality than the fielding of women election candidates.

The UDM has proven to be a progressive party when it comes to this aspect. Currently, 50% of the Members of Parliament are women.

It is worth remembering that women constitute more than half of the electorate. They are therefore a very important segment of the electorate.

There is no reason why we should not aim to emulate the number of women public representatives nationally, also at provincial and local level.

As with the selection of any candidate, women candidates must still comply with the criteria expected of a good UDM election candidate. We are not talking here about window-dressing or the selection of poor candidates purely on the basis of their gender.

The aim is not to simply fill half of the candidates’ lists with women. The challenge is rather to find the competent women who will do the UDM and their communities proud when they are elected to serve as public representatives.

The campaign starts with getting people to register, then promoting the Manifesto, and finally to ensure that our voters get to the polling booths on election day. It should be a consistent communication by way of:
• the media,
• election material,
• rallies/meetings,
• personal contact.

Throughout this process, the particular needs and features of the female section of the electorate must be taken into account. We realise that if we fail to make proper contact with women voters, we cannot get them registered or familiarized with our Manifesto. Then we shouldn’t be surprised when they do not vote for us.

It is particularly important to consider how our media campaign and election material is distributed. And similarly where and when rallies, meetings and personal contact with the voters take place. In all of these instances we must constantly monitor that we are reaching women voters. Often women are not reached due to household, traditional, cultural and religious issues. Rallies held on the wrong days and at the wrong times, and election material distributed through the wrong channels will simply mean that an entire campaign strategy is missed by vast numbers of women voters. In this regard personal contact with voters, especially door-to-door campaigning, is a vital aspect of campaigning.

A comprehensive door-to-door campaign with highly motivated and prepared candidates and volunteers can reach voters (and women voters) in a more significant fashion than election posters or pamphlets. Such a campaign will necessarily record the number of positive visits and the gender of those potential voters. It would mean that the structures coordinating the campaign in an area will have real numbers reflecting whether enough women voters are being reached, where potential voters live that should be revisited, and even which voters require transport to the voting station on election day.

Such a campaign’s success would be even more enhanced if a high percentage of the candidates and volunteers are women, because a woman candidate will perhaps more easily convince a woman voter that her vote is important to the UDM.

As you can see, for the UDM gender equality in political processes means much more than simply a quota.

I thank you.

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