SEATTLE, Washington — On May 29, 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he would appoint a gender-equal cabinet that would include an equal number of women to men. This decision makes South Africa the third country in Africa and the eleventh country in the world to have equal representation for women in government. Women politicians are more likely to make policy decisions that favor women’s rights issues and poverty since it disproportionately affects women. This paradigm shift toward gender equality in South Africa’s government could mean very good things for poverty reduction in the country’s future.
South Africa’s Revolutionary Move
South Africa’s government operates under a parliamentary system where the head of a party who receives the largest proportion of the popular vote becomes President. The President then has the authority to appoint his or her cabinet. On May 8, 2019, South Africa elected Cyril Ramaphosa of the African National Congress as President, and he made the announcement to implement a gender-equal cabinet structure on May 29, 2019.
While many of Ramaphosa’s critics have argued that he has simply selected women who have held positions in government for decades without bringing new perspectives to the table, Ramaphosa has stated that the new gender-equal cabinet is an important step in forming a circle of leadership with the real ability to move South Africa forward.
Many South Africans have applauded the President’s selection of extremely qualified women to be part of his cabinet. They believe that this means the women are not only there for show because they have the skills to contribute uniquely to the executive landscape. Additionally, Ramaphosa has selected one woman from the opposition as a part of his cabinet, a move that was both unusual and unexpected. Patricia de Lille, Ramaphosa’s new minister of infrastructure development, is from the Good Party.
Quotas for Women in Government
Ramaphosa’s decision to institute a gender-equal cabinet differs from some of the other 10 countries in the world in which women hold at least 50 percent of cabinet positions. No legal quota for women at any level of the South African government exists currently, which means that future presidents do not have to maintain a gender-equal cabinet.
While no country has a quota for cabinets, there are currently 24 countries in the world with some sort of legally mandated quota for women in the legislature. Rwanda, which has a gender-equal cabinet, also has a legislature composed of 61 percent women, and the country reserves 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women. Ramaphosa’s groundbreaking decision may not be permanent, but it has the potential to jumpstart an unofficial standard for gender equity among South African governments in the future.
Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction
Gender equality in government often translates into gender equality in the public sphere. Developing countries with higher proportions of women in government are overwhelmingly more likely to pass comprehensive laws on sexual harassment, rape, divorce and domestic violence. Policies that protect women are crucial to combatting poverty since women are more likely to be disproportionately poor. Women are more likely to be single parents. Comprehensive laws on divorce, domestic violence and other issues that impact women’s livelihoods are crucial to pulling women out of poverty.
Likewise, a higher proportion of women in government often leads to improvements in education and nutrition for children as well as greater investment in women’s entrepreneurship. The improvement of education and nutrition along with the growth of women-owned small businesses are some of the most common and effective ways to combat poverty in developing countries. Research has displayed that this happens organically when more women are represented in politics.
South Africa’s new gender-equal cabinet has great potential to combat poverty and improve living conditions for women. As executives of numerous facets of the governmental machine, these women’s unique perspectives may very well alter the country’s policies in a way that develops the economy in a way beneficial to everyone.
– Macklyn Hutchison