Unequal, undiversified and underrepresented: women on the backburner in local decision making in South Africa’s local government

Keywords: Gender mainstreaming, local government, intersectional analysis, dominance behaviour, South Africa, decision making, employment equity, gender representation


The object of research: Firstly, the study highlights that women are still underrepresented in local government at the district level in leadership positions remaining on the backburner as decision makers. Secondly, the study examines the notion of patriarchy and male dominance that results in the marginalization and exclusion of women in municipal decision making. The study contributes to the current body of knowledge through identifying the challenges that prevent the equal representation of women as decision makers in local government.

Investigated problem: South Africa has been consistently praised for its advcancement in drafting a progressive constitution and legislation that provides for gender equality. Despite the progressive achievements, women remain underrepresented at the municipal level, as South Africa has not attained the target of 50/50 equal representation as far as women mayors, women are more likely to be underemployed in comparison to men; women do not receive the same and/or fair remuneration in comparison to their male counterpart and women are not able to progress as fast as men in their careers once in local government structures , into leadership role that grant women equal access to become decision makers alike their male counterpart. The reasons for the low proportion of women to men in leadership is attributed to intersecting oppressions that women remain confronted with and can be seen to be connected to historical patriarchal norms and institutional values, which excludes and marginalizes women and institutional culture is stronger than the process of changing this culture.

The main scientific results: The findings of the study suggest that women are lagging behind in decision making. Secondly, organizational structures that are attributed to the presence of dominant behaviours in the workplace can be seen to be linked to patriarchy and male dominance exclude and marginalize women. Thirdly, women’s representation within South Africa at the municipal ward and PR levels is on a downward spiral, when comparing the 2021 electoral results to previous electoral results in 2016. Notably, there is a lack of practicality of women's status in local government, policy enacted such as the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill contains the key element that failure to comply with the Constitution justifies punitive action against the defaulting unit. This includes local councils and executive officers. Clause 11 requires 50 percent representation of women. Highlighting instances of failure to comply, with no punitive actions taken. South African women are passive recipients of male-dominated decision making in local government.

The area of practical use of the research results: South African public and private sector institutions. Any persons connected to gender justice within society


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Author Biography

Juliet Eileen Joseph, University of Johannesburg

Centre for African Diplomacy and Leadership (CADL)


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How to Cite
Joseph, J. E. (2022). Unequal, undiversified and underrepresented: women on the backburner in local decision making in South Africa’s local government. ScienceRise, (3), 24-37. https://doi.org/10.21303/2313-8416.2022.002533
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