News & events

Press Releases

08 August 2014

Female participation in political formation reduces corruption and increases transparency

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

 Media Release:  Celebrating Women’s Day, 9 August 2014


A United Nations Millennium Project report in 2005 favoured increasing the representation of women in political office, arguing that women in office are more likely to advocate for legislation and policy that will improve gender equality and benefit children and families.  There is academic evidence to suggest that female participation in political formation reduces corruption and increases the transparency of decision-making bodies.

What’s more, international studies have indicated that the introduction of legislation or political party rules that specify the use of quotas for female candidates is an effective means by which to increase women’s political representation and promote gender equality, say Jare Struwig, Steven Gordon, and Benjamin Roberts,  who investigated public attitudes on women in politics using a detailed set of questions on democratic attitudes that was fielded during the 2010 and the 2013 round of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS).

SASAS is a nationally representative survey that has been conducted on an annual basis by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) since 2003. The sample of the survey in each round since 2003 has, on average, yielded about three thousand respondents. Both the 2010 and the 2013 surveys are representative of the nation’s adult population (16 and older) living in private households in all nine provinces of South Africa.

The researchers found that since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, South Africa has made impressive gains in relation to women in political life and is one of only a few countries to have surpassed the target of women holding 30% of seats in national parliament.

“Given the prominence attached to female participation and representation in politics in South Africa, it is important to explore public perceptions on this increase in women’s political representation”, they say.

Overall support for female political participation

A set of nine statements relating to the role of women in the political system were read out to respondents, who were asked to rate their level of agreement or disagreement using a five-point scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

As can be seen in figure 1, it is apparent that the South African public appears to agree that women should have a greater place in politics in the country. A majority of adult citizens acknowledge the need for greater involvement of women in politics, would vote for female candidates, and favour increased quotas for women in political parties and legislation that binds political parties to having women candidates on their lists.

A progressive turn

The researchers found that between 2010 and 2013, there were general improvements in attitudes towards women in politics. For instance, a majority of respondents believed that women need to get more involved in politics, 78%, which represents a significant increase since 2010 when 69% of the adult public shared this view.

The proportion of adult citizens who believed that men were better politicians than women declined from 43% in 2010 to 33% in 2013. Finally the share who felt that their needs would be better addressed if more women were in politics grew from 40% in 2010 to 46% in 2013. Other attitudes remained more static, particularly whether there should be legislation or quotas that would force parties to have more women on their candidate lists.

Do men and women share similar views?

While gender-based differences in opinion are found in relation to female political participation, the level of support voiced by men was appreciably higher than one might typically assume. This is an encouraging sign for ongoing efforts to promote gender equality in the country. The results, disaggregated by gender, are as follows:

  • There is a resolute aversion by men and women alike to attempts to influence voting decisions, with sizable shares believing that it is unacceptable for men and women to influence the electoral choices of members of the opposite sex. More than half (51%) of men agreed that men have no right to tell women which party to vote for compared to 69% of women
  • Almost three quarters (73%) of men thought if there were more women in politics their needs would be better addressed, compared to 77% of women
  • Just over a third (35%) of men thought that legislation should force parties to have women on their lists, compared to 55% of women
  • Just over half (51%) of men thought that quotas for women in political parties should be increased, compared to 69% of women
  • Just under half (47%) of men thought women need to get more involved in politics to solve problems that concern them, compared to 59% of women
  • Just over two fifths (42%) of men disagreed with the statement that “men are generally better politicians than women”, compared to 58% of women
  • Less than a fifth (22%) of men agreed with the statement “I will never vote for a woman”, compared to 16% of women

A class divide

Significant population group differences were found across all nine questions. On average, Indian respondents tended to express higher support for women in politics than other population groups. Better educated South Africans were found to be more supportive of women in politics, with a lower likelihood of believing that men were better politicians than women and greater willingness to vote for a female politician. Those living in rural areas were found to have more conservative attitudes towards women in politics and were more inclined to agree that male politicians better protect their interests than female politicians.


The results described above are positive and suggest that alongside the significant progress that South Africa has made in opening national politics up to women, attitudes remain supportive and increasingly favourable. However, it is also evident that a significant minority of men continue to retain patriarchal views concerning women in politics. More needs to be done to address such patriarchy and promote greater acceptance of female participation in the political arena.

Source: IEC Voter Participation Survey (VPS) 2010, 2013

Note: Due to rounding off, row percentages may not add up to exactly 100 per cent.

Note to news editors and journalists:

For further information or interviews, contact:

1.        Jare Struwig, 012 3022511 // 0827745749

2.       Steven Gordon  0312425612 // 0842499799

3.       Benjamin Roberts031 2425606 // 0845230374