The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2019

The SABPP Women’s Report 2019: Women and politics

  • By Prof Anita Bosch
  • AUG 2019
  • Tags Gender, women, politics, leadership, report, Women’s Report
9 minutes to read

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Women and politics. This is the theme of the 2019 edition of the SABPP Women’s Report, with USB’s Prof Anita Bosch as editor. The report contains a collection of research papers on various aspects of women and politics.

Power is one of the main constructs in gender relations, and therefore also in gender politics. When power is exercised without regard for the impact it has on others, a social imbalance is created.

The report, which is aimed at HR practitioners and line managers, wants to share knowledge between higher education and the business world. The report is co-sponsored by the University of Stellenbosch Business School and the University of Johannesburg, and supported by the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP).

Chapter 1, written by Prof Amanda Gouws, is titled The state of women’s politics in South Africa, 25 years after democratic transition. The author looks at women’s representation in government and the South African electoral system. Her reflections on feminist institutionalism appeal to South Africans to consider the future of gender equity. The gains that have been made regarding gender equality in the past, including those in the workplace, rest on advances in legislation, together with the political will to execute existing legal mechanisms. Overall, it seems as if feminist activism is waning, and that the state is not to be trusted with gender equality.

Amid extremely high levels of gender-based violence, a younger generation of feminists took to the streets to give life to feminist demands to stop the violence. This may be a new chapter in the story of women’s engagement with the state, 25 years after democratic transition.

Chapter 2 is titled Neo-liberalism, gender, and South African working women. Here, Prof Desiree Lewis explains how the political and economic systems of South Africa are built on liberalist notions. While these have served our economy in the past, she questions whether we are on the right path, and brings to our attention the hidden structural elements embedded in a neo-liberalist framework. She also explains the economic and political outcomes of working-class women and links between patriarchy and gender violence at work, which culminate in physical and emotional outcomes. She provides numerous examples of women working in different industries to illustrate how assumptions about ‘normality’ in workplaces prevent us from understanding differences between women and men. She also refers to the struggles of women at work and how these may be entrenched in the economic model that we are accepting without reflecting on its outcomes.

Beyond the fact that increasing numbers of women are entering the male-dominated neo-liberal economy is the fact that they do so under highly exploitative conditions. This reveals that the main beneficiaries of neo-liberal globalisation are elite groups.

Chapter 3, by Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, asks: Do we have the tracking tools to monitor the National Gender Machinery? She details the incidence of violence against women, and provides shocking figures illustrating the depth of the problem. The unbalanced power relations between men and women are further linked to teenage pregnancies (a startling 30% of teenage girls are reported pregnant in South Africa). She makes suggestions on how we can draw on existing resources to better monitor gender outcomes at a national level. When gender violence is curbed nationally, the positive effects spill over into the workplace and the economy.

It is interesting to note that the two highest contributors to delayed teenage pregnancy are religious activities and a higher level of education.

Chapter 4 – To (queen) bee or not to bee? – is about women who purposefully exclude other women from entering senior roles and from having workplace influence. Prof Charlene Gerber and Prof Anton Schlechter make a compelling case that the Queen Bee Syndrome (QBS) may not be as common as is reported. They also ask us to consider why the syndrome might exist in contrast with similar behaviour seen in men, as aggressive and hyper-competitive behaviours have been normalised for men at work. However, when women display similar behaviours, it is labelled a syndrome – an anomaly and something to be treated.

The term queen bee, stereotypes not only women in leadership positions, but all working women, hurting women in organisations and, ultimately, the economy. As with all stereotypes, it shows ignorance and limited thinking.

  • Prof Anita Bosch lectures in Women at Work, Human Capital Management and Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. She is also the incumbent of the Research Chair in Women at Work at USB.
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