From resistance to governance: South African women's transformation of parliament

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Patricia Ingraham


Women politicians, Resistance, Governance, South African, Parliament

Subject Categories

African History | Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Women's Studies


With the 1994 elections, South Africa jumped from 141st in the world to seventh in the world in terms of women occupying seats in the national government. During an eight-month research project in ending in May 1997, I interviewed thirty percent of the women and a handful of men from each party in the national parliament about their experiences in the nation's transition to democracy. The findings of this study reveal that, despite the increase in the numerical representation, women in the South African parliament continue to face disproportionate challenges which may hinder their full participation. Because of these challenges, over one-half the women I interviewed do not plan to return to parliament because they feel the institution does not have a place for their voice and that they have been and can be more effective on the ground. While the institution has shifted to reflect some of the needs of women, the capacities required to be an MP or Delegate remain fundamentally unchanged. Several women have adapted well to the institution; however, these are not necessarily the most representative women in terms of socio-economic, educational, or ethnic background. Despite these obstacles, women have created national governmental institutions and implemented key pieces of legislation intended to promote gender equity. Women are also shifting from broad, multi-party women's coalitions to issue-specific, sectorally-based task forces and organizations focusing directly on the needs of women. I find that obstacles women face in their integration and retention may result from the reform strategies used by the antiapartheid movement. These strategies were patterned on western revolutionary models that did not disrupt the public/private, malelfemale dichotomies or transform existing state institutions, which privilege male discourse and power. For women's liberation to be complete, the nation will need to go beyond legislative revision and focus on women's empowerment in the public and the private political spaces.


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