Women Parliamentarians perceptions of political influence in the South African Parliament
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In this study, I examine how women Parliamentarians understand their political influence within the South African Parliament and what environmental factors contribute to this understanding. Currently, South Africa is a global leader for the amount of women in Parliament and has been since the 1994 democratic transition. This study examines the formal and informal factors that South African women parliamentarians discuss as helping and hindering their political effectiveness.Aside from the work of Hassim (2003) and Pandor (1999), little academic research explores the experiences of women within South Africa’s Parliament. Considering this lack of research regarding women’s experiences within government, I selected a research method that would allow an open space for communication: semi-structured interviews with a qualitative feminist analysis. This study explores the opportunities and obstacles that the women perceived as affecting their political influence.The participant’s responses indicate that they perceive a high level of political influence, with some reservations. Four themes emerged as the leading environmental factors in contributing to the participant’s political efficacy: the 1994 democratic transition, the Parliament structure (formal and informal), the political party, and the role of gender.The informal structures of Parliament, such as socializing spaces, and gender stereotypes, such as the responsibility of women Parliamentarians for ‘women’s issues’, were discussed as the primary obstacles that hinder the women Parliamentarian’political influence.The participants felt that the attitudes of political parties regarding women’s role in Parliament was critical in facilitating their influence on the political agenda. The women Parliamentarians credited primarily the African National Congress (ANC) political party for framing and developing an atmosphere that mandated women’s strong participation in government and their positive perceptions of political influence.