Woman: Electing women as shop stewards – putting Numsa to the test!

Shop steward elections start on September 22. Our last congress resolved to continue with the campaign to elect women as shop stewards but it rejected the introduction of the quota system. But how successful have we been? Can we improve this time round without using a quota system that sets aside a certain number of positions for women?

Past Numsa congresses have rejected the adoption of the quota system for women in leadership positions. In the 1996 Cosatu Congress, it was a Numsa woman who argued very strongly that quotas are an insult to women and that women must be elected on merit only.

"Numsa has come quite a way in electing women into leadership positions," says Selinah Tyikwe, Numsa's national gender co-ordinator. "Some regions and locals do have women who are local office bearers and they form part of the regional office bearers. We also have a Second Vice President, Angie Moeng, who is a national office bearer, but this is not enough," she says. 

That is why Tyikwe believes that the next Numsa congress should look at bringing the debate around the quota system back onto the agenda. But many still disagree: "What is the use of having the quota system and then electing for the sake of electing?" asks Enock Mabaso, Pinetown local chairperson. "People must be elected because of commitment to the union."

Tyikwe counters that "look at the ANC, they have adopted the quota system. It has worked wonders for them." However others are not so convinced. Henry Myende, Numsa Pinetown local organiser believes that it has only achieved something at national level. Go further down to regional and local ANC structures and you will find men occupying leadership positions.

Some Cosatu trade unions have attempted to introduce quotas. Nehawu has an 80% women membership and yet its leadership profile is not matching this. Although it adopted a quota system of 50%-50% to change this, "it worked to an extent where women were elected into key positions at a local, regional and provincial level but come the next elections and they were replaced by men," says Liesl Orr, Naledi's gender researcher.

Saccawu claims to "balance gender in all our structures," an organiser says. "Our regional congress looked at gender balance – our chairperson is a female."

Despite this bumpy quota ride, the recent Cosatu National Gender Conference held in the middle of July is also pinning its hopes on the quota system. "Each union should develop their own quotas", is the draft of a resolution going to Cosatu National Congress in September.

The resolution goes further and calls for a programme to elect women shop stewards and to include "Education and mentorship and measures to address barriers to women's participation."

Numsa's upcoming shop steward elections are a test for us – will you elect women as shop stewards so that women are properly represented according to their membership in Numsa? Or is it time too for Numsa to introduce a quota system?


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