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Few Women in the Crowd as New South Africa is Born

December 22, 1991

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ While scores of politicians began planning the new ″democratic, non-racial and non-sexist″ South Africa last week, women were a conspicuous minority.

Of the 228 delegates who gathered Friday and Saturday for the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, only 17 were women.

″Here we are in this great hall at a momentous time, and I can’t believe my eyes when I see the number of women in the room,″ said Helen Suzman, a liberal Democratic Party delegate.

A declaration signed by most convention participants pledged to create a nation free of sexism as well as racism, but the male-female ratio showed how far the country has to go before women play a substantial role in politics.

President F.W. de Klerk’s 21-member Cabinet has one woman - Health Minister Rina Venter. The 60-member President’s Council, de Klerk’s main advisory body, has seven women.

None of the five top leaders of the African National Congress, the main black opposition group, is a woman. Only nine of the 50 elected seats on its policy-making National Executive Committee are held by women. At the ANC’s national congress in July, delegates rejected a proposal to set aside a guaranteed number of seats on the committee for women.

ANC President Nelson Mandela, whose 12-member delegation includes three women, said later that ″women have got a very powerful claim to equal representation in everything we do, and we fully support this.″

The convention delegates agreed to investigate ways to ensure women have adequate representation in all aspects of the talks. However, female delegates from various political parties emphasized they oppose tokenism.

″I don’t think women should be there just because they’re women,″ said Anne Routier, the lone female delegate from the governing National Party. But she acknowledged that culture and traditional views make it difficult to persuade women to contest for political power.

A survey of 2,200 South Africans published in The Star newspaper earlier this year indicated 40 percent of black men and 32 percent of black women believed men should run government and women should stay home. Nearly a quarter of both black men and women were undecided on the question.

In addition, 53 percent of urban black men and 40 percent of urban black women believed men had more rights to jobs than women, the survey showed. White men and women seemed more accepting of women in government and job equality, but an overwhelming 67 percent of white men still believed it was best if women stayed home or had undemanding jobs so they could take care of the house.

No margin of error was provided for the polls.

Two weeks ago, Routier helped launch a women’s lobby of 20 organizations, which sent telegrams to convention delegations urging them to ensure women were not left out. She said few responses came back.

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