The 1997 gender equality mandate for Southern Africa, better known as the Declaration on Gender and Development, spearheaded a movement in which women can embark on the decision-making process with equal footing. The Declaration set forth provisions for women to achieve at least 30 percent of seats in Parliament and other governmental structures by the year 2005. Women in the Republic of South Africa now comprise 117 seats, or 26 percent, of the 442 seats in Parliament. In other parts of Southern Africa the numbers for women in decision-making positions are less promising. For example, only 8 women hold seats in Botswana’s 44 member Parliament. Recent political elections in Zimbabwe did very little to increase women’s representation in Parliament, in fact they undermined some advancement. Prior to the elections women held 22 seats in Parliament, today they hold only 12.
Women’s rights activists argue that the difficulty in achieving the 30 percent goal by the year 2005 is due in part to “deep-rooted cultural and social attitudes” among their male counterparts. Representation by women in politics and other decision-making positions is critical for the removal of barriers to their human rights like inheritance rights, land and property rights and access to education. Statistics show that girls make up two- thirds of the 110 million children without education.