Since South Africa’s transition to a liberal democracy, government efforts to advance gender equity have been held up as a beacon of good practice across the world. However, experience of democratic reform has demonstrated that local government poses particular challenges for advancing gender equity in policy and increasing women’s representation in politics. It was at the local level that women in civil society organised most vigorously and effectively during certain moments of opportunity during the anti-apartheid struggle. However, this has been diffi cult to sustain in the post-apartheid era, and this article seeks to explain why. Two sets of issues are particularly highlighted. The fi rst relates to the entrenchment of local relationships and power structures, particularly traditional authorities and their role in the conduct of local governance. The second relates to the nature of decentralization in South Africa and the fact that policies addressing women’s gender interests are sometimes at odds with the neoliberal framework that has characterised decentralization policy in South Africa since the late 1990s.