Paulette Lagaite – Mauritius

Paulette Lagaite – Mauritius

Date: June 30, 2015
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Having been active politics for the past 15 years, Village Councillor Paulette Lagaite talked about her work in the community with passion and pride. She told Gender Links that the work of a councillor is the same as a social worker, except the councillor can take what the social worker does to council meetings.

Having raised a child who is now 26 years old, Lagaite knows the importance of being caring. “This is why I have chosen to work as a pre-primary school teacher. I have so much love to give.” Lagaite feels that she has been blessed doing two jobs that bring her close to the community. Working as a Councillor means solving the problems of people, and working with children means that she is forging the character of the Mauritians of tomorrow. “This is why I do not want to change jobs. I like working with vulnerable children. I make sure that they have at least one good meal a day. I organise myself so that I get funding to give these children a decent meal.” The pre-primary school of Lagaite is called “Teletubbies.” She has 19 children from ages two to five, and looks after them from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.

Lagaite told Gender Links that when she started getting involved in politics 15 years ago, she was looked down by people in a village who thought politics was meant for men only. “It taboo for a woman to go into a male dominated field; even now politics is considered dirty business.” For people in her village, a woman in politics was a bad woman, and was called names. “How can a woman walk in the streets or climb on lorries for her political campaign?” people were saying. But Lagaite does not regret it. She forged her way and showed people that women are close to the community, and change can happen with women in politics. She won two elections and even sat at the District Council table in Pamplemousses/Riviere du Rempart. “I was the first woman village councillor to sit on the District council and I am very proud of that.”

During the first few Council meetings, Lagaite just stayed quiet. “My voice was not coming out although I had lots of ideas and some views to express. I was so afraid to talk in an austere and male dominated environment.” Lagaite said that she was grateful to Gender Links for helping her change this. “This is the only organisation that has really encouraged me to talk. From being voiceless and after having attending several workshops run by Gender Links, not only I have found my voice but I am asked to talk in weddings and whenever there is a ceremony in my village.”

Lagaite has also become the adviser when people have problems in her village. “They are always rushing to me for any problems that they may have. I find the time and patience to listen to them, and do my best to bring solutions to their problems. I believe this is why people trust me.”

When Lagaite saw an abandoned child who was only 11 years old, she wanted to know more. She talked to the child and gained his confidence. She soon learnt that his parents were divorced, and soon after his father died. After some time, the child lost his mother as well. People in the village decided to put the child in a home, as nobody wanted to take responsibility for him. The child ran away from the home, and Lagaite decided to put a case to the Child Development Unit (CDU). “I even made an appointment so that I could accompany him, as his case was quite dramatic and urgent. He was going out with drug users and at his age I knew this would have a very bad influence on him. I did my best, but unfortunately each time I telephoned the CDU they said they would give me an appointment and this never happened.” Lagaite regrets that she has not been able to do anything for the boy, although she tried. “I did my best, but unfortunately the CDU did not take the matter seriously”

Lagaite believes that had it not been to Gender Links, she would never have known about the existence of female condoms. In fact, Lagaite participated in Stage V of the COE workshop for the District Council of Pamplemousses/ Riviere du Rempart to upgrade their Action Plan with the sections on HIV and AIDS, Climate Change and Local Economic Development. “Not only did I help in upgrading the Action Plan for this locality, I learnt about female condoms, and the demonstration of its use by the Representative of the Ministry of Health was really great. I have taken a few condoms to use for training in my locality.” Lagaite does not believe in keeping all the knowledge she acquires for herself. She also took a few copies of the SADC Protocol pamphlets to use in workshops for her locality.

Lagaite’s worst experience as a Village Councillor was when it was her turn to become President of Le Hochet Village Council. “The former President asked me to sign a paper to say that I can only take the post of President for three months because of my family obligations. I did not realise that I was being framed and I signed the paper.” From that experience Lagaite learnt not to trust anybody, and to ask to advice if one is not sure about something.

Lagaite has had quite a few good experiences. Among them are seeing the growth and the happiness of the children she teaches. She also appreciates using the knowledge she got from Gender Links on Gender and HIV and AIDS and Climate Change and Gender. “I never thought that climate change can have something to do with gender.” Lagaite is also a member of the National Women’s Council.

Lagaite can now talk with confidence on the SADC Protocol, on Gender and HIV and AIDS as well as Gender and Climate Change, thanks to Gender Links. She also said that she knows her rights and laws that protect women. Lagaite became more confident, and is not afraid to speak in public. She is now prepared to train other women. She said that she became knowledgeable about gender concepts, and can now train other women. “We are councillors, but had it not been to Gender Links we would not have had the techniques on gender issues and how to talk in public and in the media.”

Lagaite also does voluntary work in a residential centre for former drug users. Her dream is for there to be more women village councillors. When asked if she will stand as candidate for the local elections, Lagaite did not hesitate one second to say, “I hope my party will choose me and give me a ticket. I am living proof that women can govern, having been a village councillor for the past 15 years.”



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