Sandhya Luchoomun-Boygah – Mauritius

Sandhya Luchoomun-Boygah – Mauritius

Date: June 26, 2012
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The Labour Party approached Sandya Luchoomun-Boygah to stand for the December 2005 village elections in Mauritius on the eve of the birth of her second child by caesarean section. Inspired by her father’s dying wish that she become a politician, Luchoomun-Boygah went on the campaign trail three weeks after the birth of her child. “I was still very weak but the hardest decision was to stop breast feeding my baby. I had to put the baby in the care of a nanny as I was leaving home very early in the morning and coming back after midnight.”

But her mother and in-laws supported her throughout the campaign. “My in-laws knew that I was interested in politics and there was no point in stopping me. They helped with the children as my husband was accompanying me everywhere. My baby is now seven months old and my eldest son is four years old.”

Despite resistance from one or two men in her neighbourhood, Luchoomun-Boygah won fair and square, becoming the district councillor for Pamplemmousses/Riviere du Rempart and one of the six percent women councillors in this Indian Ocean Island.

Challenging gender stereotypes runs in the veins of this politician whose first contact with the different people of a rainbow nation started from her cradle. “My father had a shop in the Village of Riviere du Rempart and there were so many things in that shop that it was called “la boutik sinoi” (the Chinese shop). I was born and grew up in this shop and learnt the different techniques to communicate with people. I am what I am because I was taught to be independent.”

Working in the shop she learned the art of communications, public relations, customer service and business: all good skills for politics.

“I can assure you that although I was only four years old I could make paper packages and serve clients. I used to help my dad to weigh rice and measure oil by the quarts. I was allowed to talk to members of the public. My father taught me how to communicate and the importance of customer care.” She also used to follow her father, a grassroots social worker, around the village.

Luchoomun-Boygah grew up in an atmosphere free of gender stereotypes and sex discrimination. Children were taught how to take responsibility. “We were all equal in my family. When it was time for us to go abroad for our University education, my brother, my sister and me had the same chances. Coming from an Indian family this may sound odd as boys get better chances to go abroad than girls.”

One Christmas Luchoomun-Boygah and her sister decided to break taboos by celebrating Christmas and doing so in public; two no-no’s for young women back then. “My dad bought a machine for making chips which was something new in Mauritius.” The two set up the machine, made chips and sold to them on the streets. “This brought some sparkle and some ‘joie de vivre’ in our village for Christmas.”

After studying for degrees in economics and technology at an Indian University, Luchoomun-Boygah went of to study for a degree in software engineering in Canada. “Even when I was at the University in India I wanted to go beyond academia. I used to attend workshops on personality development and had access to a human trainer. I learnt a lot from him and whenever I was on holiday I would follow him all over India. I learnt how to reach my goal and soon realised that my goal was to become a politician. I said it in an audience of 428 students and got an award for that as I had a well defined and concrete goal.”

Her father had wanted her sister to be a politician but she let him down. “One day I went to my dad and offered him the most beautiful gift of his life. I told him I would become a politician. Two years ago he blessed me on his dying bed and made me promise not to deceive him.” Luchoomun-Boygah is now an icon not only in her village, Riviere du Rempart, but of the whole district of Pamplemmousses/Riviere du Rempart. Her dad would have been proud of her.

For a start, Luchoomun-Boygah father was a progressive man, exposing her at an early age to public life in a conservative village. Challenging taboos gave her the confidence and experience to stand for elections. She has university degrees in non traditional disciplines. Unusually for a woman in politics she always wanted to be in politics and had the support of her father who made her promise at his death bed that she would not let him down. In the campaign she had the support of her family, including her in-laws who might have been expected to protest especially when going into politics involved choices like weaning a three month old baby.

In short: with the right combination of factors, personal, political, ideological and institutional, there is no reason why any woman who wishes to should be barred from a political career, even in the most conservative of countries and situations. Every one of the barriers in the previous chapter can be turned around into an enabling factor. This chapter highlights four key enabling factors: numbers (the critical mass); the kind of background and grounding that help to enhance effectiveness; support systems, networks and structures as well as appropriate capacity building; mentoring; on-the- job training and learning on the job.


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