New Act set to increase women’s participation in local government

New Act set to increase women’s participation in local government

Date: May 29, 2012
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The National Assembly of Mauritius recently passed a new Local Government Act that aims to redress the low representation of women at local government level. A delegation of 19 Mauritians are attending the Third Gender Justice and Local Government Summit being hosted by Gender Links in Johannesburg, South Africa and they are not stopping at anything to tell other delegates about this recent development. Indeed, the Act has marked a revolutionary step in the history of Mauritius.

The new Act could not have come at a better time as the country is preparing to go to local government elections later this year. Currently, the representation of women in local government in Mauritius is at 6.4% and only 19% in Parliament.

The Local Government Act imposes a condition that at least one-third of all candidates standing for a political party in any electoral ward must be of a different sex. While one alternative would have been to impose a specific quota for women candidates, the new legislation has adopted a gender-neutral approach.

Not only is this approach more elegant than the imposition of a quota (in fact the word “quota” does not appear once in the new legislation), it also safeguards the possibility of a complete domination of women in politics in years to come.

Various players including religious and social groups as well as the opposition voted with the ruling party to ensure that a Constitutional amendment be passed at the same time as the main legislation, guaranteeing the changes.

Section 16 (1) of the Mauritian Constitution states that no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory. Further, section 16(3) of the Constitution defines “discriminatory” as affording different treatment to different persons attributable to their respective description with regard to various criteria for instance sex.

By applying gender-neutral provisions in the new Local Government Act, section 16(3) of the Constitution would be met.

However, section 17 of the Constitution allows any citizen to apply for redress from the Supreme Court when he or she feels that section 16 of the Constitution is being contravened.

This could have led to future local authority elections possibly being delayed while waiting for an interpretation from the Court. In this respect, the government’s State Law Office recommended that section 16 be amended so as to ensure that any contest could be swiftly dealt with, if necessary.

Though no similar provision exists so far at the national level, the forthcoming local government elections will see a three-fold rise in women candidates in the urban areas, and more than a five-fold increase in the rural areas. The total number of women candidates will increase from under 500 nationwide to more than 2000.

In the last local government elections, in the 124 village councils, 19 village councils did not field women. Only in 44 village councils were women elected. Only three out of the 124 village councils reached the one-third target elected women councillors.

The new legislation guarantees that a certain number of candidates be fielded in elections. The proportion of women that ends up being elected is still up to the population. The challenge is ensuring that voter education mainstream gender so that the electorate appreciates the value that women bring to governance.

Following the uprisings in the Arab States, in early 2011, I came across the views of a female demonstrator in one of the countries, as reported in the international magazine Newsweek. She said, “as time goes by I become more worried about the situation of women…Although women are in the street, …they are excluded from the decision-making process…You are raised to believe that you are less than a man…In the street, at home, at school: you’re always seen as less.” She also mentions that, “even liberal parties are hesitant to field female candidates: accepted wisdom holds that men always attract more votes.”

I firmly believe that this is not the case in Mauritius. The new Act will facilitate women’s participation at local government level and further facilitate progression at national level.

The 2012 Gender Justice and Local Government summit that runs for three days aims to provide a platform for local government stakeholders to showcase the different ways in which they are implementing projects to end violence and empower women.

To read more about the Local Government Act and how it advances a key provision of the SADC Gender Protocol on governance visit:

Honourable Louis Hervé Aimée is the Minister of Local Government & Outer Islands in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.



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