Botswana: Elections- Women’s fight for equal representation is not over

Date: November 4, 2014
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Gaborone, 24 October: As Batswana head to the polls today for the 11th National Elections, the question remains: where are the women in politics? As we cast our votes today, many women and gender activists are aware that the faces and voices of women remain underrepresented and drowned out by those of men. We have seen declines in women’s representation in politics following recent elections across the region, just as states should be pushing harder to ensure gender parity in their governments.

Since 1966 Botswana has seen a slight increase in women’s participation in politics, with Dr. G. Chiepe being one of the first women to step a foot in parliament. Unfortunately these strides have come to a halt and the gender disparity in the political arena widens after each election. However, this disappointing trend is not unique to Botswana as seen in recent elections in Malawi and South Africa. We are yet to see the outcome for women after Mozambique’s recent election, but it doesn’t look good.

The 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer shows that Malawi saw a decline from 22% to 17% women representation, which like Botswana, uses the First Past the Post electoral system. South Africa also experienced a decline in women representation from 43% to 40% despite the ruling African National Congress’s voluntary 50% quota for women.

Botswana, together with the DRC, currently have the lowest representation of women in parliament in the Southern African region at a mere 10%. With primaries already past, there is a danger of further backslide after today’s election. Currently there are only 14% women in cabinet and 19% in local government. Botswana, DRC, Malawi and Zambia have consistently performed poorly when it comes to women in all areas of political decision-making.

The FPTP system has been tried and tested in Botswana over the past 48 years of democracy and has not worked for the marginalised groups such as women. The winner takes all and there are no special measures in place for women. Calculations in Barometer reflect the global reality that women’s political representation is highest in Proportional Representation (PR) electoral systems (38% in parliament and 37% in local government) and in countries with quotas (38% in parliament and 37% in local government). Furthermore, the fact that Botswana has not signed the SADC Gender and Development Protocol means government is not bound to the 50/50 target of women in political decision-making.

Gender Links (GL) -Botswana took stock of women’s participation in today’s elections, finding that out of 57 constituencies, 16 women are standing for parliament, up against 159 men competing for the seats. 185 women are standing for council seats (of which there are 604 country-wide), competing against 1406 men. In an effort to empower the women standing for council seats, GL ran training workshops for 135 of these women between the months of August and September, in order to build their capacity and election strategies.

However, during the election campaigns, these few women candidates’ voices were muffled by the overwhelming number of male politicians. Furthermore, most political candidates did not even mention women’s issues, and those that did, failed to address these issues effectively.
A women candidate contesting under the Botswana Democratic Party in Selibe Phikwe was quoted at a training workshop saying, “This has not been the easiest campaign especially as a woman. I had to put double effort in all I did, my worry is that there are not many women standing for elections as many were defeated at the primary elections.”

Despite these trends, we cannot lose hope and must have faith that the 50/50 campaign will bear fruit- that Botswana will see an incline in women’s representation in government. We must also maintain the loud calls for equality to ensure whomever is elected into office, use their power and political will to increase women’s representation in cabinet and other designated seats. The same call must resound at all levels of political decision-making and we must hold the pressure on political parties to adopt quotas for women and revise their manifestos to ensure they are gender responsive. No matter what the outcome, our fight for equality is not over. Before and beyond 2015, Yes we must!

Gomolemo Rasesigo is the GL- Botswana Country Manager. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, offering fresh views on everyday news.


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