Mauritius: Gender equality for all humanity

Mauritius: Gender equality for all humanity

Date: November 10, 2014
  • SHARE:

Port Louis, 7 November: If my memory serves me well, I remember all political leaders discussing the need for more women in Parliament at a symposium hosted by Gender Links prior to the 2005 general elections. Nine years have gone by and the percentage of women in Parliament has remained almost the same, with a mere 2% increase from 17% to 19% following the 2010 general elections.

For real change to occur, society needs to actively move from exclusion to inclusion; inequality to equality; and from tradition to adaptation. Our society cannot pretend to be democratic when 52% of its population is excluded. If tradition is unable to serve its function by remaining static and not changing as society transforms, we cannot claim to be a modern Mauritius.

Perhaps political parties realised they could not keep up the facade, since no political leaders were present at the 2014 Gender Links Symposium on women and governance held in October. Only the leader of the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate sent a representative. In her presentation and in replying to questions, Malini Seewoksing who is a municipal councillor, highlighted the importance of having more women in politics.

Harking back again to the 2005 symposium, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam who was then the leader of the opposition, said that when he became Prime Minister he would make sure that there are more women in Parliament. Granted he kept his word with the draft White Paper on Electoral Reform. The White Paper borrows from the Local Government Act in order to increase the ratio in the gender neutral quota from one third of either sex to half of either sex (50/50). Thanks to this Act, at the local level we saw a fourfold increase of women councillors.

Although the White Paper is not going to Parliament before the General Elections taking place at the end of the year, parties still have an obligation to file at least 33% women candidates. However, considering the low number of female candidates each alliance is fielding, it seems that the percentage of women in Parliament might actually decrease.

Pravind Jugnauth, leader of Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien and Paul Berenger, leader of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien, both said that they cannot make space for women because their parties have formed alliances. The parties have done so to increase their chances in the elections. But where is the problem and what has this got to do with female fielding candidates? These ‘explanations’ are blatantly sexist. Such a shame for a country that touts itself as a model of democracy.

Although we still live in a man’s world in 2014, some states are making progress and showing greater commitment to gender equality. For instance France has 50% women in their cabinet. Rwanda has the highest global percentage of women in Parliament at 63% due to the new constitution enacted in 2003, that mandated at least 30% of all legislative seats be reserved for women.

According to the 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, within the Southern Africa region, South Africa (tenth) and Seychelles (fifth,) are the only two SADC countries in the top ten global ranking of women parliamentarians around the globe, with 45% and 38% respectively. In the region, Mauritius has the lowest percentage of women in cabinet at 8%. There are only 19% women in parliament and 24% on local government.

In recent months Mauritius was graced by visits from two Foreign Affairs Ministers from Australia and India. Both Julie Bishop and Sushma Swaraj Swasma showed the whole Mauritian nation the capabilities of women and how women are changing politics in their countries. Bishop is the first woman to be appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and made history when she became the first female to hold the post of Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in Australia.

Swasma, is the second woman to be India’s External Affairs Minister-the first was Indira Gandhi. She became the youngest cabinet minister at the age of 25. She now holds the third position in the Government of India, and has been elected seven times as a Member of Parliament.

We are currently living under a record of female world leaders with a total of 22 women holding high level positions. From the Chancellor in Germany to Presidents in Liberia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Central African Republic, Chile, Malta and Prime Ministers in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Kosovo, Denmark, Jamaica, South Korea, North Cyprus, Senegal, Norway, Latvia and Poland. They are changing lives of people in their countries and here in Mauritius female councillors, who have been elected as a result of the gender neutral approach of the Local Government Act, are doing the very same in their communities.

One councillor told Gender Links that when there is a problem with electricity, she climbs onto the trucks and goes with the workers to make sure they rectify the problem. Why then is climbing the stairs of the Legislative Assembly a problem? Another woman who won position as a District Councillor said, “All problems in the community concern women and I make it a point that gender goes on the agenda of all council meetings.” Sheila Bappoo has changed lives of our elderly and the disabled people, helping to advance their rights and amplify their voices. There are many more Bappoos out there waiting to be fielded by their political leaders. Why not give them a chance?

As we can see, women deliver and in fact political parties and governments in Mauritius, SADC and beyond cannot deliver to their countries unless half of the people are not represented in their structures. If we are to call ourselves a modern democracy and if the next set of development goals are going to be truly sustainable, we must achieve gender equality in all spheres of life, for the sake of all humanity.

Loga Virahsawmy is the former Gender Links Francophone Director and now sits on the GL Board. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, offering fresh views on everyday news.


Comment on Mauritius: Gender equality for all humanity

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *