Women in Parliament likely to decline despite regional commitments

Date: November 10, 2009
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WINDHOEK, November 4: Despite the flurry of media coverage on women in politics during the 2009 elections, Namibia may witness a decline in women�s representation in parliament from 30.8% to 25% in the 27-28 November polls, according to an election forecast by Gender Links and the Gender and Media Southern African Network (GEMSA)-Namibia.

This decline follows even more dismal news from Botswana where the proportion of women in parliament dropped from 11% to 6.5% in the October elections. By contrast, Malawi experienced an 8% increase from 14% to 22% in the May elections. In South Africa, the proportion of women in the house of assembly shot up from 33% to 44%, making South Africa one of the few countries in the region with a hope of achieving the target of 50% women in political decision-making by 2015 in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Results from the Mozambique election held last week are still coming in.

Gender in the 2009 elections has been a newsworthy topic with Namibia’s mainstream media publishing stories on women’s participation in politics, their placement on parties’ lists and gender analyses of the political parties’ manifestoes. And, more than 30 civil society organisations have joined hands with the Women’s Leadership Centre to mount the ‘Women Claiming Citizens Campaign’ launched in October.

“Twenty years after independence women are still seen as second-class citizens, with less access to resources, income, land, decision-making power and personal freedoms than men,” the campaign says in its widely circulated flyer. “Enough is enough! Political parties take note of our demands. We are holding Government accountable for adhering to all of the national and international gender laws and policies it has signed over the past 20 years.”

But even though women activists remind political parties that women represent 52% of the vote, the fact that Namibia still has no legislative quota for women at the national level, and the poor showing of women on some of the major political parties’ lists could swing the elections in an unfavourable direction for women, according to an analysis by NGOs participating in a one-day workshop on Gender, Media and Elections organised by GEMSA-Namibia and Gender Links, a Southern African NGO that coordinates the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance that campaigned for the SADC gender protocol.

For example, SWAPO which accounts for the majority of the current 30.8% of women has only two women in the top 10 of its 72 member list. Overall, women make up 32% of those on the party list (23 out of 72).

Gender Links and GEMSA-Namibia’s members based their election forecast on an analysis of the lists of 13 of the 14 political parties; only the Communist Party’s list was not available. The NGOs looked at the total number of women on the party list, the percentage of women overall, the projected number of seats a party would likely get in the upcoming elections and the percentage of women on the party lists likely to go through.

There is a glaring gap in Namibia’s electoral practices with regards to women’s representation at the local, national and regional level. At the local level, where elections are held on a proportional representation system; there is a 30% quota for women, and SWAPO has adopted a zebra style or 50/50 on its lists, women constitute 42% of all councilors. At regional level, where elections are run on as constituency basis and there is no quota, women constitute a mere 11% of the total.

The PR system at national level favours women’s representation but the absence of legislated or voluntary party quotas at this level is militating against the achievement of the SADC parity target. In the 2004 elections, women constituted 26% of MPs, and this rose to 30% during the subsequent years as a result of women replacing male MPs who dropped out of parliament for one reason or the other. Reaching the original SADC target of 30% gave rose to hopes Namibia would push the envelope further in the 2009 elections.

Following the 2009 election, there is only one more election (in 2014) before the 2015 deadline. Gender Links and GEMSA-Namibia have urged political parties to look beyond 2009 and adopt voluntary party quotas for women of 50%, and for activists and the public to increase pressure on the government to institute a legislated quota for women. “If the pressure does not continue even after these elections, we will never change the representation of women in government,” said Marianne Eratus, a GEMSA-Namibia member.

For more information contact: Ms. Sarry Xoagus-Eises, GL local government facilitator and GEMSA country representative, mobile: +264 (0)81 2209216

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