Lesotho elections: SADC Chair needs to live up to gender commitment

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

When Lesotho went to the polls on 17 February, voter turn out was high. Women’s participation increased significantly since the last election, yet is still far from the 50% target set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In Lesotho, like the majority of the SADC countries, the advancement of women in politics continues to lag behind. Just 28 women parliamentarians were elected out of 120 in the national assembly – merely 23 %.
It’s true that this represents a significant increase in women’s participation in the last election, which saw just 11.6 % of seats go to women. However, as the current chair of SADC, Lesotho had a responsibility to lead the way and show commitment to the full 50% target reaffirmed by the SADC heads of state in the Mountain Kingdom in August 2006.
Political parties and electoral systems are major determinants of gender equity in  national legislatures. According to research, evidence suggests that choice of electoral system has a profound effect on whether women get elected or not.
In 2002, Lesotho introduced a mixed electoral system to help end wide shifts of support from one political party to another. Of 120 seats, 80 are ‘first past the post’ with the remaining 40 based on PR. Properly utilised, the system can enhance political inclusiveness, including the participation of women, provided that parties commit themselves to this.  
The proportional representation (PR) system, in which the electorate votes for political parties, has been shown to be far more woman-friendly than the constituency system in which voters vote for a specific candidate. Resources and public profile play a critical role in the latter system.
The Lesotho Interim Statement 2007 prepared by the SADC Parliamentary Forum revealed that only 107 (17%) of the 617 constituency candidates were women. On the proportional representation (PR) lists, however, 197 (32%) of the 606 candidates were women.
Though still far from the SADC set goal of 50%, this suggests that some political parties had taken advantage of the PR system to promote the participation of women in politics.
A full month after the elections, it is still difficult to access gender disaggregated data. However, indications are that, comparatively, more women took seats based on the PR system.
However, another issue is the position of women candidates on the PR list – the higher the candidate on the list, the better the chances of such candidates making it to parliament.
The Forum reports that an analysis of the party lists shows that the representation of women in the first 10 slots on the PR list of nine political parties, stood at an average of 27%. Of these parties, only 3 had women in either the first or second position.
This means that women still have a far less chance of being elected. In Tanzania, the system works differently.
Tanzania has constitutional 30 percent quota for women. Men and women are free to contest all constituency seats. An additional 30 percent of the seats in the assembly are distributed among women only from the different political parties on a PR basis.
There are only two political parties led by women in Lesotho, among a total of 19 registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, the New Lesotho Freedom Party (NLFP) and Basutoland African Congress (BAC).
BAC leader Khauhelo Deborah Raditapole asserts that it is slow work, but the women are beginning to make some headway. She was in the forefront in the making of legislature to end gender inequality, such as the sexual offenses law, passed in 2003 and the married people’s equality law.
Raditapole adds that that “patriarchal cultures make it difficult for some women and impossible for others to penetrate structures within society.” She points out that traditional practices and attitudes toward women have carried over into political life.
To Lesotho’s credit, representation of women in local government exceeds many other countries in the region. Though Lesotho’s first post-independence local government elections on 30 April 2005 used a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates, over 53% of the victorious candidates were women.
This means that 28 percent women won in the two thirds constituencies open to both genders. Some point to this as showing that quotas work, others as showing that quotas are not needed. Perhaps the answer is that when the space is opened up to women, it will give impetus and confidence for both running for and choosing women candidates. 
So, why have the successes of the quota system at the local level not been transferred to the national election in Lesotho?  Since the local example clearly shows quotas work, if the government is serious about change, then this should also be in place at the national level.
Perhaps the answer is that in Lesotho, like in many countries, politics are more contentious at the provincial and national levels, and the idea persists that women are more suited to locally based, rather than national, issues. Local government is considered not as serious a sphere of politics as the national level.
Women’s equal participation in political life, as voters, candidates and members of electoral committees, plays a crucial role in the advancement of women. Under-representation in any sphere of decision-making results in the perpetuation of policies and practices that do not serve the needs of women and men equally.
This holds same holds true, whether in local or national politics, international relations, business, media, or any other public or private arena. In order for Lesotho to live up to its gender commitment, more effort must put women into decision-making positions in all spheres.
Teboho Senthebane is a freelance and founding member of Media and Arts Watch Association (MAWA) Ts’ireletso, in Lesotho. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

Comment on Lesotho elections: SADC Chair needs to live up to gender commitment

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