Mauritius: A quota for women’s representation at long last

Date: June 13, 2011
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The struggle has indeed been a long one. We have fought for more than ten years. We went to nearly every village in Mauritius using the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development as a tool to tell men and women about the importance of having women in politics.

We did many workshops too. In one, prior to the 2005 general elections, the then leader of the opposition and now Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navin Ramgoolam, gave a thought-provoking presentation on why it is important to have women in politics. Ramgoolam even assured the hundreds of participants that his party was very much aware of this deficit (women were then just 5.4% in Parliament) and added “the first past the post system constitutes a major impediment for women while a proportional or a mixed system can be favourable to women.”

He also said “I hope that when we will be in power we will have the consensus to introduce a PR system in our electoral reform.”

We trained women political activists of the Labour Party and the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien and after the four-day training, the 40 women said they hoped their party would give them tickets for the local government elections. “If we can do campaigns to get men elected we are sure we can get ourselves elected,” they said.

I remember meeting Herve Aime soon after his appointment as Minister of Local Government. I informed him of all the work that, since 2007, Gender Links and Media Watch Organisation had been doing in all localities of Mauritius to help them develop gender-aware action plans.

He showed even greater interest when we told him Gender Links would help all the localities to implement their plans and develop strategic campaigns. We seized the opportunity of expressing our concerns about Mauritius being a model of democracy and yet having only 6.4% women in local government. This was in June 2010. He listened but did not say anything on the matter.

On 28 May of this year we organised a debate on quotas for women in the local government elections. Labour Party parliamentarians participated, along with members of other parties in the presence of the Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare Sheila Bappoo. She spoke about electoral reforms for local government to make space for more women in local government but she could not officially commit herself.

On International Women’s Day 2011, in front of hundreds of women at the Grand Baie Convention Centre, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam said “I think that finally we have to put in a quota system.”

Minister of Local Government Herve Aime can be proud to have made history as being the first minister to implement a quota that stipulates Mauritius must have 33% women on party lists for local government elections.

It is not every day political leaders walk the talk and both Aime and Prime Minister Ramgoolam must be congratulated for the bold decision of creating this quota.

It is now up to us gender activists to make sure that we do get the 33% women. Politicians have done their share; we must now do ours and encourage women to join politics.

We hope that this is only the beginning of a new chapter for women in politics in Mauritius and that there will soon be reforms to the electoral laws so that there are also more women in the 2015 General Elections.

It is still a pity that Mauritius has not officially signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development considering the country is indeed addressing nearly all of its 28 targets.

Loga Virahsawmy is the Gender Links Director of the Mauritius and Francophone Office. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.


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