Mauritius: Women and the winds of political change

Mauritius: Women and the winds of political change

Date: December 15, 2014
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Port Louis, 15 December: The election results came like a gust of wind last Thursday with Mauritius’ opposition coalition- Alliance Lepep led by ex-president Anerood Jugnauth winning the majority vote. While the winds of change have roused celebration for the first ever woman President of the Republic of Mauritius- Professor Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the winds also blew away any chances of more gender parity in Parliament.

Lepep won 47 seats, PTr/MMM Alliance lost all seats in 11 constituencies including the constituency of former Prime Minister, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, Triolet-Pamplemousses. They won only 13 seats on a total of 60 in the other nine constituencies. Thus all the 12 women candidates fielded by the PTr/MMM Alliance hold no place in Parliament. Eight of the nine female candidates fielded by Lepep Alliance were elected.

Out of 15 SADC countries, Mauritius has regressed in its ranking for the percentage of women in parliament. The country was at 10th place with 19% women parliamentarians, but has now dropped to 12th position with a mere 13% women in parliament (eight women out of 60 parliamentarians) However, on Saturday 13 December the percentage worsened when the seven best losers were announced. Women make up only 12% women in parliament (eight women out of 69 National Assembly seats). Mauritius is now among the five Southern African countries with the lowest percentage of women in parliament-Malawi, Zambia, DRC and Botswana.

It is unfortunate that apart from Sheila Bappoo-former Minister of Social Security and National Solidarity; Kalynee Juggoo-Secretary General of the Labour; and Nita Deerpalsing-Leader of the Youth Wing, all female candidates of the PTr/MMM Alliance were fielded in constituencies that they have never worked in. This is a shame since at least one or two could have been nominated as best losers. Among the women who lost seats from PTr/MMM were four former Ministers of women’s rights and gender equality namely Arianne Navarre Marie, Sheila Bappoo, Indranee Seebun and Mireille Martin.

Maya Hanoomajee, former Minister of Health and Quality of Life, was the only female candidate of Lepep Alliance who did not make it. She was in the one and only constituency that PTr/MMM won all the three seats. Hanoomanjee will nevertheless be remembered as the first woman in Mauritius who broke stereotype and accepted the male dominated position of Minister of Health and Quality of Life. As Minister she worked with the people for the people and visited every single hospital to put systems in place to ensure efficient and effective healthcare.

Article 12 of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development requires that “States Parties shall endeavor that, by 2015, at least 50% of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors are held by women including the use of affirmative action measures as provided for in Article 5.” Mauritius did not sign the Protocol because of the clause on affirmative action.

But, where there is a will there is a way. Following the implementation of the gender neutral approach in the new Local Government Act, in just one election, Mauritius saw a fourfold increase from 6% to 24% women councilors. Women’s hopes were high after the White Paper on electoral reform was drafted. This paper borrows from the Local Government Act, aiming to legislate a gender quota at the national level. Unfortunately this did not go to Parliament before the general elections. Had the act been passed, Mauritius would have jumped to at least 33% women in Parliament.
Women offer important perspectives and interests in the decision-making process which are often overlooked due to their lacking representation in politics. The 13 SADC states signatory to the SADC Gender Protocol are proactively working towards achieving equal representation of men and women in all decision-making positions. The regional and international election observers from SADC, the African Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) among others, spoke with one voice to criticise Mauritius for the low percentage of women after these elections and called for prompt redress.

We can only hope that the newly elected government under Prime Minister Aneerood Jugnauth and Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Duval, will make a greater space for women. One way of doing it is to give Maya Hanoomanjee the position of Speaker of the Legislative Assembly as well as increasing the number of women in Cabinet. Women made up only 8% of the previous Cabinet-the lowest cabinet percentage of women in the SADC. As the New Year approaches may the winds of change blow once again, but this time, in the direction of women, gender equality and justice.

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.


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