Women sidelined in the 2010 General Elections

Women sidelined in the 2010 General Elections

Date: May 8, 2010
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Official results of Mauritius’s most recent elections released on 6 May 2010 shows a 0.5% decrease in women’s representation in parliament, sliding from 17.1% to 16.6%. Unless this situation is corrected with the best loser system, Mauritius will follow the trend of gender losses in two Southern African countries that had elections in 2009, Botswana and Namibia.

This is a disappointment. According to a report done by Gender Links during a workshop held on 24 April 2010, participants predicted a minor increase of 2%, up to 19%. This worrying trend of sliding backwards in gender representation is particularly ironic since most Southern African countries (except Mauritius and Botswana), are signatories to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, signed in August 2008, which includes provisions for 50% women in decision-making.

On the other hand, other countries are steaming forward. South Africa’s April 2009 elections put this country on the map as far as women’s representation is concerned. Women’s representation jumped to 42%, the largest increase since the first democratic elections in 1994. South Africa is firmly on course to meet the SADC target of 50% women in political decision-making by 2015. This also places South Africa in the lead position in the region.

In an interview during a meeting held by 20 members of the SADC Parliamentary Forum at the office of Gender Links and Media Watch Organisation in Mauritius, Dr Gerhard Koornhod, Member of Parliament for the African National Congress said, “If you do not have political commitment you will never make it. You are doing great work but activism is not enough. At the ANC, we are already on the 50/50 campaign and we know it will work. Why can’t you follow the ANC’s model? We have used the zebra system and it is working.”

Next in line in terms of progress is Angola, whose parliament comprises 38.6% women as of the elections in 2008. This was a significant jump from 10.5% in the country’s previous elections, in 1992. The only other countries to even pass the 30% mark committed to in the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development is Mozambique at 39.2% and Tanzania at 30.4%.

The progress in other nations only serves to highlight that political will can be successful in reaching new heights in women’s representation. Seven out of the 13 women fielded by the Alliance of the Future, referred to as being “sent to the slaughterhouse” according to the former Leader of Opposition, Paul Raymond Berenger, were elected. While condemning this crude and indecent language by somebody who was positioning himself to become Prime Minister, we congratulate these women for their wonderful performance.

Aline Wong must also be congratulated for having dared to break stereotypes. In her constituency, the Alliance of the Heart asked voters not to vote for Wong, not because of any policy or campaign platform, but because she is a woman. This is the first time in the history of Mauritius that a woman stood as a candidate in a constituency that has always been male dominated. Wong did a reasonable score and was in second position until the third “pointage” (check) came out.

Wong was not alone. Nita Deerpalsing, Communications Manager of the Labour Party who was elected under the banner of the Alliance of the Future says that, “I am so sorry that there will be less women in Parliament. It is also very unfortunate that we have had to suffer of all sorts of sexist and blatant language. Telling us that we will go to the slaughterhouse is like treating us like animals. In my constituency I was the main target of discrimination and people were told not to vote for me because I am a woman.”

However, this election has shown that women candidates can be successful if given a fair chance. Of the 21 women candidates fielded by the two major alliances, the people elected almost half. The intriguing question is why, if women are 51% voters and 51% of the Mauritian population, the two major alliances fielded only 21.6% women candidates.

Yet, we have also had some successes. The Electoral Commissioner’s Office must be congratulated not only for their sterling work, but for having giving us gender data, the percentage of women and men as voters. This is a first in the history of Mauritius, and shows the growing recognition that gender plays an important role in the electoral system.

Gender Links and Media Watch Organisation-GEMSA would like to also extend its congratulations to Prime Minister, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam and his team, and especially the women who fought so hard to get themselves elected.

Loga Virahsawmy is the Director, Gender Links (Mauritius and Francophone Office) and President of Media Watch Organisation-GEMSA. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service.



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