Number of women in politics decline
27 Oct 2019
While the outcome of the October 23 general elections begins to turn into reality for many, one wonders why the voice of women in the political sphere continues to grow more faint with each passing election.
For many years, different advocacy groups, particularly those seeking to turn around the plight of marginalised groups, have lobbied for measures to be put in place to make politics more accommodating to women.
Gender Links, an organisation among those at the forefront of making calls for increased women representation in politics is worried that the number of women seeking election into political office, let alone those ultimately making it, keeps dwindling with each election.
Gender Links Botswana Manager, Ms Onneetse Makhumalo observed in an interview that going into the elections, the organisation was already worried that only 11 women had been nominated across the political divide to run for office as Members of Parliament (MPs).
Ms Makhumalo said the number, representing a 23 per cent drop from the 17 that contested as parliamentary candidates in 2014, is a sad development in Botswana, a country regarded as highly progressive in many areas.
She said having good numbers of women in Parliament would not only make the voice of women more audible but would generally advance the course of women as women MPs would be in a better position to advocate for women and champion issues affecting them.
Given the way things turned out, Ms Makhumalo said Gender Links sees the nomination of Specially Elected MPs as the sole window of hope remaining through which the number of women MPs could be increased.
"Gender Links is banking on the President, that in exercise of his powers in this regard, he will consider women. Our wish as Gender Links is for at least half of the nominees to be women,” she noted.
As to why the low representation of women in politics persisted, Ms Makhumalo cited a handful of challenges, among them the First Past the Post electoral system, which she said should be replaced with that of Proportional Representation (PR).
Moreover, she said the status quo could also be attributed to lack of quotas, starting right at political party level, to reserve a set number of positions of responsibility for women.
On the one hand, she said campaigning for political office was an expensive undertaking that many women could not carry hence the need for political party funding.
Political party funding, she pointed out, would benefit, not just women, but also other marginalised sections of the population such as the youth and People Living With Disability (PLWD).
Ms Makhumalo also blamed patriarchy, opining that the belief that women were not capable to perform leadership roles had become so deeply entrenched that communities tended to shun women seeking to assume positions of responsibility.
Also bemoaning the situation, Emang Basadi’s Executive Director Ms Idah Mokereitane said the low women representation in positions of responsibility in politics not only affected how audible their voice was, but equally weakened the country’s democracy.
“To have women in Parliament in good numbers strengthens democracy. You cannot have a population where the voice of one gender is as good as silent,” she observed.
Ms Mokereitane further pointed out that because there was strength in numbers, the three women MPs had a daunting task before them.
The activist indicated in addition that as a country, Botswana must be deliberate in assisting women to enter the political landscape.
“We need to have a special dispensation to help women go into politics and thrive just like their male counterparts. We can achieve that by among others reviewing the Constitution and our electoral law to with the view to facilitate the entry into and participation of women in politics,” she added.
Like Ms Makhumalo, the Emang Basadi director underscored the need for political party funding.
She said the current situation where parties could source funding anywhere could prove problematic in the long term as funding often came with conditions, some of which she said could not be in the best interests of the country.
Similarly, she said Emang Basadi would be pleased if more women, at least four, were made Specially Elected MPs.
From the political parties view, Ms Margaret Nasha of the Alliance for Progressives (AP) said it was disheartening that to date Botswana still had low numbers of women holding political office.
Ms Nasha noted that as remedial action, the country should enact laws that provide for the participation of women in politics.
“As long as it’s survival of the fittest, women will have a tough time going into politics. As women, we also need a complete revolution where we will stand in the face of adversity and fight our way through because no one will do it for us,” she added.
Though speaking in her personal capacity and not on behalf of the party’s women, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Women’s Wing chairperson Ms Dorcas Makgato said she was deeply saddened by the continued trend where less and less women were being elected into political office.
She said it was a big blow for women that only three females had made their way into Parliament out of 57 constituencies.
Ms Makgato, like others, said though the numbers would still be low, the nomination of women as Specially Elected MPs would be a welcome development that would see the number of women MPs going up a bit.
Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Secretary General Ms Roseline Panzirah-Matshome said Botswana’s political atmosphere was generally discouraging and unaccommodating to women.
Ms Panzirah-Matshome said there was need for affirmative action to help women to stand for political office, adding that there should be quotas for instance providing for a 50/50 representation of women and men in political office.
She also observed that as long as the political sphere remained hostile to women and continued to be characterised by foul and demeaning language, women would not find it easy to venture into politics.
Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) Secretary General Women’s league Ms Resego Kgosidintsi said the performance of women in this year’s election is not different from the previous years, adding that women in politics have a daunting task than their male counterparts because of patriarchal and misogynistic societies.
“Women are placed at the very end of the financial chain, hence poverty affects them the most, therefore this devastating performance is not a shocker.”
The Women’s League Secretary General said there is need to change how things are done.
She said firstly, the electoral system must be changed, adding that the First Past the Post would not bring substantive women in Parliament.
Ms Kgosidintsi said the proportional representation system should be used to allow women to have representation. ENDS
Source : BOPA
Author : Keonee Kealeboga
Location : GABORONE
Event : Analysis
Date : 27 Oct 2019