By Bayano Valy
Published July 6th 2005 in allAfrica.com
EIGHT years ago Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders signed a declaration aimed at promoting and achieving a target of at least 30 percent women representation in all political and decision-making structures in the public and private sectors of their countries by 2005.
The forward-looking declaration was a recognition that women in the region remained under-represented - the ideal situation would be to achieve equal representation.
So far only Mozambique and South Africa are the countries in Sadc that have managed to elect over 30 percent women in parliament, with Namibia close behind at 28 percent.
Already in the target year and with legislative elections on July 3, the picture does not look very promising for Mauritian women; there are as few as 63 out of a list of 676 candidates.
Mathematically, if all women were to be elected they would constitute a big improvement compared to 8,6 percent of women voted into parliament in the 2000 legislative election won by the outgoing ruling coalition, the MMM/MSM (Mauritian Militant Movement/Militant Socialist Movement).
Mauritius has a 70-seat unicameral parliament where 62 candidates are elected by direct popular vote in a block system where each voter gets to cast three ballots for three candidates from each of the 21 constituencies, including the island of Rodrigues, off the south-east coast of Mauritius.
The remaining eight candidates are drawn from a list of "best losers".
The ruling coalition is fielding 10 women and the new Majority Party has four candidates. Other women candidates are from the opposition Social Alliance, consisting of Mauritius Labour Party and the Mauritian Social Democratic Party. The rest are either contesting as independents or are from other smaller parties.
Marie Gislaine Henry of the Social Alliance told Southern African News Features (SANF) that the reason women shy away from politics in the island is because political life is traditionally male-dominated. "Women feel discouraged to stand on the platform and speak in public," she said.
Furthermore, it does not help that other women look at women candidates as people who failed to play their traditional role as mothers, she said.
If her coalition wins the poll it would put in place policies that would encourage the participation of women in politics, added Henry. The policies would include encouraging women to get more involved in local and municipal bodies, as well as in economics, especially promoting the rise of women to the higher echelons of the parastatal bodies. The Majority Party is using a different approach: the party is urging women to start by voting for women and then other candidates.
This is so because of the electoral arrangement allowing for each voter to cast three ballots for three candidates from each of the 21 constituencies.
Party leader Paula Atchia said the level of women representation in parliament and government is very low for a country in which women make up 51,6 percent of the population.
She hoped that women would heed their call and at least 20 women could be elected into parliament.
However, if all four candidates in her party were elected, they would push for reform of the electoral system with the introduction of proportional representation; put into place means and mechanisms that facilitate and encourage full participation of all citizens in the country's political life; get parliament to analyse the electoral process and criteria used for selection of candidates; as well as equal treatment and equal wages for women at the workplace.
The Majority Party claims that the response it has been getting is reassuring.
"Since the launching of the party last December all other parties are suddenly talking about women," said Atchia.
She added that another objective of the party is to see a house with equal representation by 2010 at the next elections.
But female faces at the rallies are still few, and only the results will confirm whether Mauritius is making headway and aligning itself with other Sadc member countries in promoting gender equality and, if not achieving the 30 percent benchmark, at least increasing its tally of women representation in all political and decision-making structures. - Sardc/Southern African News Features.