REPRESENTATION OF BOTSWANA WOMEN IN POLITICS - 2014 GENERAL ELECTIONS, MAPPING THE WAY FORWARD
In the 44th year in its history of holding elections, Botswana enjoys generous praise from around the world for its free and fair elections. I would argue, however, that the fairness (as opposed to the freedom I believe to be possible) of our elections is actually not as praiseworthy as it has always been made out to be. Perhaps in no instance is this more manifest than in the disproportionate number of women in politics and the systemic ways that the inequity between men and women in the political arena is maintained.
The under-representation of women in decision-making structures has become a subject of much discussion and debate in recent years for a number of reasons. First, it is generally accepted that "a government by men for men can't claim to be a government for the people by the people" (Lowe-Morna, 1999:13) . Indeed, the Inter Parliamentary Union Council resolved in 1992 that "the concept of democracy will only assume true and dynamic significance when political parties and national legislation are decided upon jointly by men and women with equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population," (Ibid). Women's participation in decision-making is therefore about realizing the promise of equality and justice.
Botswana is a multi-party state where political parties are free to campaign openly in an effort to win the support of the electorate. This means that being a politician is an issue of choice, so standing for this means facing up to a stiff competition and standing up for what you believe in. Here lies the first barrier to women’s entrée into the scene: in our culture, women are reluctant to take such a strong stance and confidence comes with consequence. For women in Botswana, there is fear; fear of the unknown, but also fear of real dangers, such as vicious threats to members of the electorate during the campaigns and after winning . Sometimes politicians use strong language, not recommended for use in public towards others in their platforms, attempting to degrade, discriminate against, and humiliate their opponents in order to win the attention of the voters. Even as a journalist preparing this piece I was faced with many questions from those I came across: they wondered if I wanted to contest the upcoming elections, if I was attempting to attack those running for office. Men sneered that I deserve a position in politics because there is too much confidence in me. This saddens me to realize that there are women out there who have the potential to take this country to the next level, yet they shy away because fear has, understandably, encompassed their hearts. Women voters seem to suffer a similar fate.
Batswana people will exercise their democratic right to vote for the political leadership they prefer to take the country in 2014, when the next general elections will be held. In principle, every eligible citizen should participate. However there are people who do not vote as they do not see the importance of the exercise. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), determine if the election management body is adequately independent and properly structured to deliver credible elections , has done all it can to educate the public on the importance of voting and also educate political candidates on the best practices of politics in a democratic society. Nonetheless, the challenge is great and many voters are discouraged by our history of political contesters who campaign with amazing promises, assuring people that they will be a change maker. After elected into office, they fail to perform their mandate. As voters, we hear of them enjoying their stay in parliament without being bothered with their obligations to the people they serve.
What is worse is that male politicians often bolster their campaign by saturating their platform with the voices and concerns of women, thereby mobilizing a critically important group of voters as a means only of ascent to the position they covet. In fact, women constitute the majority of the voter population, as evidenced by the 2004 statistic citing 311265 registered female voters, compared to 239148 registered male voters. Not only do women constitute the majority of the Botswana’s population, but they are also the very people who are active in politics. Women are the one who sing in party choirs, conduct door-to-door campaigns, recruit members for their parties, and are responsible for organizing party activities such as national conventions and fundraising events. No wonder this still persists: Where a woman is challenging a man, it will be negotiated that the man makes way for the woman. Female politicians, however, remain skeptical, believing it is yet another empty promise.Meaning that a man is usually preferred to lead other than a woman despite the potential that she might have
We have examined how cultural factors contribute to this under-representation of women in decision-making structures. It is important, however, to also highlight how it, in part, reflects a wider problem of socio-economic marginalization of women in society, a major weakness of many liberal democracies beyond Botswana. When women are poor, they suffer all sorts of discrimination and abuse in their respective places in Botswana, including exclusion from most public areas where decisions, which directly affect them, are made.
There are, however, positive signs of change as we reflect on the past 50 years. In the early 1960s, as the country made the transition to independence, there were no women in Botswana's government. Margarat Nnananyana Nasha, now a well-loved woman to the people of Botswana, has followed an inspiring trajectory in her career in politics. She was nominated to parliament in 1994 and a few years later was appointed minister of local government for issues of land and housing, one of the most difficult ministries to run for its role as a quasi government for rural areas of the country. Nasha did well there and in 1999, she won elections for Gaborone Central and retained her cabinet post. She lost her seat in the 2004 general elections, but then-President Festus Mogae brought her back to the House through special nomination. During this period, she felt that she should have quit, but she had a special interest in being a Speaker of the National Assembly, a position noted for its challenges. To be elected to this position you have to lobby all candidates from the different political spectrum; she did just this for three years, phoning all candidates lobbying for their support. Nasha’s story has lifted the hopes of many women in Botswana: if she could ascend to her current position as the first female Speaker of the National Assembly, and become a powerful figure in Botswana Government, then perhaps this is also possible for other powerful female citizens in our nation. Dr Nasha is regarded as a woman of power. She shows the intentions of her stand and is known for speaking bluntly. Dr Nasha’s story has imparted much wisdom and hope on the idea of partrichal society, whereby men rule and women’s mandate is to submit and honour. This is a hurtful reality for many Batswana women, however Dr Nasha has broken all the barriers.
On a second positive note, our government has resolved that half of all special nominations should be reserved for women politicians. To date at least 50% of our specially elected members of parliament and councillors are women. Therefore, eligible women must seize this apparent momentum and fight to contest and win in free and fair elections in 2014. Indeed, the latest findings from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), released to coincide with International Women’s Day, reveal that 74% of businesses in Botswana employ women in senior management positions, ranking 9th amongst the 32 countries that participated in the recent survey that covered 7200 privately held businesses. This reflects on the confidence placed in women by the owners and stakeholders in the business field, a confidence, which I believe can also be transferred to the political sphere.
Inspired by these first, significant steps, we must still endeavor to advance further. The governor of the Bank of Botswana, Linah Mohohlo, revealed at International Women‘s day Commemorations that Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa have surpassed the 30% threshold of female representation in decision-making positions, a mark which Botswana has yet to achieve. Here in Botswana, there are only five positions out of 62 (far less than five percent) occupied by women in parliament. In fact, the number of women in political office does not even meet the United Nations minimum of 30%. We must do more to redress the status quo.
Systemic change within our political structure is necessary, though it promises to be arduous and sluggish. I believe, however, that there are two important cultural shifts we as women and individuals can act on now to affect our situation and advance the movement towards fair political representation. First, women in Botswana must be urged to pursue educational attainments in science and technology, and especially in issues that affect women. This will enable women to obtain better pay and eliminate the income gap with their male counterparts. Education is fundamental and it has been proven that investing in girls’ education boosts economic growth and political participation among women. African women are often protected by law but not in reality because the actions and resources do not generally match women’s empowerment; I believe education is powerful enough to change this.
Second, the women of Botswana must be liberated from such things like jealousy, backbiting, and criticism of other women. This is a behavior that secretively manifests itself by quietly undermining women contesters in politics. Though many seminars have been organized and so much money has been spent, women are not supportive in Botswana; we spend most of our time attacking each other, and we fail to speak in one voice, even when it comes to our own empowerment. We must unite ourselves and put the issue of women on the agenda, in politics and beyond. I close with this charge: let us invest our precious energies in collectively lifting ourselves up—in all areas of life—rather than bringing ourselves down. Finding our political voice, obtaining fair representation, and achieving equality between men and women depend on it. Women in this developing country ought to assured that also in politics they are meant to change political sphere and lead positions that were never lead by women in the history of Botswana.Moreover, Batswana women needs to be rest assured so that they get focused and never to waste time on petty issues, therefore women’s health and economic issues are a measure concern which needs to be taken into consideration.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.