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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.

Comments

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Great!

What a fabulous article Warona! My first question for you is this: are you or any of your friends going to run in your next local election? Are there any activities in your town that encourage women to increase their political participation?

I have learned so much about your country since you have joined our program--thank you so much for adding your voice.

Your article made me look up the representation of women in the 112th Congress in the US. Did you know that women make up only 20% of our representatives? I think we need to take some lessons from Rwanda, which has achieved perhaps some of the best gender equity in terms of political representation in the world!

Keep up the good work,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

warona's picture

Thank you Rachel

Dear Rachel!

Oh my God what a question, am actually thrilled as you and other people around here continue to ask me the same question. They think i can stand for other people, at some point my uncle once told me i've got a voice that is so strong and he recommended me for the Radio, but by then i didnt know what he was talking about.I didnt even consider what he meant and i never thought in the long run i will be part of it.Thank God.I have always supported other contesters so much despite the low number of women in my community in politics. But i havent brought this to my mind to think of myself in politics, well i know if i can take my stance i will make it, though it it entails a lot including finances.But in the mean time am so supportive to the women who aspire to take on in politics.

Oh really, thanks for revealing that about Rwanda.This is so amazing, about Rwandan women!, how they have taken the country in politics by storm.Can you imagine they hold half of the parliament.This is really beyond numbers.If at all batswana women could only copy from what other women are doing in other countries we could be far by now.Rather than to profess things by mouth but never take action.Our representation would be far from what we annouce today.I wish this dramatic gain for women's participation in politics could take place here in Botswana.

Really we need to take this lesson and copy it into our socities.

Thank you so much Rachel for sharing through tour comment, am also educated, i have learned Rachel, thanks!

Regards

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Thank You !

Dear Warona,

All across the miles in New York you have reached me, sparked my interest and impressed me with your clear, eloquent expression of the difficulties faced by women in politics in Botswana, of the undeniable need for change, and of the path to improved conditions.

I thank you and I applaud you.

With Respect,

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby

warona's picture

Aaaaah! Sarah!

Dear Sarah,

You touched me too by placing your comment, it is so uplifting and strengthening.Well that is the situation in Botswana currently.With this upcoming elections i hope to see new aspiring women as Emang Basadi Orgainisation continues to empower them so that they give heed to taking positions in the upcoming elections. It has been men who has been dominating the arenas, this time i hope it will be women.All i want is fair political representation.I believe women around here are capable and they have the potential to brake into new heights.

So very grateful

Thank you, thank you so so much my dear.

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

You worked very hard on this piece and it has turned out to be informative, powerful, and inspirational. Success all around!

Thank you for tackling some of the most complex aspects of the problem and exposing them for our community--and the world!--to see.

Kristin

warona's picture

So Sweet!

Hi Miller!

Behind all this, there has been a mighty force! You and Natalie has changed my life a lot. Am no longer Warona that used to be.I have gone through a lot of purging, my English , oh my God , i thank God for you.More especially for this piece at some point i was helpless, i regarethered my strengh to tackle it. It was not really easy for me.Thank you , so so much.You' ve amazed me so much for the past months.I can go on with beautiful praises really words befail me.Thank you Kristin.

Great regards

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Farona's picture

Warona, SIS ! I see in you

Warona, SIS !

I see in you the next leading women change maker of your country ! You have articulated your points really well, I have almost read all your pieces, this one was the best written ;- ) a testimony to how this journey has pushed us to learn and practice more!
Women in my country can't even vote let alone run for elections! I hope your country will continue to mature politically and women must COME together to work towards a mature political process. You're certainly leading !

warona's picture

Hi Farona!!!!

So good to hear from you my dear Farona.We have reached our mile, ending all powerful feature stories .

Yes this is what is happening.The real testimony of women in plitics in Botswana!As well the very things that choke their confindence and availability to venture into politics.I hope with these coming elections there shall be some change among women presentations, to add on the little number that alrady exist,I have learnt a lot about the Rwandan women, they are just so amazing.Farona the drama is in Rwanda, they have taken the parliament by storm.

Am also sorry to learn about the situation in your country.It is so touching, things must balance,once you see this i tell you must know that might be oppression som where, but thats what i perceive.

I love you and thank you so much for your support.God bless you!

Thankfull

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Insha Allah's picture

women of Botswana

Dear sister Warona,

Both your feature story and the achievements what women of Botswana have made up of inspired me deeply. Through reading your pieces, I could really learn much about your community and I witness your country has broken down many barriers although you faced many challenges along the journey. This peace really haunts all of us understanding the crucial role of "Gender-mainstreaming" in public arena.

Thank you so much for sharing such informative and thought-provoking story.

With Love,
Insha Allah

Shwe Wutt Hmon

warona's picture

Thank you my dearest

Dear Insha

This is the situation in my country my dear.We are trying hard to reach high.Male have been dominating our world , this has been the thought men are the only leaders that can hold high positions in politics or any other filed.They have been wrongly and mistaken to be the ones to perfom.Men have failed in so many ways, most of them they end up abusing the country's money for their own consumptions.Thats why you see even in churches God is raising women who can stand and fill the gap.Men have befailed God.So many leaders has befailed their countries, they end up in romours of wars, civil wars and other frustrating issues in their own land.

Thank you so much my dear lovely sister for putting your comment, its so encouraging dear

Thankfull.

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

WoW! Great piece ma soeur. Thanks for really exploring the underbelly of politics in Botswana. I enjoyed reading how you discussed the use and exclusion of women in politics. Though they are highly represented on the grounlevel in mobilization and voting, women are still invisible where it counts...Thanks for tackling this piece! Hugz!

warona's picture

So very thankful!

Dear Sharon,

Thank you so much gal for your support once again.Thank you Sharon.

All the best to you gal

Regards

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

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