• Friday, November 27, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Time for Action is Now

    Navi Ramgoolam

    By Loga Virahsawmy

    Lots of people thought that Prime Minister Dr. Navin Ramgoolam made history when on 8th March 2011 in front of hundreds of women at the Grand Baie Convention Centre he said “I think that finally we have to put a quota system”.  I even gave a radio interview on the matter.

    Yes, the Prime Minister did bring some hope with his announcement and we congratulate him for that. I am sure the Prime Minister must be as embarrassed as gender activists when the question of Mauritian women in parliaments is raised at regional forums. But is this the first time that we hear this kind of political discourse?

    Let us go back in memory lane. During a Gender Links Workshop, prior to the 2005 General Elections when Dr. Navin Ramgoolam was leader of the opposition he assured the hundreds of participants in the audience that his party was very much aware of this deficit (women were 5.4% in Parliament) and added “the first past the post constitutes a major impediment for women while a proportional or a mixed system can be favourable to women.” He also said “I hope that when we will be in power we will have the consensus to introduce a PR system in our electoral reform.”

    He kept his word and the Parliamentary session for the year 2008 kicked off with a good omen for women.  Prime Minister Dr. Navin Ramgoolam suggested that there should be a quota for women. He told the house that as from May 2008 all political parties will be contacted to find a consensus on this issue and the opposition agreed.

    We are now in 2011 and still hearing the same talk with no implementation.

    On several occasions the Prime Minister has officially said that Mauritius cannot sign the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Article 12-13 of the Protocol makes provision for equal representation of women in all areas of decision-making, both public and private and suggests that this target be achieved through Constitutional and other legislative provisions, including affirmative action.

    For over four years high officials from Mauritius participated in discussion as well as the drafting of the SADC Protocol and nobody argued that the Protocol was not in line with Article 16  “Protection from Discrimination”  of the Constitution of Mauritius.  It was only in August 2008 when all Heads of States were signing the Protocol that all of a sudden Mauritius realised that it could not sign.

    But what  about the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development? This one was signed by Mauritius in 1997 and the Declaration highlights that gender equality is a fundamental human right. This declaration committs member states to having 30% female representation in parliament by 2005.

    What do we see in Mauritius 14 years after signing that Declaration? Women comprise 18.1% in Parliament and 6.4% at local government. When Heads of States cannot walk the talk, they should then not give false hope.

    The Labour Party amended its constitution in 2003 to make a special provision so that there are at least 30 percent of women in the party structure at all levels. The party’s Constitution is one thing but fielding 30% candidates is another thing.

    The Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) is the only party in Mauritius that puts quotas for women’s participation in the legislative and local elections. Yet, the 20% stipulated in the party constitution has never translated into action. The MMM thought it gave women a gift on a golden platter when it amended its Constitution on International Women’s Day 2011 to make special provision so that 30% women are in the party structure.

    What is the point of having 30% in party structures if political cannot field 30% women as candidates?

    Some falsely believe that women cannot lead. Yet, countries daring to break stereotypes and put more women in Parliament are doing really well. Rwanda, a country emerging successfully from tragic genocide has over 50% women in Parliament. South Africa, a nation that broke away from apartheid and remains the region’s economic powerhouse, has 42.1% women in Parliament. This is followed by Angola at 37.3%, Mozambique at 34.8% and Tanzania at 30.4%, all are dealing with huge challenges, but are nations largely at peace and moving towards development.  Mauritius is a country cited as a model of democracy and yet it is side lining 51% of its population.

    There will be local government elections this year. There is no need for more talks or wait for Constitution or Electoral Reforms if we want change to happen. For once Heads of Political Parties can hold their heads and prove what they can do it instead of the rhetoric and ink wasting?

    After all both Navin Ragoolam, now Prime Minister and Paul Berenger, now Leader of the opposition talked the same language on women during the electoral campaigns 2010. Navin Ramgoolam told men to be careful as at the next elections there might be more women than men while Paul Berenger said that he will make sure that there is at least one woman in each constituency.

    Why not walk the talk now on the eve of  local government elections. Time is for action.

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