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Women brace for elections

As Botswana braces for its second general election since the Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing China in 1995, women take stock of what has been achieved since then.
Mqondisi Dube

In the run-up to the country s general election scheduled for October this year, what has preoccupied the minds of women activists and rights organizations is the 30 per cent representation of women in parliament and cabinet.

That figure remains well below the expected quota as it stands at 18 per cent at the moment. However, Emang Basadi, a women s rights organization, has started a political education aimed at encouraging women to participate in the forthcoming general election. The prime objective of the voter education programme is to empower women to contest in their respective parties primary elections.

Emang Basadi is worried at the low number of women who contest elections despite them being the majority in most political parties. The ruling Botswana Democratic party (BDP) has more than 51 per cent of its membership being women.

The voter education programme was started in 1993, two years before the Beijing Conference. Emang Basadi intensifies the programme before every election, the first was held in 1994 and the second, five years later.

Segametsi Modisaotsile, the Political Education Project Coordinator says the other aim of the project is to fight voter apathy, which has been prevalent in the past elections.

We need to discuss with women and sensitise them. Although this does not exclusively involve women, most of the meetings have been attended by them, Modisaotsile says.

She says Emang Basadi saw the need to train women so that they could change the mindset that only men must be voted into decision-making positions. The programme targets different political parties and their women s wings, encourages political parties to endorse women s demands which are included in Emang Basadi s manifesto. The organisation s project also encourages and trains women to campaign for political office and lobbies for affirmative action and quotas in favour of women in decision making bodies and management positions.

The project is in line with one of the calls of the Beijing Platform of Action, which advocates for a 30 per cent representation of women in decision making-positions.

We are not only discussing voter education but also discuss areas of concern regarding elections. It all depends on the situation of a particular constituency, she says. Modisaotsile says most women they had addressed dissatisfaction over gender imbalances that exist within political parties. They say the set-ups in various political parties were not conducive for women s progress.

Modisaotsile says the problem is that powerful; women are pitted against each other and therefore, effectively reducing the number of female representation. She says the problem lies with political parties, as they are not working towards rectifying the situation.

The project coordinator says voter education is important to all communities and not necessarily remote areas, as some people in urban centers are not responsive to voter education. She says they had targeted all voters to drive the point home that women must be voted in and be given an equal opportunity just like their male counterparts.

Modisaotsile says the procedures in the way primary elections are being conducted was not conducive for the progress of women.

The opposition says it is working towards addressing the problem of gender imbalance within the party. The party s spokesperson, Paul Rantao says he is pleased with the progress women are making in his party.

We have the 30 per cent quota in mind. It is however, unfortunate that most of the candidates entered for the council seats and not parliamentary. But it is a positive step, he says. Rantao says women should be encouraged to challenge for higher positions.

Despite the number of women who won the primaries in the BNF, the percentage of women s representation, at 5 per cent is far from the quota advocated for at the Beijing Conference.

Modisaotsile partly blames the media for women s predicament. The media can make or break politicians and evidence suggest that women politicians are much more vulnerable than their male counterparts. In most cases, the media carries less coverage of women than that of male politicians, she says.

Modisaotsile notes that the media is less open to the achievements of women politicians than those of their male counterparts. It tends to treat women politicians as women and objects rather than political protagonists, she says.

She says such a situation perpetuates fear in women who prefer staying away from politics. Modisaotsile says Emang Basadi, in conjunction with other women s rights organizations, is working towards changing this mindset.

According to the government s Gender Programme, it has been noted that men wield most power at all levels of society in Botswana.

Botswana has 18 per cent women representation in parliament and cabinet. In Southern Africa, women constitute, on average, 18 per cent of all parliamentarians in the SADC region. South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles, with close to a 30 per cent proportion of women in parliament, rank among the top ten countries in the world in regard to women in politics, according to a recent survey published in a journal, : Women in Southern Africa . Beyond Inequalities

The Botswana statistics show an improvement since the introduction of the political education programme. In 1994, women constituted 12.5 per cent of the cabinet, 10 per cent of mayors and council chairpersons, 17.8 per cent of town clerks and council secretaries and 14.8 per cent of elected councilors.

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