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Women politicians push for a place at the table

Chinyepi says civil society has intensified efforts to bring more women to the game of politics
Botswana is so used to positive international ratings that when the question of gender equity in politics arises, the blight dot is blamed on culture. While in the corporate world, the progress or lack of gender is put down to qualifications and experience, in politics these do not matter.

The regression in seeing women ascending to positions of power in politics has seen Botswana sitting at the bottom of the 15-member SADC countries, and hitting 123 in global rankings.

The statistics show Botswana in bad light. In Parliament for example, women make up only 11 percent of representation, with 22 percent in Cabinet.

At council level, only 18 percent of women made it to councils in 2019. Speaking to the Parliament Select Committee on Women recently, Chigedze Chinyepi, a board member of the regional non-governmental organisation, Gender Links, explained that the civil society has intensified efforts to bring more women to the game of politics. The organisation has done research, spoke to women in politics around the country to understand their challenges and needs.

To mitigate against the COVID-19 challenges, a situational analysis was done mainly virtually, the findings of which will be launched on June 24 at Avani hotel in Gaborone. Chinyepi said what came out clearly from the research was that “we need to capacitate our young women so that when they enter the world of politics, they are well prepared”.

The survey was part of a project undertaken by a consortium of organisations in seven African countries - FEMNET based in East Africa, WILSA eSwatini, Gender Links in southern Africa, FAWE University of West Africa and a Zimbabwe-based organisation focusing on men gender equality, Pandare.

The countries covered are Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Zimbabwe, Botswana and eSwatini. The work is funded by a Swedish government sponsored International IDEA. The plan is that once the organisations have done cross-generational dialogues, they will undertake training of aspiring politicians. “I believe after these trainings, we would have young women fully capacitated to fully participate in politics,” Chinyepi said, adding that the training would also cut across the generational divide, as experienced women politicians would be mentoring the new aspirants. Even before the situational analysis was launched, Pandare was in Botswana in the week of May 31-June 5 training men drawn from community leaders, Dikgosi, councillors and Village Development Communities.

The program was run in Gaborone and Francistown. According to Chinyepi, the trainings were comprehensive and detailed, covering a wide range of issues including the responsibility of men in leadership to empower women in politics.

The Francistown participants had an opportunity to be capacitated by a constitutional lawyer, who unpacked the constitution, and shared the sections that are discriminatory.

As the country prepares for the constitutional review, the hope is that participants to these workshops will be able to lead and guide as to which sections of the constitution need attention.

In fact, as members of the parliamentary committee whom Chinyepe addressed last week noted, the constitutional review gives the nation an opportunity to re-look sections and laws that may be discriminatory or impede gender equality, especially in politics. As both Chinyepi and the committee chairperson, Unity Dow noted, Botswana operates under the dictates of dual laws – the Common and Customary laws.

While sections 3 and 15 (3) of the Constitution speak of protection of all fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination, it does not spell out what is and what is not discrimination. The interpretation is therefore, left to the courts of law.

While appreciating the work of the civil society to train leadership in issues of gender equality, Ghanzi South MP Motsamai Motsamai, noted that in most cases the critical mass is left out of such programmes. “We need a total mind shift.

We need to take these programmes to men down there,” said Motsamai. As the only man in the all-women parliamentary committee, Motsamai said the kind of abuse he is faced given derogatory terms such as “phara meseseng” clearly shows that many Batswana have a long

way in understanding what gender equality is.

Botswana society is known to be highly conservative with practices and stereotypes which privilege others to the exclusion of others, such as the LGBTI community and sex workers.

Just in the same vein as the belief and saying that “ga nke di etelelwa ke manamagadi pele” whenever issues of women taking leadership arises.

It is that, which the only woman mayor in the country, Olga Ditsie finds offensive and views it as a tool to keep women out of politics. The Jwaneng mayor, who also happens to lead an all-men council, said while her colleagues respect and support her, it is not always the case when she must officiate outside the chambers.

Ditsie has found that one must navigate carefully when addressing particularly elder members of society. “There are men who seem to have it in their blood to undermine women,” she said, adding that however, the mining town’s leadership is slowly but surely falling into the hands of women.  “It is not a lonely seat at the top because Jwaneng has some very strong women leaders.” Tshepiso Leepo is the district commissioner while the Jwaneng council secretary is Mma Molelo with Mme Motlatsi Pule and Mma Bakwena holding the reigns as court presidents.

Ditsie finds the stereotype that women do not support each other as nothing but a weapon to hold back women from contesting positions of power. For councillor Jabulani Nchochi, of Digana (Block 9) ward in Mogoditshane, it is that very assertion that women do not support each other that is an obstacle to women’s participation in politics.

 “It is not an assumption. We hear women in the parties and election campaigns bare nka se sapote Mosadi, o tsoga a re gataka.” Having attended the Pandare-run workshop in Gaborone, Nchochi said it opened his eyes to the challenges faced by women in politics.

“It is not just women who bring others down. We men are the major culprits. If my wife for example was to want to stand for political office, I will be the first to discourage her. But when I raise my hand, she will throw everything in to make sure I win.” Just like Ditsie, Nchochi believes that political party funding should be addressed.

“If we agree that running for office is expensive for men who are in most cases well resourced, what about women who struggle to get support from the family?” Nchochi asks. In fact, political party funding seems to be advocated across party lines, with strong voices coming from the parliamentary committee.

Minister Anna Mokgethi observed that lack of resources remains a major obstacle for most women, just as the first-past-the-post electoral system Botswana is using.

Also, across the political divide, women politicians believe that the best and most effective model to bring on board not just women but other underprivileged groups such as youth and the disabled is the proportional representation or a high breed of the two.

Developing democracies, such as South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, and Rwanda have adopted one or the two, resulting in high representation of women in political office. The reforms, the parliamentary committee believes should also be brought down to political parties. MP Talita Monnakgotla noted that the executives of all the major parties are still men. The worst institution, noted Dow, is the Bogosi.

She appealed to the NGOs to educate women, and the public, to appreciate that today, most dikgosi or chiefs are elected and that these elections are open to every member of the communities, including women.

 “But because of the belief that only men can become dikgosi, we miss the fact that when there is an election, women can take up the positions,” she said.




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