Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 35, October 2009
First women speaker for Botswana Parliament
by Kizito Sikuka

The appointment of Margaret Nasha as the first woman to occupy the post of Speaker of the National Assembly in Botswana signals another step towards gender equality in southern Africa.

However, the low number of women who made it into Parliament in the recent elections is a setback in a region committed to reach 50 percent parity in decision-making by 2015, in six years time, following just one more election.

Out of a total of six women who took part in the parliamentary elections on 16 October, only two women won seats in Parliament.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that secured 45 seats, and its main opposition, the Botswana National Front (BNF) that won six seats, had each fielded only three women candidates for the 57 contested parliamentary seats.

Other parties did not nominate even one woman to stand in the elections.

Dr Nasha believes her elevation should lay the foundation which the country can build on and allow more women to assume high positions in society.

"I feel elated, honoured and humbled to be the first woman to assume the position of Speaker of the National Assembly," she said. "This shows that people have confidence that I can lead the House."

She urged women, the electorate and political parties to work together to ensure the gains made by Botswana in the field of women representation in politics and gender equality is not reversed.

Following the appointment of two more women out of the four special seats filled by Parliament, this means the gender representation in Parliament now stands at four women and 58 men occupying the total 62 parliamentary seats, or 6.5 percent, the lowest in the region.

This poor representation of women is also reflected in the new cabinet announced by the President, who must choose his ministers from Parliament, but he deployed all four women elected or appointed to represent his party.

Two women were appointed to head ministries while the other two will be assistant ministers. The number of cabinet ministers announced by the President totals 18, therefore the two women represent 11 percent of the total.

Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi was appointed Minister of Education and Skills Development, while Lesego Motsumi becomes Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.

Assistant Ministers are Dorcas Makgatho-Malesu and Bothhogile Tshirelesto in the ministries of Trade and Industry and Local Government respectively.

The Attorney General, Dr Athaliah Molokomme, is also a woman and an ex-officio member of cabinet, as is the Permanent Secretary to the President, Eric Molale.

If these two are added, the full cabinet totals 18 members, of which three are women, which is 15 percent representation.

This figure still falls short of the target of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to have 30 percent women in decision-making positions by 2005, and shows little progress toward the target set by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008 to achieve 50 percent of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sector by 2015, in line with the position taken by the Africa Union.

Botswana attained 18 percent women representation in the Parliament in the last election in 2004, demonstrating a strong will to promote gender equality. About 28 percent of the cabinet was also made up of women.

On the campaign trail, the BDP President, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, raised concern over the decline in the number of women contesting the elections.

"This is a worrying trend indeed. I know that it is not out of a lack of capability or willingness by women to stand for positions of responsibility at council and parliamentary level," he said, adding that he remains committed to seeing more women in key positions.

He said women make up the largest number of voters hence they must actively participate in the running of the country.

More than 403,000 women were registered voters out of the total of 725, 000 voters who registered to take part in the election, according to Independent Electoral Commission.

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