Elections 2000
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Women's Numbers in Mauritian Parliament Set to Improve
by Alice Kwaramba and Jean Chimhandamba

Port Louis, 10 September 2000

The participation of women in Parliament in Mauritius is expected to increase as more female candidates have contested Monday's election.

Out of the 535 candidates, 33 of them are women. This is an increase by about three percent compared to 1995 elections, and gives an average of at least one female candidate in each of 21 constitiuencies.

The two main alliances that are competing; the ruling Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) in alliance with the Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD) against the opposition Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) which is in league with the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) are fielding a total of 13 women candidates. The Labour alliance has five women and the opposition alliance has eight.

From the many political parties that are contesting the Monday election, only one, the Assembly for Reform is led by a woman Sheila Bappoo. She was the Minister of Women, Family Welfare and Child Development in the previous cabinet.

In terms of gender and women's representation in Parliament and cabinet, Mauritius has not done well compared to other countries in the SADC region. The previous parliament, dissolved August 11, had only six women members out of 70, constituting about eight percent, the lowest in the region. Similarily cabinet and other strategic positions of power and decision-making are poorly represented by women.

For instance, in the recent 23-member cabinet, there was only one woman and two deputy ministers. At the permanent secretary level, there is only one woman among 25 men.

This is in spite of the fact that the country is a signatory to the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development, a regional instrument through which SADC Heads of State and Government made a commitment to ensure that there will be at least 30 percent women's representation in all SADC Parliaments by 2005.

Kamlesh Rampadaruth, president of the Mauritius Alliance for Women (MAW) the umbrella organisation of women's NGOs is optimistic that the figures will go up after the elections. She hopes that the percentage of women in Parliament will increase to about 12 percent.

The low visibility of women, especially in the political arena is caused by several reasons, including societal attitudes. Generally in Mauritius, as in other countries in SADC, there is an evident attitude of deference amongst women and politics which is regarded as a male domain. Although this attitude is gradually changing, it accounts for the relatively low participation of women in the political sphere.

Sensitization programmes and efforts especially by the NGO sector is the country are cited as having contributed to the increased number of candidates in the election. Organizations such as the MAW ran a number of programmes to sensitize women and men about the important role that women should play in decision-making positions.

According to Uma Rughoo, secretary for MAW, the situation is changing for the better because environment is conducive for the promotion of gender equality. This was precipitated by a good working relationship between her organization and the national gender machinery (the Ministry of Women, Family Welfare and Child Development).

Women's issues were not given priority during the election campaign which has just ended. Prime Minister Navin in a press conference Saturday said his party has made a commitment to have more women participate in the next election realising that they failed to live up to expectations of women's organizations.

Although gender is not being highlighted, many people acknowledge that it is an area which needs to be focussed on more seriously, especially if the 30 percent target is to be met by 2005. Many organizations working in gender and political parties feel that this snap election, with only a 30-day campaign has not given them enough time to sensitize voters and bring gender on the forefront for debate.

It is hoped that women, who constitute more than half of the population, will vote for other women and ensure that their issues are represented in parliament. (SARDC)

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