Mrs Lachicorée, the first woman elected in 1958 as member of the Legislative Assembly in Mauritius.
Dr Radha Poonoosamy, the first woman minister who led a delegation of 23 women from Mauritius to the first international woman
conference held in Mexico in May 1975.
Mrs Arianna Navarre-Marie was elected as a mem- ber of the Legislative Assembly in Mauritius at only 18 years of age in 1982 and has also served as Minister of Women’s Rights, Child Development & Family Welfare from September 2000 to July 2005. As we enthusiastically celebrate fifty years of Mauritian inde- pendence, it is important to recollect and not take for granted these brave women amongst others who boldly paved their way into the political arena at their time and created an unprecedented access for us women into this political sphere today.While it is undeniable, that women are increasingly participating in government and po- litics since they started and yes while there are some very visible women out there, this visibility has also unfortunately created a false sense of influence and parity. There still is a lot of room for women in the political space and women should not shy away
from claiming it.
The imminent question then is this: why is it that fifty years post independence and despite this sacrosanct access having been offered to women- women’s political representation in Parliament and Government is still low and that politics in Mauritius has remained and grown into a male-dominated entity? The answer requires thorough contemplation into our attitude towards women and politics.
A fundamental error of our society is the belief that women are unresponsive or not ruthless enough and do not want to be involved with all the ugliness of the political sphere. However, the reality is that women are under-represented within all major parties and the patriarchal nature of the political parties excludes and discriminates against women who decide to challenge social expectations and actively partake in politics. Deprived of the support of necessary mechanisms within political parties, it is hard for women to overcome the barriers they face when entering politics.
Women are constrained by the prevalent opinion that men are stronger and more efficient leaders and women are unable to steer the political hierarchies of the existing political arena without the backing of male leaders. Politicians and society in general are very well versed with this hypocrisy and so far the sole modus operandi to deal with these issues has been to create a women’s wing to political parties or a gender caucus in Parliament, which in reality offers very little decision-making power to women.
It is high time that the representation of women in politics, as a socio-legal project, got a reappraisal. Currently, the proportion of women make up 12% of the National Parliament leaving the country far from the 30% target it had dedicated itself to in the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development. A real solution could be to create a quota system where the percentage of women participation in elections is ensured at party level, which would in turn bring a bigger representation at Parliament level. This approach was in fact adopted to the New Local Government Act which in 2012 legislated a quota requiring that political parties field a minimum of one-third of candidates of either sex for the municipal and village council elections.
Countries that implement quotas are defining equality not in terms of individuals and opportunity, but in terms of institutions and results. These countries deem that if there are obstacles to equality — cultural, behavioral, political, religious — then measures that compensate for those obstacles are required to attain real parity. Gender quotas do not actually favor women, but it compensates for biases that tilt the playing field.
Gender equality in politics has been condensed to a paper tiger often only repeated as a political ideal for holier than thou table talks. So let this fifty year independence anniversary celebrations serve as a reminder to renew our determination to challenge men’s dominance in the political arena, as young girls will never aspire to be what they cannot see.