Towards prominence without tokenism

Ahead of the organisation’s congress in December, the SWAPO women’s wing, the Women’s Council, resolved at a central committee meeting this month that there should be a 50 percent representation in the party hierarchy and in parliament.

“Women should have the same chances as men. We hope that, come the next elections, we will have 50 percent women representation,” said Linea Shaetonhodi, the council’s deputy secretary.

At independence in 1990, 9 percent of parliamentarians were women; 16 years later, 27 percent of cabinet ministers are women and 25 percent are deputy ministers, 21 of 78 members of parliament ‘ 27 percent ‘ are women, and 23 percent of the permanent secretaries in government ministries are women.

“Namibia has thus not achieved the previous target of 30 percent as set by SADC,” said information minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, a female member of cabinet. “Much needs to be done to attain the new target of 50 percent of women in politics and decision-making positions.”

In 1997, at the SADC’s Heads of State meeting in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, the 14-member regional body resolved that there should be equal representation of women and men in the decision-making of all member states at all levels, and set a 30 percent target to be achieved by 2005. The 50 percent gender-parity goal, in line with the African Union’s recommendations, has no set timeframe.

According to the June 2006 edition of the SADC Gender Monitor, “the average representation of women in the parliaments of the region now stands at 20 percent, with Mozambique and South Africa having reached 30 percent or above”.

Namibia has excelled in some areas of gender equality: parliament amended its Local Authorities Act in 2002, stipulating that party lists for municipal elections should have 30 percent representation of women.

In the 2004 municipal elections women gained 123 seats, or 43 percent, of the 283 available seats. Political parties use a list system to select candidates for local and parliamentary elections.

The Congress of Democrats (CoD), founded in 1999 and an opposition party, is Namibia’s only political party to stipulate in its constitution that 50 percent of its representatives must be women. “We wanted to set an example right from the start,” said Ben Ulenga, the president. “Fifty-one percent of Namibia’s population are women ‘ they must be adequately represented.”

Women’s Manifesto, a women’s advocacy group, called for legislation mandating “50/50 representation”, also known as “zebra listing”, several years ago. The “zebra” system means that male and female election candidates are listed alternately.

“We’re not asking for a quota system,” women’s campaigner Liz Frank said. “We’re asking for a piece of legislation that would make a permanent amendment to the electoral law.”

The country’s private sector has also fallen far short on gender parity issues. Namdeb, a subsidiary of South African diamond conglomerate De Beers, caused a stir eight years ago when it appointed a woman, Inge Zaamwani, as its managing director, but female executives remain a rarity.

According to the latest annual report of the Employment Equity Commission, only 48 women held executive positions at the 345 companies and state-owned enterprises surveyed.

Rosa Namises, who runs Women Solidarity, a nongovernmental organisation, is concerned that conforming to the SADC requirement might result in tokenism. “Appointing women in positions just to fulfil the quota is wrong. Grooming women for leadership positions should take place with the same intensity as for men,” she told IRIN. ‘IRIN.

October 2006
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