Women role models lead the way

One problem is that we do not adequately recognise the many women role models in our societies.

When the SADC leaders met in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho at the end of August 2006, they reaffirmed commitment to the target of 50 percent women in decision-making. Yet in Lesotho itself, BaSotho women are conspicuously absent from decision-making positions in general, and politics in particular.

Very few women are included in senior administrative and managerial positions. There are currently 16 elected women out of 120 members of the National Assembly, five women ministers, and three ministerial principal secretaries.

The lack of representation in politics and institutions of governance results in inadequate representation of women’s interests, thereby undermining democracy.

We need to change people’s perceptions of women as leaders. We need to increase the number so women leaders become the norm, and recognise the skills that women bring to leadership positions.

The challenge lies in raising awareness. The media is critical in promoting gender equality, because it sets the agenda and is a mirror through which the country looks at itself. The role of the media in nation building cannot be complete without the active participation of women.

Though there are a growing number of women choosing a media career, very few are in decision-making positions. This contributes to lack of coverage of women who could serve as role models to young girls.

We must highlight these women and their successes. Role models are especially important because Lesotho is such a young country, with close to nearly 40 percent of the population under the age of 18 years.

Ntlhoi Motsamai, Speaker of the Lesotho National Assembly and former chairperson of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, is undoubtedly one such crucial role model. Worldwide only about 10 percent of presiding officers of Parliament are women. She is the youngest speaker in Africa, elected to parliament in 1995, selected to be speaker in 1999 and re-elected in 2002.

While chairperson, Motsamai, challenged SADC member states to redouble their efforts to achieve gender objectives. Motsamai noted that “SADC would not manage to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 without ensuring that women gained equality”.

The growing numbers of new women lawyers has strengthened women’s representation in judicial systems, but the proportion still tends to be low.

Previously a judge in the High Court of Lesotho, Justice Kellelo Justina Masafo-Guni is another role model. She is one of the only two women judges out of 11 elected by the African Union Executive Council of Ministers to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in Khartoum, Sudan, on 21 January 2006. Two women out of 11 is not fair gender representation.

Malejaka Evelyn Letooane was appointed Lesotho’s first woman Commissioner of Police on 1 January 2005. She joined the Lesotho Mounted Police Service in 1977, winning the prize as the best recruit of her year, rising through the ranks until this appointment.

For the first time in history, a woman officer heads Lesotho’s police service. However, of the senior officers, those who get coloured portraits in the annual report’s front piece, only four out of 22 are women.

There is no doubt that women are gaining ground. Lesotho held its first post-independence local government elections on 30 April 2005, using a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates. In these elections, 53 percent of the victorious candidates were women.

To Lesotho’s credit, this representation of women in local government exceeds many other countries in the region. On average, women constitute just over one-fifth of local councillors in Southern Africa. Although accurate data is difficult to come by for this sphere of government, women in local government fall below the 30 percent mark in at least eight of the 14 SADC countries.

Yet overall, women are under-represented in high offices of state and positions of decision-making in government, security services, judicial systems, the private sector and African regional organisations. Traditional practices and attitudes towards women have carried over into public life. Some have said that women themselves do not avail themselves as candidates. Perhaps we need to ask: Are there enough initiatives that give women a platform to reach their potential?

Despite the presence of some women in judicial and parliamentary systems and in top ministerial and decision-making positions, their low numbers hamper their effectiveness in initiating change for women.

There is need for efforts to mainstream gender equality at both local government and national levels, and one way to do that is to ensure that we celebrate our women of firsts and other women role models to give them a prominent place in the nation’s attention.

l Teboho Senthebane is a freelance journalist, pursuing a Post-Graduate Diploma in Media Management at the Sol Plaatje Institute of Media Leadership at Rhodes University. She is a founding member of Media and Arts Watch Association (MAWA) Ts’ireletso, a Lesotho association monitoring media and arts activities from a gender sensitive perspective.

November 2006
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