Mauritius prepares for more women in 2010 elections

On 18 July 2008, members of the District Council of Moka/Flacq committed themselves to ensuring that the village elections of 2010 would end with 30 percent women as district councillors. They were not even aware of the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development signed by SADC Heads of State. “We did not know that the Government of Mauritius has signed a declaration to commit itself that by 2005 there should be 30 percent women in politics.”

“Irrespective of the SADC Declaration, we are prepared to take up the challenge and we are ashamed to see that there are so few women in politics,” participants said at the workshop, organised by Gender Links and Media Watch Organisation to help develop a Gender Action Plan for this locality.

Women councillors make up a mere 3.7 percent in the Moka/Flacq District Council. This is the lowest figure not only in Mauritius but also in the SADC region. This is far from the 2005 30 percent target, not to mention the 50 percent goal now being set for the region and included the draft Protocol on Gender and Development up for review at the August SADC Heads of State Summit

This is indeed cause for concern. The absence of women at the decision-making table usually also means the absence of their priorities and needs. Shyamla Ramdoyal, the only woman councillor, needs lots of support from her colleagues as well the chief executive of the Moka/Flacq District Council. “She is well surrounded and we respect her and protect her a lot,” said her male colleagues. Yet what Ramdoyal wants is not protection, but for her male colleagues to help her in her fight to get more women involved in politics.

Councillor Jean Claude Sunasee is among those who want to share in this battle. He hopes that more men are prepared to help female village councillors to get a foot in district councils.

“There are two women councillors in my village and whenever our meetings finish late or there is a function in our village, I make it a point to leave them in front of their doors in my taxi. Mauritius is becoming a dangerous place and women cannot walk alone at night.

“Until I attended your workshop on gender, I did not even realise that by giving them free transport at night I am also encouraging them to keep up their good work at village councils.” For Sunasee, thE workshop has been a real revelation.

“I am a taxi driver working with tourists in a five-star hotel. I lost two days’ salary by attending this gender workshop but I do not regret it as two days’ salary is nothing compared to what I have learnt.”

According to Sunasee, women have all the qualities to become good politicians. They are patient and are quick to learn. “I know they have always been sidelined due to their multiple roles.” When Sunasee was young, he witnessed lots of domestic violence in his small village called Bonne Mere in Quartier Militaire. However, some men in the village did not do honour to the name of the village Bonne Mere (Good Mother). Sunasee was too young and could do nothing to help these women.

“I still remember how my neighbour was getting up at 4.00am preparing breakfast for the family, then fetched grass for the cows, milked the cows before going into the sugarcane field to work as a labourer. After work she came back home to cook and look after the house. She was the last one to eat and she ate on her own. Very often, her husband came back drunk and beat her for no reason at all. I even heard him saying that there was too much salt or not enough salt in the food and she got a good beating for that.”

Sunasee has seen his own father beating his mother. “We are 10 children in my family and very often my dad came home drunk and for no reason at all he would beat my mother. It is time that we all gave a helping hand to prevent domestic violence,” Sunasee added.

When Sunasee got married to Marie Anne, the first thing he did was to help her open a small shop so that she could become economically independent. The practical needs of his wife were not enough; he wanted to give her the strategic needs. Without even realising by so doing Sunasee was already putting into practice the section on “Practical Needs and Strategic Needs” of our Local Government Action Plan Training Manual.

There has never been any gender discrimination in Sunasee’s house. “All my children, two girls and one boy, get the same treatment. I am building a house for my son at the moment and as soon as I have saved enough money I will build for my two girls as well.”

The proud Marie Anne added: “Without the support of my husband I would never have been able to lead a decent life. We are not rich people but my husband has always helped me in my job.” Sunasee did not even know that he was breaking stereotypes when he was helping in the kitchen and cleaning the house. Men in villages very rarely do household chores.

“But all this must change now. This is the only way to help women to go into politics. I will do everything so that by the next village elections we have more women as village councillors. If a big country like India had a woman prime minister, why can’t we have our own Indira Gandhi?”

l Loga Virahsawmy is the president of Media Watch Organisation in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

August 2008
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