Missing the Target – For several SADC countries, meeting the 2015 goals of the Gender Protocol remain elusive
Mbabane – Following the elections and recent government appointments made by King Mswati III and MPs, Swaziland has hit rock bottom in women's representation in government, just at the time when the country should be giving its last push for gender equality before 2015.
There is no hope that Swaziland will reach the SADC Gender Protocol target of 50 percent women in all areas of decision-making by 2015. The elections left a bitter taste in the mouths of many citizens.
Critics called the elections a sham, due to alleged vote rigging and vote buying. The African Union Election Observer Mission also criticised the “partyless” Tinkhundla system, which disregards international principles of free, fair and participatory elections.
However, the election outcomes left women and gender activists with an even worse after taste. Out of 55 Parliamentary candidates, the electorate voted in only one woman.
Esther Dlamini was re-elected for the third time. With King Mswati's appointment of the additional ten Parliamentary seats, only four women compared to 61 men hold seats.
Women now represent a mere six percent of Parliament, a dramatic decline from 22 percent after the 2008 elections.
Swaziland stoops below Botswana's eight percent, meaning the country has the lowest number of women in Parliament in the SADC region.
The Seychelles currently has the highest with 44 percent and South Africa is close behind with 43 percent. The King and MPs appointed 12 women and 18 men into Senate.
With their appointment of five female and 15 male cabinet ministers, women make up 33 percent of Cabinet. This is an improvement from 25 percent, but is undoubtedly tempered by the declines in Parliamentary and local government figures.
Women's representation in local government declined from 19 percent to a meagre 14 percent following last year's local government elections in November.
The DRC has the lowest percentage of women in local government at two percent, with Zambia and Madagascar at six percent. Lesotho is almost on target with 49 percent. Namibia has the second highest figure in SADC with 42 percent.
South Africa currently has the highest number of women cabinet ministers in the region with 41 percent, followed by Mozambique with 32 percent and Malawi with 30 percent.
But, why has women's representation worsened in Swaziland since the 50/50 campaign was in full force prior to the elections? One theory is that the women who served in the last Parliament failed to live up to expectations.
A former female Senator who spoke on condition of anonymity says that controversy clouded the good work of female Parliamentarians.
“One was always making controversial statements about her personal life in the media and this did not do much to instill confidence in women generally.
“Unfortunately, if one woman errs, all the rest are judged by her actions. I wish I could say the same is true for men but this is not the case.”
The electoral system combined with existing cultural practices that discriminate against women and favour men, obstruct women from participating in government. Women still need to seek permission from their spouses if they wish to join the election race.
In addition, the “pull her down syndrome” also persists since the female electorate does not want to show support to women who pursue a political career and challenge the status quo.
In the primary elections, one candidate is elected from each chiefdom. Those elected then go on to represent the chiefdom in the general election, where the electorate vote for one candidate from each of the 55 constituencies into the House of Assembly in Parliament. King Mswati III appoints the Prime Minister and the remaining ten seats in the 65-seat Assembly. The Assembly and the King then select cabinet ministers and senators. This has led many people to dub the electoral system “selections” rather than elections, and this “selection” process clearly does not favour women.
Former MP Jennifer Du Pont is convinced she lost in the primary elections in August because a chief told his subjects that it was against custom to vote for a woman in mourning, since she lost her husband in May. Although the country's constitution gave Du Pont the right to decide whether to adhere to this custom, he said customary law was still superior to the constitution.
Furthermore, scales continue to tip in favour of men because some candidates can afford to buy food parcels and alcohol for their constituency long before the primary elections.
Women and other marginalised groups simply do not have the money.
Moreover, due to high levels of poverty, voters sell their vote to the highest bidder and only the wealthy, mostly male candidates can afford this.
We cannot blame women for the county's stark gender imbalances. Until we financially empower women, government employs legislated quotas and the constitution overrides discriminatory customary laws, women will never make it through the selection process.
If women are to make a comeback in the next elections, the real campaigning needs to begin today! Let's hope that the Southern African countries holding elections before 2015 use their last opportunity for gender equality to the fullest. – Gender Links
• Bongiwe Zwane is a public relations practitioner in Swaziland. Katherine Robinson is the editor and communications manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.