Port Louis — Gender Links today congratulated the Prime Minister of Mauritius Navin Ramgoolam as well as the Minister of Local Government, Louis Herve Aimee for the four fold increase of women in local government in the 2-9 December local elections.
The increase in women's representation from 6.4% to 26.2% follows the amendment of the Mauritian Constitution to allow for affirmative action, and the Local Government Act of 2011 that requires that political parties field a minimum of one third of candidates of either sex for the municipal and village council elections.
GL further urged Prime Minister Ramgoolam, who has announced that there will be major electoral reforms for the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015, to extend the quota for women to national parliament, and sign the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
"Mauritius has shown us that with political will, nothing is impossible," said GL Chief Executive Officer Colleen Lowe Morna. "The challenge now is to follow through this phenomenal breakthrough."
Mauritius and Botswana are the only two Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries that have not signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Mauritius cited the provisions in the Protocol on affirmative action as the main reason for not signing. "The Constitutional changes to allow for a quota in the local government elections have effectively nullified Mauritius' reasons for not signing," said Lowe-Morna.
"This phenomenal result should also encourage Mauritius to extend the quota to the national level for the 2015 elections," she added. Among its 28 targets, the SADC Gender Protocol aims to achieve gender parity by 2015, also the deadline for Millennium Development Goal 3 - gender equality.
This is the first time in the history of Mauritius that a critical mass of women has made it into local government. The increase is a result of years of activism, supported by drivers of change like Minister Aimee in an article titled New Act set to increase women's participation in local government.
Two major political alliances contested the elections: the Labour Party (Ptr) and Parti Mauricien Social Democrate (PMSD), which contested for seats with the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM).
A total of 90 councillors had to be elected in five municipal councils: Port Louis (24 councillors); Beau Bassin - Rose Hill (18 councillors); Quatre Bornes (15 councillors); Vacoas-Phoenix (18 councillors); and Curepipe (15 councillors). Ptr and PMSD fielded 33 female candidates out of 90 while MMM and MSM fielded 32 women out of 90. Of the 489 294 registered voters, 247 298 Mauritians voted.
Thus the two alliances ensured that they nominated one third of women to stand in the election in line with the 2011 Local Government Act, an effort that they may not have made otherwise.
Of the 90 councillors needed in municipal councils, 33 women (36.6%) won seats. In the 130 villages, 3984 candidates, including 1183 women stood for election for the 1170 village council seats. 297 women (25.4%) and 873 (74.6%) men won.
Overall, out of the 1260 seats contested for in municipal and village elections, 330 women (26.2%) made it into local government after the December 2012 elections.
From second lowest, Mauritius now occupies sixth position in SADC region after Lesotho (48%), Namibia (42%), South Africa (38%), Mozambique (36%) and Tanzania (34%).
The local elections in Mauritius mark the first time in the SADC region that a quota in a First Past the Post System has dramatically increased women's representation without constituencies being reserved for women.
Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique have a Proportional Representation (PR) or list system, in which voters vote for a party, rather than individuals, with candidates presented in prioritised lists. The PR system coupled with legislated or voluntary party quotas works well in increasing women's representation.
Lesotho and Tanzania have First Past the Post Systems. But in these countries, 30 percent of the seats are reserved for women, and these are distributed on a PR basis. When Lesotho tried the alternative method of reserving constituency seats for women candidates in an earlier election, this met with resistance and backlash.
What distinguishes the Mauritian elections from others in the region is that parties had to field one third either women or men, but with no guaranteed or reserved seats for them. The danger with such an arrangement is that voters can decide not to vote for women - however many stand as candidates.
"What is unique about these elections is that voters affirmed women candidates," said Lowe-Morna. "This reflects a high degree of mobilisation, conscientisation and political commitment by all."
Cehl Meeah, a Member of Parliament and leader of the Mauritian Solidarity Front (FSM), commented at a political meeting at Vallée Pitot on 27 November: "Citizens are moving away from such blatant stereotypes towards a more affirming position that women make a difference in politics by voting for them."
Gender Links Mauritius trained several women candidates in the run up to the elections. The women were trained on such things as building relations with the media, campaigning and creating campaign slogans.
Going forward, activists will ensure that they scrutinise the number of women who will become Presidents of District Councils and Mayors. Prior to the December 2012 local elections, there were no female Presidents in District Councils. Mauritius only had one female Mayor. It is imperative that the women who have been elected be trained to lead the different councils and in turn serve as role models to other women who aspire to become politicians.