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Southern Africa
Politics | Gender - Women

Southern Africa lags behind gender targets

Malawi's female MPs created a network before the 2009 elections, securing an increase in female representation

© WCI/afrol News
SANF / afrol News, 19 November
- Tougher measures are needed if Southern Africa is to attain its 50-percent target for representation of women in political and decision-making positions at all levels by the 2015 deadline.

The low number of women who made it into parliament in the recent elections held in some Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries in 2008 and 2009 proved a major setback towards achieving the desired goal by 2015.

For example, gender representation in the Namibian parliament has decreased from about 31 percent at the dissolution of parliament to 22.2 percent following the 2009 elections with cabinet representation at 22.7 percent.

In Botswana, the number of women in parliament has dropped to 6.5 percent in 2009, the lowest in the region, from about 18 percent five years ago. Two women were elected and two others appointed for a total of four women in a total of 62 members of parliament.

After the elections in Mauritius early this year, there was a marginal increase of women in parliament to 12 percent from nine percent in 2005. But Malawi, in its 2009 elections, increased its women MP representation from 14 to 22 percent. Mozambique recorded an increase to 39.2 percent in the October 2009 elections from 32.8 percent five years ago.

The speaker of parliament is a woman in only two Souterhn African countries, Botswana and Mozambique, while in Namibia, the deputy speaker is a woman.

Figures for most of the countries still fall short of the target set by SADC to have 30 percent women in decision-making positions by 2005, and shows little progress toward the target set by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008 to achieve 50 percent of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sector by 2015.

The 50-percent target is also in line with the current target of the African Union (AU) and going by the current trend, SADC is not on track to meet the desired target in five years time.

This calls for renewed and intensified efforts by SADC member states to scale up interventions and ensure that the gender gap in terms of women's participation in positions of authority is addressed, gender agencies in the block conclude.

A recent SADC summit said member countries should ratify and implement the Protocol on Gender and Development signed in August 2008, which would make the 50-percent target a legal validity. The protocol aims to ensure that woman take up an active role in national development by occupying half of the decision-making positions in all structures of society.

Other issues covered in the protocol include constitutional and legal rights; governance; education and training; productive resources and employment; gender-based violence; health and HIV and AIDS; peace-building and conflict resolution; and media, information and communication.

Five SADC member states have ratified the protocol, half of the number required for it to enter into force. A protocol in the SADC region needs to be ratified by two-thirds of member states to have legal force overrding national legislation.

Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have deposited the instruments of ratification with the SADC Secretariat, while Lesotho, Seychelles and South Africa have almost completed the process.

In the foreword to a recent publication, the 'SADC Gender Monitor 2009', Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, head of the SADC Gender Unit, said the protocol provides concrete and tangible targets for the region to address its gender imbalances. "We have to capitalise on this investment to move the agenda forward, with full understanding that the time is now," she said.

Ms Mathiba-Madibela also said there was need for member countries to review their electoral systems to ensure gender representations in parliament.

Tanzania is the only SADC member state to have legislated a quota, at 30 percent representation. Mozambique and South Africa use proportional representation electoral systems and their ruling parties have a policy that reserves quotas for women legislators, guaranteeing higher representation.

South Africa ranks highest in the region in representation of women in parliament with 45 percent, and is third in the global ranking, surpassed only by Rwanda at 56 percent and Sweden 47 percent. Mozambique comes second.

Despite a few setbacks in some countries, the SADC region has reached the third highest percentage of women in politics globally, at the parliamentary level, with a 20 percent average, a figure surpassed only by the Nordic countries with 41 percent and the Americas at 21 percent.

SADC's average percentage of women in parliament is also higher than the world average of 18.5 percent, the sub-Saharan average of 18.6 percent, Asia at 18.4 percent, the Pacific at 15.2 percent, and that of the Arab States (9.1 percent), which is the world's lowest.

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