‘Gender Agenda’ a Priority

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WIINDHOEK Deputy Prime Minister Dr Libertina Amathila says political parties in Africa urgently need to address what she refers to as the “gender agenda”. She said she is appreciative of what some African countries have achieved in advancing the role of women in politics. This includes reforming electoral systems and introducing special measures such as women quotas. These measures are all aimed at fostering enhanced participation of women in political leadership and decision-making processes. She however emphatically stated, “This is still not enough”. Amathila was speaking when opening a two-day Inter-regional Consultative Workshop on Political Parties that started in Windhoek yesterday. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the SADC Parliamentary Forum are jointly hosting the workshop. She went on to say women continue to face socio-cultural, economic and political obstacles to effective participation in politics. “When a man decides to go into politics all he does is to simply tell his wife, but for a woman to think of going into politics she first and foremost asks her husband for permission,” she noted. The traditional role assigned to women, she argued, does not make it possible for them to easily join politics. The double burden, of being a mother attending to the basic needs of her family and being a politician, is overbearing, she felt. Women required education and training to become effective career politicians and in many instances these opportunities were not available to women. “Furthermore, politics is a game of which the rules have already been defined by men, to the extent that women feel this is not their game,” she said. This required women who enter politics to recognise that this is a domain that has for a long time been dominated by men. Men laid down the rules, values and norms according to their lifestyles and tastes. She argued women must not enter this domain in order to become indistinguishable from their male counterparts through a process of domestication. They had to make a difference by developing new perspectives based on gender-neutral language and putting the gender agenda and women-friendly concerns on the table. They needed to create a legislative agenda that seeks to empower women to become effective equal members of society. In this context, she especially welcomed what she described as the renewed vigour among the women cadres of Swapo Party. Amathila singled out the decision of the recent Central Committee meeting of the Women’s Council to implement 50% representation of women in the party leadership structures and in the National Assembly. On a different subject, Amathila noted Namibia is one of the few African countries that provide state funding for political parties represented in parliament. “We believe that unless we make money available to our political parties, we shall not have a solid democracy,” she said. The funds are allocated to political parties in proportion to the number of seats they hold in parliament and are meant to assist parties to run their offices, develop policies and conduct outreach programmes including election campaigns. “If we do not give our parties the money they need to function effectively in between elections, and to mount effective campaigns during elections, they may be tempted to solicit illicit money. “This [illicit] money could come with conditionalities that may be repugnant to our sovereignty and independence,” Amathila worried. All political parties represented in the Namibian parliament are attending the two-day workshop, as well as international political party networks representing the greens, socialists, liberals and conservatives.