. . . amid call for more enabling environment for women candidates
THE number of female legislators in the National Assembly has dropped by two-percent from the Ninth Parliament.
In the last parliament, women constituted 25 percent of the 120 law-makers but the representation has now gone down to 23 percent.
This means out of the 120 seats on offer, only 26 women made it to parliament following the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections. Eight of the women won their constituencies, while 18 made it into parliament through the proportional representation (PR) system.
In the previous snap or early elections held on 28 February 2015, 29 women made it to the Ninth Parliament, and the speaker, Ntlhoi Motsamai was also female.
However, female representation in cabinet has remained the same during both the Pakalitha Mosisili and Thomas Thabane-led governments, with five women appointed as ministers and three as deputy ministers in the successive 36-member executives.
Meanwhile, interviews carried out by the Lesotho Times revealed a bias towards male politicians by the electorate irrespective of an individual’s track record.
The issue of culture was also raised during the interviews, with some arguing that Basotho were not socialised to have confidence in women’s leadership, hence the low representation in parliament.
In fact, this general lack of support for female politicians was surprisingly quite strong among some of the women who spoke to this publication. Women, some argued, were supposed to support the men in such positions, and not vice-versa.
And, according to some of the women who have made it in politics, convincing the electorate that they are as competent, if not better, than their male counterparts is extremely hard as it starts at the grassroots where patriarchy is at its strongest and most aggressive.
Other challenges, they said, included lack of resources to fund campaigns, and personal security concerns.
The leader of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), Keketso Rantšo, is the only woman leading a political party in the country and says she has not had it easy. She attributes the low female representation in parliament to endemic negative perceptions about women’s capacity to lead and lack of sensitisation to change those stereotypes.
Ms Rantšo also believes not enough has been done to build women’s capacity to understand they are good enough for any position of authority and also that they have a role to play in national development.
“I went through a lot of challenges when I started the RCL, which pointed to a lack of confidence in women leadership,” Ms Rantšo, who is also Labour minister, said in a recent interview.
“I believe this was due to lack of understanding that, with support, a woman is also capable in politics and that a woman is also an equally competitive candidate.”
It was critical, she said, for female leaders to work with civil society organisations to make other women appreciate their critical role in fostering good governance, democracy and human rights.
“I believe we should start this empowerment process early by targeting girls in schools. Boys also need to be educated for them to grow up understanding that if you elect a woman, she can also provide quality representation.”
Agriculture and Food Security Deputy Minister, Nthabiseng Makoae, said poor representation of women in decision-making positions starts at political party level. Dr Makoae said although she is a chairperson in her party, the Basotho National Party (BNP), it is not the case in most political parties.
“Our biggest threat is a mindset that was socialised to believe that men should lead and women cannot,” she said.
“The situation is worsened by the fact that in the past five years, even some women once committed to politics and the national development agenda are developing cold feet because politics have become rough and dirtier.”
She also lamented the lack of support for female aspiring election candidates by their counterparts.
“Some will always find some weak reasons why they are not electing a fellow woman, because in their mindset, a man is the one who is supposed to lead. We still live in a man’s world; it doesn’t matter where you are, even in the developed world, it is still the same,” Dr Makoae said.
The other dynamic that influences the election of men by women, she surmised, is that most women feel safe when a man is there to protect them.
“As a result, a female politician can be stronger when the electorate sees that there is a man supporting her,” Dr Makoae said
“I believe men can also assist by creating conditions that allow their wives, their sisters and at party level, to participate in high-level politics. It is not easy for a woman to leave her home and family to campaign unless her family is strongly behind her.”
Dr Makoae also stressed the need to emancipate women who, coming from a culture which never gave a girl-child a chance to lead, still do not believe they also deserve a place in the leadership space.
“We need to make all women understand that their contribution matters in governance and development. Unless we take it upon ourselves to do that, I don’t see men doing it for us because they are enjoying it. They know that if they stand with a woman, other women will help them to defeat her. That must change.”
Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Deputy Minister, Rethabile Marumo, also believes a process of educating women should start in order to bring them to a common understanding.
She further emphasised the need for women to always deliver when given the opportunity to lead.
Ms Marumo highlighted that voter-apathy was a concern, and said this was also affecting the election of women.
She was an elected member of parliament for the then Mohobollo constituency, now Leribe #12, between 2007 and 2012. Ms Marumo was then just 25 years old and the youngest legislator.
“People voted for me to deliver, but when I got into parliament under the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), it was not easy to push for the implementation of all development programmes needed in the area,” she said.
“At times, I had to beg some ministers to support service-delivery as if it was not their mandate to service all the constituencies. In those old days, they only used to focus on servicing their constituencies and if you were not a minister, you would be lucky to have a minister who listened. Those are some of the dynamics we need to work together as women in parliament to change and deliver to all Basotho, but also with a special focus on women’s issues.”
The declining numbers of women representation in parliament was also cause for concern, she noted.
“I think we are a society that needs a lot of education as far as gender-equity is concerned. As women, we are many in number, but that will not help us if we do not use it to our advantage. We need to believe in ourselves, that we can make a difference. It’s sad; I have heard some women vow never to vote for a fellow woman, simply because they are jealous.”
According to Ms Marumo, women need to reflect on their role, particularly now when the country is going through security instability.
“Education is key. We need to re-position ourselves as women, get organised and work together. I would like to work closely with my minister to empower women because we know that benefits would be put to good use and improve households.”
The Member of Parliament for Matsieng #45 Constituency, ‘Matsepo Molise Ramakoae, attributed the decline of women representation in parliament to the violent nature of today’s politics in Lesotho.
She noted some women were also discouraged from participating in politics due to fear of being labelled corrupt.
“When you are elected, people expect you to deliver and if you do not deliver because resources are being diverted to other people’s pockets, the electorate will not understand that,” said Ms Ramakoae.
“They will vent their disappointment on you. It is worse when you are a woman, and chances are that they will not give you a second opportunity and in many cases, opt to elect a man – not that he can deliver but simply because he is a man.”