Women throughout history in Botswana are known to have been disempowered, maligned and discriminated against on the basis of tradition and culture amongst others. As a result, they have been left behind in almost, if not, all spheres of influence in society. It looks like this will be the trend for the foreseeable future until women politicians take themselves seriously. This is acknowledged across society. So when a window, big or small, opens to bring women in these spheres of influence in society, one expects them to jump at it and ensure that it doesn’t close before they enter. Hon Dithapelo Keorapetse tried to open this window in the Court of Appeal (COA) Bill 2017 when he proposed that five of the twelve judges of this court be female. Among ruling party MPs who rejected this proposal were women - Hon Dorcas Makgato and Hon Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. I couldn’t believe it but I better do so.
In the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) 2014 election manifesto, it is stated that “BDP continues to strive to create a society in which women and men are equal….Adapt and apply affirmative action measures where necessary”. In this particular instance, affirmative action was applicable and necessary.
Let us begin with what Hon Keorapetse’s proposal was based on and what his opponents’ views were. Hon Keorapetse was quoted by The Patriot on Sunday dated April 02, 2017 to have said “I am saying because the appointing authority for 50 years has not seen fit to place women at the Court of Appeal, now as Parliament let us act; it is now time to act, to make sure that there are females in the Court of Appeal bench because I believe we have capable women”. In the same publication, it is reported that “Both Makgato-BDP Women’s Wing Chairperson-and Venson-Moitoi said it was unnecessary to specify the number of women in the Act as that will be restrictive. Instead they suggested that the law be left open for women to compete against their male counterparts on equal footing”. This argument simply says, preserve and perpetuate the status quo. How sad!
It is important to look at the following facts: In 2008, there were only seven women in the 61 National Assembly; four women in the 24-member cabinet; three female judges in the 13-seat High Court. In the 2009 elections, out of a total of 117 candidates, only 10 were women and only two were elected to Parliament. The foregoing may have remained the same and where any changes occurred, it was by the smallest margins. In the current cabinet, there are only three full ministers and one assistant. I would have expected women MPs to have vigorously lobbied their male counterparts for Parliament to enact a law that empowers appointment of competent women ministers from outside Parliament because the odds are heavily stacked against them to make it to Parliament. This proposal could again be expected to have prominently featured at the recent BDP Women’s Wing congress because the delegates were representing a constituency that remains disadvantaged in leadership positions.
“In Rwanda, more than 60% of Parliamentary seats are occupied by women, 43% in the judiciary and 40% in cabinet. According to the gender gap index 2014 that measured gender disparities across 145 countries surveyed, Rwanda was ranked 7th globally by the World Economic Forum and 2nd by the African Development Bank 2015 index. According to the recently released Fin Scope report 2016, women’s access to financial services increased from 36.1% in 2013/14 to 63% in 2016. Official reports on land holdings in Rwanda for example indicate that 26% of land is owned by women, 18% by men while 54% is shared by both spouses. On safety and security, according to Gallup Global Law and Order 2015 Report, Rwanda has been ranked among the safest countries in the world that provide conducive atmosphere to people who walk alone at night, women included”. (Source: Diplomat Magazine-Women as stakeholders in development: The case of Rwanda dated April 2016). The story of Rwanda is unbelievable considering that she emerged from a genocide period which claimed so many lives and infrastructure. Rwanda was during this period virtually at a standstill. Recently in Kenya, the country’s Supreme Court gave Parliament 60 days to pass a law guaranteeing at least 1/3 of the country’s elected representatives are female or face dissolution. This means that out of 349 elected MPs, 116 will be women.
When one comes to the subject matter and is alive to the fact that after 50 years of a politically stable environment, a middle income country and yet our Court of Appeal does not have a single local woman let alone one from outside, it is a serious cause for concern and an indictment on those vested with political authority. But this pathetic situation obtains in almost all government machinery. Out of the current directly elected MPs from 57 constituencies, there are only three.
The fact that women cabinet members referred to above emphatically shot down a dispensation meant to be bias towards their constituency, all but sums up their pathetic cause to the womenfolk. Given their depleted numbers, one would have imagined that they would viciously and aggressively lobby their male counterparts especially that it would be cheaper and easy to do so over and above supporting Hon Keorapetse’s motion. An argument is made by Minister Kgathi in the same report by The Patriot on Sunday that “The desire to make a provision for the appointment of female judges is a matter that falls squarely within the purview of the JSC as per Section 103 (4) which is very clear in that it stipulates that the JSC shall not be subject to the control of any other person or authority in the exercise of its functions”. This argument is as flat as a deflated old tyre.
The JSC functions within the purview of the law made by the legislature. If a provision expressly made for the appointment of female judges was duly agreed to as proposed by Hon Keorapetse, the JSC would be required to appoint such female judges as and when they qualified and on the basis of the quota. Nothing prohibits the JCS from appointing female judges under the current law but under the proposal of Hon Keorapetse, it would have been in the context of affirmative action in recognition of historical and cultural disadvantages to women. This was the core of the proposal. One is left dumbfounded by the rejection of a proposal meant to advantage women by women themselves. It should be asked why this is so.
BDP women MPs are generally “focused on removing discriminatory legislation rather than on adding proactive measures to increase women’s economic or political power” – the Marital Power Act of 2004 is an example. Beyond removing discriminatory legislation, these MPs have in large measure, dismally failed to advocate for tangible instruments to ‘adapt and apply affirmative action measures where necessary’.
Given the above, partisan politics takes the lead against the bigger picture of coming up with initiatives specifically tailored for women. To these women MPs, it was a case of their party against the UDC. I would have imagined that because women themselves and across the political divide find it difficult to push their agenda in the mainstream economy, their leaders would jump at any proposal to help their cause. If they can’t push it at the highest political level, where else would they? Patriarchy, which has been and still is at the top of women’s agenda, is perpetuated by women politicians at the expense of their constituency. I am yet to hear women’s voices following the latest development. The pull her down syndrome perpetuated in the august house is here to stay. It will take us another 50 years or beyond to match the Rwanda story unless women politicians show a great deal to change the status quo. Regrettably, the current crop seems content with women owning a small bakery here and there and a few of them in key decision-making structures. Lina Abou Habib said “Only through political participation will women be able to actually disrupt patriarchy”. Judge for Yourself!