The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development has set 2015 as a year in which at least fifty percent of decision making positions in the private and public sector be held by women including the use of affirmative action measures.
Unfortunately Botswana is not signatory to the protocol and signs that she could be suffering the consequences of not doing so especially in the political sphere are evident. For Instance, 27 per cent of cabinet positions were held by women in 2002, this figure has since declined to 17 per cent in 2012, signifying a major reversal. This further decreased to less than 10 % in 2014 general elections. The same trend can be observed with parliamentary seats as women representation has since decreasd from 18.2 per cent in 2002 to less than 10 per cent currently.
Women rights activists continue to fight for equal rights and fair treatment of women to this day. Although they agree that progress has been made, they argue a lot is still to be done.
Be that as it may activists and their fellow women in politics seem to be differing a bit on the subject. While activists want the government to act now, with pressure from regional and international instruments if need be women legislators seem to be lenient.
The parliamentary caucus on Women addressed members of the media a day after the commemoration of the International Women’s Day on Monday to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality in all spheres of life and their participation in advocating for peace. The caucus surprised many when they tried to defend the government position in advancing women equality and equity issues.
The Caucus is made up of Mahalapye East MP Botlogile Tshireletso -chairperson, Specially elected MP Unity Dow, Sefhare/Ramokgonami MP Dorcus Makgato, Serowe South MP Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Tlokweng MP Same Bathobakae-the only female opposition MP and the Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Kokorwe. Although they did not entirely agree on everything, they largely commended government for making an effort to advance women ‘s rights.
Tshireletso alluded that it is without doubt that Botswana has made considerable progress towards achieving gender equality in the prioritized critical areas of concern. She however continued to say more remains to be done to advance the rights of women and girls and to reverse the deeply and long entrenched inequalities emanating from patriarchal systems, and discriminatory cultural practices. “It must be noted that progress has been made in the SADC Gender Protocol though Botswana has not yet signed. As Women Parliamentarians, we shall continue to engage SADC and advocate for a more use of simpler language to enable us to sign the Gender Protocol,” she said .
It is perhaps this ‘more that remains to be done’ that Tshireletso was referring to, that has kept and still has women rights groups and activists on their toes.
Women Activists are up in arms and accusing government of being counter active to the cause. The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, they argue, should have long been signed, and would have assisted in bridging the gaps.
While Tshireletso seems to suggest that the only issue that is keeping Botswana from being signatory to the Protocol is the use of vague legal jargon, activists do not see it that way. They perceive the delay influenced by the same partriachal principles that the protocol is trying to address. Adding on Mma Tshireletso’s statement the Minister of Health Dorcus Makgato said it was after all commendable to see that although not signatory to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development it was by far outperforming other states which are signatory to the protocol. “ Just because we are not signatory to the SADC Protocol on Gender does not mean we are against what it stand for, we just want to be at par with the way it is drafted,” she said.
For her part the Minister of Education, Unity Dow said Botswana was signatory to other legal binding instruments at a higher platform. She singled out the commonwealth's Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005-2015 as one of the special temporary instruments that the country uses as a roof in mapping out and implementing gender equality interventions.
Although the legislators agree that there are still challenges in increasing the number of women in parliament and politics in general they were of the view that they could only assist by pushing government to employ interventions such as affirmative action and political party funding .“It is something that we will continue to push” said Malesu.