The topic of gender in Mauritian politics is not new. Indeed, many, or even most countries, do not fail to address how gender affects politics.
In Mauritius, it is still being discussed, especially to find explanations for the weak involvement of women in politics. We are talking about how one’s experience and political participation can differ depending on one’s gender.
Gender and politics
Politics concerns us all, regardless of our differences, such as gender. Women possess the right to participate in civil society, vote in elections, be elected to government office, and have their voices heard. And yet men have been in the majority and high positions of power for quite some time. They dominate politics, while women are few. This makes one wonder if gender has anything to do with it. Is a woman less likely to succeed in politics because she is, above all, a woman? Based on the low political presence of women, this suggests yes. It is not for nothing that gender and politics are a subject of study because one, i.e., gender, seems to influence the dynamics of the other, i.e., politics.
However, here is what it is. Women are underrepresented compared to men regarding political participation and holding positions of great responsibility. This is unlikely, given that women in Mauritius make up more than half of the population. There should be a strong female presence in Mauritian politics, but unfortunately, this is not the case. And yet today’s women have all the abilities to be leaders and politicians and participate in political life.
Factors hindering women’s political participation
Indeed, there are few women in politics in Mauritius due to various factors such as the hostile environment where other politicians use vulgar language against some women, sexist lynching on social networks, and political leaders who prefer to put a popular male candidate rather than a woman, among others. But the factor that deserves the most attention is that women or the cause of women always takes a back seat in Mauritius. All that matters for a party are winning the maximum number of parliamentary seats.
Mauritius is a multi-ethnic country. Political parties must consider which candidate will run in which constituency based on ethnicity. It is all about strategy. And amidst all this, there is hardly any concern about gender and female representation. However, a woman can be elected for her ethnic identity because Mauritius’s primary concern is representing all communities.
Evolution of women’s political participation
Women’s political participation began in earnest in 1947 when Mauritius moved to universal suffrage, and women had the right to vote for the first time. Moreover, it was in 1948 that women participated for the first time in elections. It is from the right to vote that the situation of women is expected to evolve. There was the first woman elected to Parliament: Emilienne Rochecouste. She was selected as the second female member of parliament for the constituency of Plaines-Wilhems-Rivière-Noire. This is an excellent step in history and an inspiration for other women.
Women in essential positions have also made history, such as Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, who, in 2010, was the first woman to occupy the seat of Vice President of the Republic of Mauritius. In 2014, Maya Hanoomanjee became the first woman-appointed Speaker of the National Assembly for the first time. In addition, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was appointed President of the Republic, becoming the first woman to hold this position. At the same time, in 2017, Fazila Jeewa-Daureeawoo was the first woman to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Despite all these achievements, women’s political presence remains low. It is good that women have been put in high positions in government, but this cannot distract from the fact that men dominate politics and women do not.
The current situation in Mauritius
Since women are the majority in the country, their vote is essential and, if combined, could change the outcome of the elections. But since Mauritius’s independence, women’s presence in politics has remained low, with only minor improvements. Men stay in large numbers, whether in parliament or municipal council. The numbers speak for themselves, as seen in the table below. From 2000 to 2019, the highest number of women elected to the National Assembly was 14, compared to 56 men. The disparity is flagrant here, and things have not drastically improved.
|Year||Male||Female||Both sexes||Female (%)|
And it is not only in general elections that women are in the minority but also in municipal elections. In 2001, 17 women were elected alongside 109 men. In 2005, 16 women were elected, with 110 men. In 2012, we can see a slight increase in the number of women elected, with 32 women against 57 men.
|Year||Male||Female||Both sexes||Female (%)|
However, they do not exceed half. It is sad that even today, especially in the National Assembly, women still do not reach at least half the number of elected representatives. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed
Recommendations for Mauritius
The problem with Mauritius is that the genre is not debated enough on the political scene. Nothing concrete is being done to radically change the small number of women in politics. The political sphere is, unfortunately, difficult for women. In a democracy, the representation of women in politics is essential. Change is needed, but when will it happen? For example, when will women finally have a strong presence in the national assembly?
Solutions have been proposed, such as a gender quota system where a certain number of women would be imposed for more representation. Rwanda, for example, has been prosperous since the country adopted the quota system. But in Mauritius, the use of quotas for women remains a controversial issue where it is said that women would not be nominated or elected based on merit. However, suppose a change is to occur. In that case, the electoral system and the party system itself must be changed, women must be given opportunities, and the problem of gender disparity in politics must be firmly addressed so that real progress can be made in the future.
Léonard Marie Mégane, BA (Hons) Politics, Human Rights and International Relations student, University of Mauritius