Female MPs failing the gender fight


Magreth Nunuhe

Windhoek – Namibian female parliamentarians representing the ruling party, Swapo, in the National Assembly (NA) have not raised a single motion related to gender equality and women political participation in Parliament in the past five years, from 2015 to 2018.

In fact, the 40 Swapo female Parliamentarians, who represent an overwhelming majority of female MPs in the NA, have raised only five motions (out of 60 motions) unrelated to gender, while the three opposition female MPs have raised 10 motions, three of them gender-related.

This information came out in an academic paper presented by the University of Namibia (UNAM) lecturers, Job Amupanda and Erika Thomas, entitled ‘SWAPO’s 50/50 Policy in Namibia’s National Assembly (2015-2018): Full of sound and fury signifying nothing?’

The question that begs an answer is whether the increased female representation in Parliament only serves to make up the numbers while there is little evidence that equal representation could change policy outputs and address gender-related issues.

In 2013, the Swapo Congress initiated the greatest opportunity for female politicians to heighten their representation in Parliament as the party adopted the 50/50 gender quota.

The Congress selected a higher percentage of women candidates to Parliament, which saw the Swapo female share of parliamentary seats increase from 16 to 40 MPS by 2015.

Namibia’s overall seats in Parliament increased from 72 to 104 seats in the 2014 elections. Swapo captured 77 of the seats, while the opposition settled for a 19 seats in that election.

Nevertheless, there is very little literature on the impact and effect of the increased representation of women in the Parliament of Namibia. This is why Amupanda and Thomas question in their paper whether the celebration of women’s increased representation is not only “sound and fury”, while there has been no substantive change or impact in their participation in the NA.

Amupanda reflected on other countries where there have been strong indicators or substantive change towards the advancement of women brought about by increased representation of women.

He cited women in Saudi Arabia, who can now legally drive cars, as a real indicator of substantive change. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth in office and became the first elected leader to take maternity leave; the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who appointed 50% of women to Cabinet with the youngest being a 31-year-old woman.

Amupanda further mentioned Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who appointed a majority 11 of 17 female Cabinet ministers, while Namibia can only speak now for the first time in the country’s post-independence history of a female presidential candidate on the ballot.

“Because of the nature and character of patriarchy, and its impacts on the lives of women and societies, the discourse on the progress of women political participation matters greatly,” he reckoned.

An article authored by Claire Devlin and Robert Elgie, entitled ‘The Effect of Increased Women’s Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda’, cites that female parliamentarians can, in fact, trigger positive changes in gender-related issues. In Rwanda, women parliamentarians were able to change parliamentary hours and calendars, create institutions that drive feminist change and introduced gender into debates and legislation.

In South Africa, increased women participation in parliament has brought significant changes to abortion, and employment equity.

But in Namibia and Mozambique, women’s rise to positions of power does not seem to have made a dent on women issues.

Lucy Edwards-Jauch, a senior lecturer of Sociology at UNAM, said women should not only be making up the numbers in Parliament because in a democracy, participation is important to effect change that disadvantage women.

However, she is of the view that due to patriarchy that runs rampant in our society, women are allowed in the “house” (parliament) on men’s terms “as we do not rock the boat”.

“Party hierarchy shows us who calls the shots,” she pointed out.

Edwards-Jauch argued that long-standing tradition of patriarchy has entrenched itself in the 50/50, so much that even if it is 50/50, women are still put at the bottom of the hierarchy.

“Women (of Namibia) have a long history of resistance. They were ready to sacrifice on the battle field, but not ready to participate in politics,” she reasoned, saying that women push must come from below as political parties remain deeply patriarchal.

She said Swapo was not the only party where patriarchy is deep-rooted as this is also reflected in other political parties where some have never had female representatives in Parliament.

Edwards-Jauch said what was also sad is that women parliamentarians succumb to pressures of patriarchal ideology and embrace it.

“We must understand that we have a lot of work to do. A simple congress ruling (on 50/50 representation) won’t put an end to patriarchy,” she said.

Women constitute, on average, only 22.8% in national parliaments globally, while 11 women serve as Heads of State and 12 women as Heads of Government.




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