PORT LOUIS, Mauritius - Contrary to hopes that women's representation in the new Mauritian parliament would improve on the Sept. 11 election day, their number has dropped to less than 10 percent.
Out of the 62 seats that were contested only four were won by women, all from the new governing alliance; the Mauritius Socialist Movement and the Mauritian Militant Movement (MSM/MMM). Two are new members and the other two are re-elected. One could get a cabinet appointment as minister of family affairs. The previous Labour cabinet had three women. Only 33 women ran among 536 candidates.
The ratio from the 1995 polls to this year's has dropped from from eight to six percent, making the 30 percent target set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development impossible to meet in Mauritius since this is the last election before 2005.
Gender activists say it is disappointing that there appeared to be no deliberate effort by the women's sectors of political parties who were responsible for the sensitization and support for women to stand for election. However, parties are limited by their internal politics and power moves.
"I think it is very sad for a country like Mauritius to have patriarchy and sexism dominate," says Loga Virahsawmy, a woman journalist at l'Express newspaper. "Women's NGOs are not doing enough to help women enter politics. There is need for a women's lobby group to push women's issues to the forefront."
However, women have potential for leadership. Most NGOs in the country are headed by women and women's participation in decision-making decisions in the economy has increased over the years. Only politics remains mainly a male domain. "With proper support, skills training and financial support, women in this country can make equally good leaders', Virahsawmy said.
Ever since independence in 1968, participation of women in politics has been thin. Under Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the first prime minister, there was just one woman, Emmilienne Rochecoude, who participated in politics until 1995 when six women were elected. Mauritian women still have a long way to go before they can talk of any significant participation in the political sphere.