Women in Botswana watch from sidelines as country prepares for election

Gaborone, Botswana — As Botswana prepares for general elections in October, the number of women running for office remains low.

Political parties have finalized their list of candidates for the 2024 vote, and the majority of contestants are male. In the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), out of nearly 200 candidates for the National Assembly, only 20 are women.

In the last general election, only 5% of women were elected to the National Assembly.

Gender activist Pamela Dube said the situation is concerning, especially given how few women were elected in 2019.

“The pertaining state of affairs in women’s political participation in Botswana is saddening. While statistically, women make [up] more than 50% of voters, women’s representation in elected positions remains very low,” Dube said. “I have serious doubt that we will see an improvement in the upcoming October elections.”

Botswana falls short of the framework established by the regional bloc the Southern Africa Development Community for achieving gender parity. The group’s policy advocates equal representation in political and decision-making positions.

Dube said the governing BDP should create gender quotas in order to push for legislated seat allocation.

“Botswana has no such laws, or even constitutional provisions. It is even sadder that the constitution review bill that is before parliament is silent in this regard,” Dube said.

Spokesperson for opposition coalition the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Moeti Mohwasa, said the country’s electoral laws do not favor women.

Botswana uses the first-past-the-post system, where voters choose a single candidate, as opposed to a list.

“You cannot expect the very same set-up or situation that is patriarchal, conservative to allow women to rise and occupy positions of authority,” Mohwasa said. “Our position is that you need to have the mixed system, which will have the current first-past-the-post and also the list system. If you look at countries that have the list systems, you realize that women are much more empowered.”

Maputo-based Women in Political Participation (WPP) programs officer Sifisosami Dube said Botswana should have amended its electoral laws under a recent constitutional review process.

“There is a need to handhold women in political leadership from the time they are campaigning, or when they are thinking about campaigning, to the time they will be in elections and to the time they are in political leadership positions. Because once they are in political offices, it is quite cold out there; they need to be continuously motivated,” WPP’s Dube said.

While Botswana struggles to get more women into politics, countries like Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have more than 30% women representation in upper and lower houses of parliament.

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