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BOTSWANA: Not All Women in Local Government Making a Difference

Alma Balopi

GABORONE, Oct 9 2010 (IPS) - Florence Shagwa, a female councillor at the Gaborone City Council, considers her three-year business qualification worthless.

Shagwa, who holds a Business and Accounting Certificate that she attained at the University of Botswana part-time over three years, was employed by banks as a training manager before taking up her current post.

But looking around at the other female councillors she works with, Shagwa knows that she is better educated than most. “For those who might claim to be a bit educated they had gone as far as senior school only, while for some it is a big deal to write,” Shagwa said speaking of her fellow female councillors.

And while she does not necessarily think it is a piece of paper that women councillors need to make an impact, she said that one of the hindering factors that women face in local government are their own education levels.

“For (these women), even (working) in a formalised environment and meeting or rubbing shoulders with people who matter is a problem. They always shy away when meeting such people,” she said.

According to the country’s Independent Electoral Commission no qualifications are needed for one to run for a post in local government except to campaign for votes. However, participants are vetted for criminal records.

“I do not have a problem with other women except with their attitudes. As an individual I do make an effort to be well informed. But I cannot say the same about most of the women in council,” she said.

Shagwa said most of the female councillors incorrectly think that they should not be seen to take the lead. “As women we do not believe in ourselves because of the culture that we grew up with. We believe that we are not supposed to take the initiative and leave that to our male counterparts,” she said adding roles in local government are not defined to attract educated people.

Shagwa, who also sits on numerous committees in the council including the Finance committee where projects and budgets are approved, said that many people did not feel becoming a local councillor was worth their while.

“Well-educated people think that campaigning to join local government would be like wasting their time. But it is just about serving the people,” she said explaining that she has been effective in representing and serving the people in her community at the council level by advocating for their basic needs.

While one might think that female councillors would be better placed to empower other women in their communities, Shagwa said that it is not the case.

“In Gaborone I have not seen any women councillor working to empower other women except to prove that they are better than those women in their societies,” she said. She strongly feels that generally women at local government are not serving their people but their own interests.

But for Mayor Caroline Lesang, things in her area run a bit differently. The mayor of Lobatse Town Council just 80 kilometres south of Gaborone, believes that with six women out of a total of 13 councillors in her local government, gender sensitivity in their deliberations is the norm of the day.

Lesang, who is also the national Vice President of the Botswana Association of Local Authorities that works to promote local governance, said that all programs in their council deliberations have to include women.

But she added that the current system made it difficult for women to make an impact on local legislation initiatives and the budget. “We can do the budgets but when it gets to central government for approval it would be reduced in such a way that one could never achieve all the things that they budgeted for,” she said.

Lesang explained that the current system does not empower women. She said women lack resources to campaign during elections. She said that generally women do not vote for other women even though they are the majority of voters and the ones at the forefront of the campaigns.

“This is the reason that many women cannot make it to council. If they do, it has to be double the work done by when it was a man campaigning for the seat,” she said.

And Ephraim Mabengano, a male councillor agrees. He said that there are no structures or committees that empower women councillors to have an impact in the running of local government. He said it is encumbered on the women who are there already to propose that committees be formed to empower themselves.

“You will find that they are not well informed, they do not make much contribution in council deliberations as they do not have much time to read to inform themselves after work,” Mabengano said.

Though some disagree. Political analyst at the University of Botswana, Zibani Maundeni, said women participation in politics at the local level is surely a key driver for women’s empowerment.

Maundeni believes that there is no discrimination as women are treated as their male counterparts.

“From my experience after visiting different councils around the country I have not heard a female mayor or women in leading posts in different committees complaining that they are not being given support as when the post was being held by a male candidate – be it in making decisions on projects or the budget,” Maundeni said.

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