Just as a little introduction, my name is Hannah, and I’m a Programs and Membership intern for the summer at the UNA-GB. I’m originally from a small town in Pennsylvania and am currently studying International Studies and Middle Eastern studies at Boston College.
The UNA-GB recently co-sponsored a Women’s Forum on Political Participation with World Boston. For those of you who may not know, the Women’s Forum was launched in June 2006 and has become a vibrant community where women and men can participate in discussion on improving women’s issues around the globe. It often hosts events highlighting local and international organizations, such as this particular panel on political participation.
At this most recent event, there was a panel of four women from four different countries: The Palestinian Territories, the Ukraine, Lesotho, and Nigeria. In this post, I will specifically speak about the commentary of Ms. Thandiwe Solwandle, a freelance journalist from the country of Lesotho in Africa.
According to Ms. Solwandle, women in the Kingdom of Lesotho have had the legal right to vote since the 1960s. However, they have not taken full advantage of this opportunity. Although they have the choice to vote for a woman, they still continue to vote for men. Ms. Solwandle spoke of a cultural belief among men and women alike in Lesotho that women do not have the physical or mental capabilities to be leaders. As a result, men continue to dominate the political spectrum.
Further, Ms. Solwandle argued that some women who decide to participate are not prepared for the positions that they would hold in Parliament. There is a failure to address issues related to women and children. Instead, women make decisions based on what their male colleagues place emphasis on.
One of the problems that hinder women from gaining the confidence and ability to win these positions in Parliament is their general lack of training. Women grow up performing ‘traditional’ female duties such as housework and cooking. They are unlikely to have the opportunity to receive public speaking training or education on resource mobilization to keep a campaign running. Most of the time women are only elected based on their party affiliation.
Lesotho has made small steps in trying to support women in political participation, such as creating a quota system at the local level that reserves one-third of the electoral divisions for women candidates. These measures have proven successful, as by 2005, approximately 53% of the victorious candidates elected were women.
The election of the National Assembly, however, does not involve legal quotas for women. Women still struggle to gain a foothold in this arena to represent their most basic rights.
Ms. Solwandle concluded her comments by saying that she appreciates the strides that have been made since women were allowed to vote, but that she does not believe the ingrained attitudes towards women’s role in politics will change anytime soon. Before men realize the importance of women in politics, women must believe in themselves and express that confidence.