April 14, 2004

Private gender draft bill rejected

Nearly three years since it was submitted to Parliament for scrutiny, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs has thrown out a draft Bill from civil society groups aimed at legislating equal rights for women in political circles. In 2001, women's rights groups, led by the Women's Manifesto Network as well as the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) and the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), submitted a proposal for the equal representation of men and women on party lists submitted for local, regional and national elections. The petitioners also proposed amendments to some existing Acts to allow for this change. According to the committee's report it concluded that political parties should sensitise their members on gender equality rather than hope for it to be imposed through legislation.

After a consultative meeting with the Deputy Minister of Women Affairs and Child Welfare Marlene Mungunda, and later with the Deputy Minister of Regional and Local Government and Housing Gerhard Totemeyer, the committee charged that the draft Bill was found to have "little to do with democratic principles and practices". "Achieving a 50/50 gender balance in the national Parliament and at regional and local councils overnight by imposition and mechanically, is a product of a bureaucratic-technocratic way of thinking," the Women Affairs Ministry is quoted as saying in the report. The aim of political parties, it said, should be to uplift and educate the electorate to understand and support gender equality.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Ministry's position on the draft Bill was that the quota system had been necessitated by the low levels of democratic consciousness and cultural patterns that discriminate against women. In terms of both the Regional Council and Electoral Acts, there are no requirements for political parties to submit a gender-balanced list of candidates for both the Regional Council and national elections. The Local Authorities Act does, however, prescribe that each political party list include at least three women out of at least 10 members for a municipal council. The committee said that the petitioners should have rather approached the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare, or Local and Regional Government and Housing, to consider the Bill, and said that procedures for the submission of the document were not followed. Only a Member of Parliament can introduce a private Bill if support from at least one-third of the National Assembly is obtained. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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