- Lesotho is far from reaching its target of 50 percent women in decision-making positions. Still, the Kingdom has a long list of women in politics, the judiciary and the police force that have defied traditional attitudes and made it to the top. Gender activists hold these pioneers should become role models for women.
All across the Southern African Development Community (SADC), countries continue to lag behind in development because they are not harnessing the potential of women. One of the reasons for the slow advance of women in decision-making positions is the inadequate recognition of the many potential women role models that already exist in Southern Africa, including Lesotho, gender activists hold.
When the SADC leaders met in the small mountain Kingdom of Lesotho at the end of August 2006, they reaffirmed commitments to the target of 50 percent women in decision-making. Yet in Lesotho itself, Basotho women are conspicuously absent from decision-making positions in general, and politics in particular.
Very few women are included in senior administrative and managerial positions. There are currently sixteen elected women out of one-hundred and twenty members of the National Assembly, five women ministers, and three ministerial principal secretaries.
This lack of representation in politics and institutions of governance results in inadequate representation of women's voices, thereby undermining democracy, gender activists hold. They see a need to change people's perceptions of women as leaders and a need to increase the number, so women leaders become the norm, and recognise the skills that women bring to leadership positions.
Therefore, activists have seen the need to highlight those few women important in decision-making and their successes, finding several good examples of role models in Lesotho.
In politics, Ntlhoi Motsamai, speaker of the Lesotho national assembly and former chairperson of the SADC parliamentary forum, is undoubtedly one such crucial role model. Worldwide only about 10 percent of presiding officers of Parliament are women. She is the youngest speaker in Africa, elected to parliament in 1995, selected to be speaker in 1999 and re-elected in 2002.
While chairperson, Ms Motsamai, challenged SADC member states to redouble their efforts to achieve gender objectives. Ms Motsamai noted that, "SADC would not manage to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 without ensuring that women gained equality."
Also in the judiciary, women role models are found. The growing numbers of new women lawyers in Lesotho has strengthened women's representation in judicial systems, but the proportions still tend to be low.
Previously Justice on the High Court of Lesotho, Justice Kellelo Justina Masafo-Guni is seen as one such role model. She is one of the only two women judges out of eleven elected by the African Union Executive Council of Ministers to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights in Khartoum, Sudan on 21 January 2006. Two women out of eleven however cannot be seen as fair gender representation.
Malejaka Evelyn Letooane was appointed Lesotho's first woman Commissioner of Police on 1 January 2005. Ms Letooane joined the Lesotho Mounted Police Service in 1977, winning the prize as the best recruit of her year, rising through the ranks until this appointment.
For the first time in history, a woman police officer also heads Lesotho's police service. However, of the senior officers, those who get coloured portraits in the annual report's front piece, only 4 out of 22 are women.
There is no doubt that women are gaining ground in the Kingdom. Lesotho held its first post-independence local government elections on 30 April 2005, using a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates. In these elections, 53 percent of the victorious candidates were women.
To Lesotho's credit, this representation of women in local government exceeds many other countries in the region. On average women constitute just over one fifth of local councillors in Southern Africa. Although accurate data is difficult to come by for this sphere of government, women in local government fall below the 30 percent mark in at least eight of the 14 SADC countries.
Yet overall, women are still under-represented in high offices of state and positions of decision-making in the Maseru government, security services, judicial systems, the private sector and African regional organisations. Traditional practices and attitudes toward women have carried over into public life.
By Teboho Senthebane. Ms Senthebane is a freelance journalist, pursuing a Post-Graduate Diploma in Media Management at The Sol Plaatje Institute of Media Leadership at Rhodes University. She is a founding member of Media and Arts Watch Association (MAWA) Ts'ireletso, a Lesotho association monitoring media and arts activities from a gender sensitive perspective.
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