By: Surbhi Mahajan
President Hage Geingob has won a second term by winning the 2019 presidential election with 56.3% of the vote. The elections were held in the midst of a corruption scandal, an economic recession and a fractured ruling party.
Women’s suffrage (right to vote and contest elections) came along in 1989 (1629). As a result, the country witnesses Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stepping forth as the country’s first female prime minister in 2015. Namibia currently ranks 12th globally and fourth on the African continent for the proportion of women in Parliament.
The moderate success in women’s participation and representation can be in some ways attributed to the fact that women’s empowerment and gender equality are integral parts of Namibia’s Constitution. The country ratified CEDAW on 23 November 1992 and the Maputo Protocol on 11 August 2004. Additionally, the National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 was signed in 2000. In 2010, the Government adopted the National Gender Policy 2010 – 2020; how to integrate and embed gender perspectives within the broader development framework. The plan focuses on programme areas such as gender-based violence, gender and poverty, gender and rural development, reproductive health, and gender, governance and decision-making.
While overall female political participation remains low, it has steadily increased over the past ten years. It is one of the few countries in Africa where female representation in above 40%. Women make up 43% of the National Assembly and 39% of members across both houses of Parliament (National Assembly and National Council) – making the country one of the global leaders when it comes to gender representation at this level. In 2010, 24.4% of females were in the Lower House. Since the election in 2014, female political representation in the Lower House gradually increased to 41.3% in 2015 where it remains. The increase in women’s representation in the 2014 election has been credited to the introduction of SWAPO’s (South West Africa People’s Organisation) zebra list, and the fact that out of the 16 political parties which took part in the election, three had 50% or more women on their party lists while six had at least 50% women amongst their top ten candidates. The percentage of women in ministerial positions has fluctuated, with 24% in 2010, decreasing to 21.7% in 2014, and then rising back to 24% in 2016.
Namibia does not have legislated quotas for the lower and upper houses of parliament, but rather uses voluntary party quotas. However, legislated quotas exist on a sub-national level whereby Electoral Law and the Local Authorities Act dictates that in the election of a local council with 10 or less members, party lists must include at least three females.
Beyond contesting elections, women’s participation in electoral processes as voters is another aspect in which Namibia authorities have been providing training in an effort to achieve gender equality by 2030 in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5. Women's Action for Development, that was spearheading the training prior to the elections pointed out, “the training is meant to equip women with necessary skills and knowledge to take part in politics whether as a voter or candidate.”
Strong patriarchal traditions and perceptions continue to characterize Namibian society and gender continues to be the most striking and systematic ground for unequal opportunities in political life. Female leaders in Namibia are often associated with what is considered softer aspects of governance and are perceived as devoting their attention to women’s issues, health and social issues. Another barrier comes if the form of growing divide between the urban and rural areas. In the urban areas better educated middle class women are more likely to enter politics than their rural counterparts. An investigation by the Guardian showed that, like other countries in South Africa, levels of education and access to resources play a significant role in social mobility and ability to engage in politics. A report by the Legal Assistance Centre for the Delegation of the European Union to Namibia found that women’s ability to participate in decision-making is further impeded by traditional and patriarchal governance structures and processes.
For Namibia politics to be truly progressive and go beyond the voices of vested interests of the few, youth and women will have to be made part of the equation. This brings us to the question of addressing gender inequalities and how to enhance pathways that will ensure not only increased presence in politics but also the quality of leadership.