Thursday, December 5, 2019

Botswana’s women empowerment gains have all been reversed

There is a clear sign that past achievements that Botswana had gained by putting more women at the top administrative and executive rungs have over the last years been significantly eroded.

One does not have to go far or dig deeper into figures and statistics to realize this sad reality.

In fact there is not a need for figures and statistics at all to prove this observation.

Political Parties are the worst culprits.

The president, like his predecessor are also not doing enough.

As a country we should be ashamed that the cumulative effect of these actions is to show a lack of confidence in women.

Companies and organisations led by women have been found to do well on all the major indices, especially on human development and environmental protection.

Yet Botswana is heading on the opposite direction.

The media is partly to blame for the mess, first for taking eyes off the ball, but also for over emphasis on the few women that had made it at the exclusion of the majority that needed media attention to break the glass ceiling.

In the end the media overly celebrated those few that had made it to the top without making more efforts to ensure that more women joined the top table.

Showcasing a single or few women over and over again can be self-defeating and counterproductive in the long run effort to empower more women.

In a subtle and totally unintended way, with time, such a fixating obsession with a few prominent women becomes part of self-fulfilling evidence that it’s indeed hard or even impossible to succeed if you are a woman.

That is exactly what our media has been doing; harping on a few women who have made it, while excluding the multitudes in the trenches who are working against immense odds to make it in life.

Prior to elections political parties made no effort to get more women as candidates.

Some of those few women who were candidates ultimately lost.

Parliament was the worst theatre.

Some political parties long proclaimed that 30 percent of positions would go to women.

An assessment of the number of women representing these parties in parliament is disappointing.

Tt is important for the media to highlight the barriers that are so much loaded against women.

These barriers include history, sociology and even law.

It is also important is for the media to highlight the value of instilling leadership qualities among girl children.

It is also important for the media to assist girl children to be assertive and ambitious from early on.

It is important to point out that culture and world business environment are heavily skewed against women.

Botswana used to have many women in cabinet. There was also a Speaker of the National assembly who was a woman. An Attorney General used to be a woman. As was the Governor of the Central Bank.

Right now all those gains have been reversed.

It is important to challenge and frown on stereotypes that say only men can be breadwinners.

But in the end it is much more important to show that women who have succeeded are not an exception to the rule. And in here our media has fallen decimally short.

In so failing, the media has fallen short of its critical mandate: pointing out that that girls and boys are the same and equal as human beings.

During Festus Mogae’s presidency he made it a point to appoint women to key leadership positions.

More importantly, Mogae did not only give women a place at the top table he also gave them a voice but ensuring that he allowed them to use the positions he had given them to express themselves.

This was a result of a closely held conviction by Mogae that having a seat at the table did not always translate into having a voice.

That conviction by Mogae was no more rigorously enforced and implemented at any level than was done at his cabinet.

Even during the best of times, sidelining women in the affairs of the country is a costly business the reversal or undoing of which takes inordinate lengths of time, with consequences almost impossible to erase in the course of history, and prices tags almost insurmountable.

Politics aside, there can be no justification for neglecting the interests of over half the country’s population.

Continued marginalization of women risks reversing not just the gender parity that this county was well on course to achieving, but also the economic gains that we were beginning to reap from such gender parity based inclusiveness.

The declining number of women in top positions under the current administration reflects very much our declining economic fortunes of our country.

There is ample empirical evidence to suggest a correlation between women in positions of power and national success.

Looked at from a different but related analogy, such evidence is a derivative of the one that says that companies that have more women at the top (management or board) are often more successful than their counterparts pulling in an opposite direction.

Which is why some visionary countries have already moved on to enact laws that say women should never be paid less than their male counterparts for doing exactly the same kind of work.

In their more recent work, a global consulting firm, Mckinsey states that women would add something like 12 trillion dollars to the GDP of the world if they were allowed to play a more meaningful role in the economic activities of their countries.

Botswana and Africa as is indeed the case with Latin America and many parts of Asia stand to gain most from this still underutilized women potential.

The more women at the top the merrier. And the sooner we come to terms with this, the better!

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