Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, on Wednesday lamented the few number of women who hold positions of power in Botswana‘s labour movement.
Speaking at the Botswana Teachers Union Women’s Wing Conference in Moiabana, Moitoi said that while government has, over time, empowered women educators with skills and competencies to undertake leadership positions, there is a surprisingly low number of women in the labour movement executive.
“I urge the BTU and other trade unions to “allow” deserving women to hold leadership positions in their organizations…,” she said.
Moitoi told the women delegates that the skills and leadership development programs that government has accorded them should provide them with the competencies necessary to take up positions of leadership, as they have already demonstrated their capability in their profession, where women occupy 68% of the positions of school head and deputy school head in educational institutions.
“The question that you have to deal with is why women are still not taking up leadership positions. It is not because you are not educated, because you are. Neither is it because the laws do not favour you, because they have been amended,” she challenged the women.
She encouraged women to apply their minds and explore issues concerning their organizations’ policies and their socialization as women in a bid to find answers as to why they are still holding subjective oppositions in the labour movement.
The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions Secretary General, Gadzani Mhotsha, agreed with Moitoi’s sentiments, saying that the labour movement has to do a lot more to ensure that more women are absorbed into leadership positions. While he could not speak for BFTU’s affiliates, Mhotsha revealed that the BFTU has acquitted itself well in terms of women empowerment. He said that women hold the position of treasurer, Vice President, and Secretary General in part of the BFTU leadership.
“We also have a very robust Women’s Council, which is a platform through which women can be able to better articulate their issues in the federation. Over and above that, the women’s council’s Chairperson and Secretary are ex-officio members of the BFTU executive,” added Mhotsha.
However, Mhotsha was ready to admit that the present dispensation is not the best that the labour movement can do, especially since the ex officio members do not have voting powers but just hold observatory positions.
He pointed out that the labour movement is very similar to the political arena, and problems that might be hampering women’s progression in the political arena are present in the labour movement. “Observations have revealed that women are not as active and forthcoming as men. Women are not active at the national level of labour movement activism, such that they cannot be voted into positions of power,” he said.
The 1995 Beijing conference adopted a platform of action that would drive women empowerment and promote women rights. While women constitute a large number of the population of the world, their representation in leadership and decision-making positions leaves a lot to be desired.
While the Botswana government initially acceded to some of the aspirations of the Beijing conference, its momentum has waned, resulting in Botswana being relegated to lesser positions in terms of women empowerment championship. For example, while SADC has upped the quota for women’s representation in parliament from 30% to 50%, Botswana has never been able to reach the 30% quota.
Other commentators who spoke to The Sunday Standard on condition of anonymity said that society should be careful not to give women a free ticket to positions of power without first gauging their ability to perform. Mhotsha agrees, saying that emphasis should be on capacity building and appointment on merit.
“We all agree that women have over the years been sidelined, and they are generally lagging behind on a broad range of issue in the labour movement when compared to men. However, I feel that we should presently forget about quotas and quantity representation and focus on capacity building and appointment on merit,” he said.
Mhotsha also said that to date there has not been any meaningful assessment of whether the threshold of representation has brought quality or quantity representation in Botswana, at least with regards to women who have been appointed in the name of empowerment.
Champions of women empowerment on the other hand maintain that women’s empowerment should not be viewed as a sexist, over ambitious vehicle through which women are trying to grab power from men, but rather as a capacity building process and a panacea for the prejudice that women have been subjected to in the past.