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Namibia: Gender Reform

The women of Namibia are calling on their government to speed up the pace of gender reform in time for the 2009 general elections in that country. Southern Africa Development Community countries are mandated to have 50 percent women representation in their national parliaments. But the women’s council of the ruling Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) says the party is moving too slowly in realizing this goal. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is Namibia’s minister of information. She talks to VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty about gender equality in Namibia.

“It is very, very crucial that the party structures should be friendly to women to occupy positions of leadership because that would pave the way for women to occupy political leadership within government and in parliament.”

Nandi-Ndaitwah says over 40 percent of Namibian municipal council members are women because several years ago SWAPO took steps to implement the country’s “zebra” system, which mandates that for every male candidate, there must be a woman candidate. Nandi-Ndaitwah says the same formula must be used in national parliamentary elections.

“We really need to do a lot so that we can breach this target of 50 percent of women representation, especially in the national parliament.”

Nandi-Ndaitwah rejects any suggestion that Namibian women are not asking for a quota system. Instead, she says they are qualified and have more flexibility to assume national leadership. She says a legal action may be necessary to implement the “zebra” system during national parliamentary elections.

“In fact the zebra list compliments the legal framework that when you are presenting your candidates to stand for election as municipal councilor to the directory of elections, you have to make sure that at least one-third of those candidates are women. That’s why there’s a strong feeling that we also need a legal framework to make obligatory for parties to have a certain number of their seats to be allocated to women so that we can reach the SADC target of 50 percent.”

Nandi-Ndaitwah says the legal framework can be reached either through the amendment of Namibia’s electoral act or the constitution itself.

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