Namibia’s deputy speaker of parliament, Margaret Mensah-Williams, is calling for more women in Africa’s national legislatures and for more funding for programs that support women.
Mensah-Williams is in New York this week for the 52nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
She notes that Namibia has a relatively high number of women in its parliament -- seven women in a 26-member upper house and 24 women in a 78-member lower house. Other countries in Africa with a high percentage of women in their national assemblies are Rwanda, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Mensah-Williams says Namibia’s first president, Sam Njoma, was a strong supporter of women, who fought alongside men in the struggle for independence. In addition, she says, “Coming out of war, men don’t trust each other…. They think that women are peace builders [and so agree to bring women into the political process].” She says within the next year she expects to see the implementation of a constitutional amendment requiring that women make up 50 percent of the national assembly.
She says she agrees with those who warn that in some cases, elected woman legislators end up representing their party, but not their gender. She says in some African countries, candidates depend on the party to raise money for their campaigns. She says women legislators are more likely to speak out on gender issues in countries such as her own, where the government subsidizes political parties.
This week, Mensah-Williams attended the proceedings in New York City of the UN’s 52nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Much of the debate was on “gender budgeting,” or allocating enough money for women’s programs. She says in Namibia, she and the Ministry of Finance are working to analyze the budget to ensure that women’s needs are represented. “If you are going to put a tax on alcohol, where does that tax go? It should go towards (programs fighting) domestic violence, to train more court clerks to enable them to provide protection orders to these women who are suffering.