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“Women in Politics in Mauritius” by Lindsey Collen

28.03.2018

This paper is based on the talk Lindsey Collen gave in the name of LALIT at the Gender Links and MACOSS Forum on the issue of women’s representation in the National Assembly and the Cabinet. Other speakers were Arvin Boolell for the Labour Party, Malini Seewoksing for the PMSD and Tania Diolle for the Mouvement Patriotique. After a welcome speech by Anoushka Virahsawmy of Gender Links, the Debate was chaired by Martine Luchman from L’Express.


What is written up below as a single speech is the content of Lindsey’s speech, based on her notes – when at the Forum answers were given to specific questions by Martine Luchman, but covering the same ground. The three other speakers (non-LALIT) were somewhat defensive about the number of women their parties field, and will field, as candidate – Tania Diolle said MP blames it on the need for pre-electoral alliances which involve cutting down on seats available and thus provoking the need for legislation for quotas, but argues that the party is in favour of parity; Arvin Boolell blames “society” for being too traditional, and says how Labour has always worked for women’s emancipation, and argues for a fair representation of women that will come naturally; the PMSD also claims a history of women in the party, and insists on the need for “meritocracy” as opposed to quotas. It becomes obvious why there is a push towards a law to force women’s representation on parties, because without it, the parties cannot impose it – the internal patriarchal forces are too strong. And yet modern society is demanding parity.


 A “Pledge” came out of the Forum and, after debate and an amendment or two, the four speakers signed in the name of their parties. The Pledge is at the end of this article.


 Lindsey’s speech


[Everyone spoke in Kreol; the write-up is an English version of what was said.]


 Lindsey said that change, in terms of women’s emancipation, does not come through laws, as Tania Diolle insists, nor “naturally” as Arvin Boolell said it does and will. It has always come through women’s mobilization, and future change will come from the same mobilization. We are reminded sharply, she said, that in the USA where women have for some 30 years supposedly been “emancipated”, the #meetoo movement has come and shown up just how dominated and oppressed even American women are, despite being nominated to many positions of power.


And it is mobilization that will change this.


 Class Equality


Lindsey said LALIT is a party that is against inequality in general, not just inequality between men and women. LALIT, being a party that aims to do away with the basic inequality of class: some people having to wander around looking for a “boss” in order merely to survive, while others “pay” these for their “time”. LALIT is thus a party that works for equality in general. At the same time as working towards class equality, or a society without these two basic classes facing each other in perpetual hostility, we are working against patriarchal hierarchies. Society is full of these hierarchies. At each private company, there is a patriarchal hierarchy. In each Ministry and para-statal there is a patriarchal hierarchy. In each religious organization, there is a patriarchal hierarchy. In each trade union, there is a patriarchal hierarchy running the show. In almost every association, there is a patriarchal hierarchy. Almost every family is a patriarchal hierarchy. The Courts are a series of patriarchal hierarchies. So are the hospitals. And the Schools.


Note that patriarchy has existed for up to some 10 thousand years here and there, and thus predates “capitalist class hierarchy”, which has not been in power for more than some 250 years here and there. So, LALIT is working not for different people (e.g. more women and less men) to be “top dog”, but against the very idea of “top dog”. It is two quite different aims, two quite different strategies.


 She said that the main reason other parties do not field many women candidates (LALIT does) is that the parties are controlled to a great extent, not by their members or even grassroots agents, but by two lobbies, both of which are bastions of patriarchy. The bourgeois parties field candidates, for example, to represent different sectors of capital that support them: the hotel bosses, the banks, the sugar industry, the real estate capitalist, the exporters, and so on. These bosses are usually more at ease being represented in these parties by a male who they meet at their Clubs and secret societies and so on. The bank bosses, for example, are all male, and would be disinclined, with reason happily, to be represented by a woman (unless she represents a known patriarchal clan). Similarly, the communalo-religious lobbies prefer men – there are not women in their own hierarchies, as it turns out, because they predate modern capitalist times. So, these two kinds of lobbies are what make women’s representation difficult.


 Tweaking the indicators


Lindsey Collen said that we must remember that the percentage of women who are MPs or Ministers is an indicator.


 In any case, the number of women MPs or Minister as merely an indicator of the degree of oppression of women, the degree of domination of women, indicators chosen because it is easier to “count” them than to count something like the degree of emancipation or liberation of women from patriarchy – which it would be a tall order to “count”. So, being an indicator, it is not necessarily useful for women’s emancipation, itself, to daunt or tweak the indicator. Patriarchy is, for example, at its highest level of violence in a prison in a country militarily occupied. Yet, if we look at the abuses, which were well nigh rape, of men in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq under United States occupation, there were 3 women out of the 7 prison guards charged with those offenses of putting dog collars on naked male prisoners and piling the men into heaps naked. There was a woman in charge of all interrogations at Abu Ghraib, Barbara Fast. And in charge of all the prisons in the occupied country, there was another woman: Condoleezza Rice, the George W Bush Secretary of State. So, we can see how the indicator can betray what it is supposed to indicate.


So, the concern we have in LALIT, is that Gender Links and others that put a lot of emphasis on the numeric indicators in isolation is that they have unintended consequences, that can even re-enforce patriarchy by lulling us, women in particular, into complacency when nothing has changed except the indicator.


So, while it is in the interests of the State of Mauritius (a bourgeois state) and of SADC (a host of bourgeois states) to project a good image on the world stage of the treatment of women within their respective borders, they quite naturally encourage, and even fund, this type of tweaking of the indicators.


 LALIT’s Aim


The aim of LALIT is:


1  to weaken and dismantle patriarchal rule.


2  to encourage women’s struggles and political struggles based on programs that will bring about            – women’s emancipation and liberation from the yoke of patriarchy.


            – the liberation of all the boys and men who suffer bullying day-and-night at the hands of macho males, and all the children dominated this way, and all the workers dominated this way, and all the people who are homosexual, bisexual, trans-gender who are bullied by patriarchal reign. 


And in order to make these struggles successful we need, at the same time, to analyze exactly what “patriarchy”. What do we mean by it. The first thing to note is that it is not “men”. It is not “males”.


 3. Since LALIT has this struggle to weaken and dismantle patriarchal rule, we naturally have, as a result of this being in our program,


i) a high percentage of women as members, as candidates, in our leadership and as our spokeswomen. As early as 1982, LALIT fielded 5 out of 5 women candidates for Municipals in a Port Louis ward, and the campaign manager for the ward was also a woman.


ii) we aim at parity


So, LALIT really has “best practices” that could be followed.


 4. LALIT is, for another reason, ill-at-ease with the slogan, often pretending to be feminist, of “getting women into positions of power”. This is just not our aim in LALIT. We want “positions of power” to decrease and, eventually, disappear. This means that all our demands naturally take this into consideration. We have a completely different idea of “leadership” to the mainstream American-pushed concept in the leadership-training programs that do so much harm. Our aim, as a party, is to recruit “grass roots leaders” – in the neighbourhood, and also on the work site. These leaders already exist (without any manipulative training program) because these leaders emerge over years of taking a good stand, and being observed by those around them. They are certainly not paid by, nor do they act as agents to, someone outside of where they live, or where they work, as is the case for most parties.


 So, it is not just that LALIT’s leadership is collegial, which  it is, but also that we think the real way to bring more equality for everyone including women, is to do away with the hierarchies that are inevitably patriarchal.


 These patriarchal hierarchies are easily represented by a woman. Look at our President. She is in a bad spot right now, about to be hauled in front of a destitution tribunal – would that she had been a vase-of-flowers instead of having been lured by her ambition and huge amounts of money from Microsoft through Planet Earth Institute, into a series of “conflict of interest” situation, leading to her downfall.


 So, nominating a woman into a position of power does not necessarily attack the patriarchal hierarchies. So, the second thing to remember of “patriarchy”, as well as it is not just “males”, is that patriarchy is a pyramidal hierarchy, and that is what we have to attack. To bring equality, we need less patriarchal, and any other, hierarchy.


 Pledge


After all four speakers, Marie-Annick Savripène, for L’Express, had drafted a “pledge”, which after debate and amendment was signed by all four speakers. Here is what the pledge says:


 We commit ourselves,


1 Where there are no quotas for women in our respective party constitutions, to work towards our respective parties aiming at parity in the fielding of candidates for national and local elections,


2  To ensure that women and young people, when they join our respective parties, get relevant political training and back-up support,


3 To take measures to break down prejudice and put an end to discrimination against women, and against men, in the political world, and to avoid burdening women with higher expectations than those of men,


4  To not collude with any sex predators or with violence within our respective parties,  


5  To introduce the above measures into our electoral manifestoes.