Whilst statistics show that Lesotho is doing well in addressing United Nations Millennium Development Goal 3 on “promoting gender equality and empowering women”, equal participation in elections remains an issue of concern. Following the February 2015 elections, only 30 out of 120 Members of Parliaments in the Lower House are female. One of the key obstacles to reaching the 50-50 goal set out in the 2008 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, signed and ratified by Lesotho, is the electoral system itself. Of particular concern are the challenges women face in being nominated to the constituency-based electoral contests.
In this context, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Lesotho asked International IDEA to host a roundtable event focusing on issues such as the IEC’s engagement and commitment to promoting gender equality in electoral processes is in line with the pillar on Gender and Governance in Lesotho’s National Gender Policy.
In her opening statement, IEC Commissioner Advocate Mamosebi Pholo emphasised:
The fundamental role of the IEC is, among other things, to promote and preserve the ability of all eligible citizens to effectively and equally participate in the electoral processes. This entails an adherence to democratic principles of universal suffrage, political equality and inclusive participation throughout the electoral cycle.
This cannot be achieved unless we are conversant with gender equality principles and concepts, which this roundtable is all about. On the other hand, there can be no credible elections without participation of eligible citizens from all walks of society (men, women, the young and elderly, the disabled, rural and urban dwellers). Ensuring equal participation, however, requires a strategic guide.
In addition to highlighting the specific obstacles for Lesotho women’s participation in politics, the roundtable was a first step toward developing an official gender policy for the IEC. Such a policy is an important stride toward greater gender equality in the electoral process.
The roundtable was attended by the IEC commissioners, directors, IEC staff at managerial levels from both the head office in Maseru and district offices across the country, and the national gender machinery representative. It was a useful platform for exploring key concepts of gender, gender equality and gender mainstreaming in electoral processes, how gender is intrinsic to democracy building processes such as the electoral processes, and the value for managing electoral processes from the electoral cycle approach, the relevance and purpose of an IEC specific gender policy.
The IEC thanked International IDEA for its responsiveness and support of the commission’s need to be a trendsetter among electoral management bodies on institutionalizing a gender policy in electoral processes. In the coming months, the IEC will engage in the development and review of a draft gender policy. The IEC is committed to organizing a national stakeholder’s consultative forum on the draft gender policy with technical support from International IDEA. After the presentation of the draft gender policy to the national stakeholders, the gender policy will be finalized.