News on Sunday

Dr Roukaya Kasenally: “Mauritius as a ‘Paradise Island’ is cheap propaganda and causes us to be complacent”

Dr Roukaya Kasenally

In a modern country like Mauritius, gender inequality still remains a major issue. Statistics clearly show the gap.   Senior lecturer and co-founder of Mauritius Society Renewal, Dr Roukaya Kasenally elaborates on this matter. She also talks about the degeneration of social values in our country.

The recent gender statistics show that the gender gap still prevails in Mauritius. Is it not quite paradoxical taking into consideration all the campaigns for woman empowerment being conducted in recent years?
As per the report entitled ‘The African Gender and Development Index’ (2017), Mauritius’ ranking on the Gender Inequality Index (GII) stood at 82 out of 155 countries, which demonstrates that gender inequalities, namely when it concerns issues pertaining to health, education and command over economic resources, are still prevalent within our society. There has been a flurry of measures that have been taken to ensure that gender and more specifically gender equality is a central feature of public governance. To that effect, there was the setting up of the National Gender Policy Framework, the National Steering Committee in Gender Mainstreaming as well the creation of gender focal points in the different ministries. Mauritius is also signatory to a number of protocols and conventions, namely Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (ratified in 1985) as well as the SADC Gender and Development Declaration. One must note that it is yet to sign the SADC Gender Protocol. What does that all translate into? Well, we have seen a number of women, especially in the public sector, judiciary and parastatal bodies, access positions of decision making. For example, there are, currently, nine out of 13 judges who are women and a fair number of women occupying high positions in the civil service. Mauritius had the first female President of the Republic as well as the first female Speaker of the National Assembly. However, where we have had a dismal performance is in legislature with a mere 13 out of 70 being women.

There is no doubt that there have been a number of concrete outcomes but I believe there is still a lot of room for improvement and we should ensure that all the spheres of our society become gender equal and inclusive.

There is no doubt that there have been a number of concrete outcomes but I believe there is still a lot of room for improvement and we should ensure that all the spheres of our society become gender equal and inclusive.”

How do you explain that average income tends to be lower for women than men for the same job?
Unfortunately, this is a global trend but in certain countries/societies, it is more pronounced. This goes back to the fact that patriarchy is entrenched and where men are often valued more than women. Pay gap is a hot issue and increasingly women are organising themselves to demand for equal pay, especially if they have the same qualifications and skills as men. We have also recently seen the #MeToo movements that are calling on women and men to say no to discrimination.

According to statistics, some fields of work are still either male-dominated or female-dominated. Is it not time to break the stereotypes?
Today, there is nothing that a woman cannot do that a man can do! This classification of male and female specific activities is clearly outdated. What is required is to give equal chances to boys and girls to enter into disciplines that will offer them jobs / career opportunities that will not be restricted by their gender but on the contrary, will be defined by their capacity and skills. In fact, we are aware that there is a concern when it comes to students at primary, secondary and tertiary levels following what is called Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEAM) disciplines. What is needed is to inculcate STEAM in the learning process from an early age.

Our society is also becoming increasingly unequal. In fact, the latest World Bank report highlights the growing inequality in Mauritius. This has adverse effects on the social fabric as inequality begets violence and a breakdown in social harmony.”

Decline in moral values, violence and other social ills seem to be common business nowadays. Why is that so?
Well, across the world there seems to be what can be termed as a moral and ethical deficiency. This is visible in the political, corporate and social spheres. Is it the rise of neoliberalism? Where the market was privileged was the only game in town? Our society is also becoming increasingly unequal. In fact, the latest World Bank report highlights the growing inequality in Mauritius. This has adverse effects on the social fabric as inequality begets violence and a breakdown in social harmony. Another notable trend is the advent of big money most visible in politics where corruption, nepotism and political patronage are rife. What is required is a new moral compass where integrity, ethics and hard work are the driving features. Who will lead this? I believe this is a collective responsibility where politicians, civil society, business elites and citizens join hands in creating the demand and ensuring the supply of this new type of collectively driven leadership.

Following the publication of the Paul Lam Shang Leen Report, do you believe that Mauritians will lose confidence in many public institutions of the country?
If we refer to the latest Afrobarometer Round 7 report on Mauritius, there is a clear distrust among the respondents of some of the key public institutions such as the police, parliament, anti corruption bodies and others. What the Lam Shang Leen report sheds light on is how deep the rut is and how the drug network has permeated all the core institutions - police, prison, judiciary, legislature and even the executive. What we need now is clear, bold and ethical leadership to fill the confidence gap in our institutions.

I believe we need to inculcate a culture of trust, of responsibility, of merit and integrity. The youth who are in fact the leaders of tomorrow should be able to have role models that they look up to.”

The Commission recommends a public vote to re-introduce capital punishment for drug dealer. This goes in opposition to the global trend. What are your views on this sensitive issue?
The introduction or re-introduction of capital punishments has often generated comments / suggestions that are usually highly polarised. It is true that today there is a lot of emphasis across the world on the right to protect life. What is needed is to ensure that the debate and the methods focus on addressing why drugs are so easily available in a small country like Mauritius. We must in fact deal with the root causes instead of dealing merely with punitive measures. Again collective responsibility must be exercised so that we win the war on drugs that by the way is gnawing at our already fragile and vulnerable society.

I believe we need to inculcate a culture of trust, of responsibility, of merit and integrity. The youth who are in fact the leaders of tomorrow should be able to have role models that they look up to.”

It is certain that the image of Mauritius on the international level has taken a blow. How can we restore of image of “Paradise Island”?
This idea of Mauritius as a ‘Paradise Island’ does not really do us service. It is cheap propaganda and often causes us to be complacent. We often hear that we are best in Africa - in doing business, in terms of democracy, and so on and so forth. There is no doubt that Mauritius managed very well its immediate post independence phase and developed what I call the ‘ballot and not the bullet culture’. However, 50 years down the line, we must be ready and willing to walk the talk. There are so many pending issues that must be addressed in this country, such as electoral reform, the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act, the battle against drugs, that against corruption. To answer your question, Mauritius will only become a ‘Paradise Island’ when income and gender inequality is addressed, when socio cultural lobbies’ power are lessened, when ethics and morality drive leadership and when the Mauritian citizen feels included in the decision making process and not simply during general elections.

What should be done to create a better Mauritius for the younger generation?
There is no simple recipe or ready made solution. I believe we need to inculcate a culture of trust, of responsibility, of merit and integrity. The youth who are in fact the leaders of tomorrow should be able to have role models that they look up to. Also I feel that the youth should take on more responsibility in being the game changer - do not wait for other to do it. We have seen across the world and especially in Africa where the youth have contested and protested against corruption, nepotism and patronage. The Mauritian youth should learn from these movements. Some young people will say that they are very active on social media and that they are starting to stir the status quo. Maybe but real activism and change happen when you rally online activism with taking to the streets to physically protest.

A word on the achievements of the Mauritius Society Renewal so far…
MSR is just one year old - we officially launched in March 2017. We have so far set up all the structures of the think tank such as the board, the website and signed a number of MOUs with local and international organisations so as to develop collaborative projects. We have had a number of civic driven dialogues on the Mauritian Constitution as well as produced a number of clips that vulgarise knowledge about some of the key institutions such as parliament, Mauritius at 50 and others. Currently, we are busy brainstorming on re-engage around the Mauritian Social Fabric. It has been 15 years since the last report and we believe it is urgent to do research and have a public discussion on this.