News on Sunday

Sheila Bunwaree : “The desire for ‘power and control’, built on a culture of masculinity, often triggers different forms of violence” 

Domestic violence, rape or insults are common place in our Mauritian society. The month of March is specifically for celebrating our women and their contribution in the development of our society, whether they are career women or housewives. Professor Sheila Bunwaree makes us discover the other side of the story. She elaborates on why women are still struggling to be financially independent and underrepresented in politics as well. 

The International Women’s Day has been celebrated with fervor in the country. We have seen that although our society has been modernized with more women contributing to the economy, many are still struggling to be financially independent. Why? 
To understand why, we must first look at the model of development adopted in the 70s and 80s and the challenges we are now confronted with. The focus in the 70s and 80s was on ‘export oriented industrialization’, largely based on cheap female labour. Thousands of women entered the world of work. The economy was then further diversified with sectors such as the tourism industry, the financial and offshore sector, absorbing more women. The latter’s financial independence was ensured. The dismantling of the multifibre agreement and the resulting loss of protected markets, coupled with the disappearance of cheap female labour, loss of our competitive edge, the persistent mismatch between our education system and skills required on the labour market, the underrepresentation of girls in science and technology, now contribute to large segments of our youth, particularly women struggling to find jobs.

The rise of populism, Brexit and Trumponomics on the international scene, and the lack of vision and incompetence, at the local level, have led to a ‘debacle’ rather than the ‘miracle’ that we were promised. 

Gender equality is not only about human rights but also about smart economics. We could have had more women financially independent, if necessary steps were taken to enhance the SME sector, promote a green gender inclusive economy and other innovative job-creating sectors while revisiting our training system. 

Women are still under represented at board of directors. What are the factors that hinder the rise of women?
The well-known glass ceiling, the entrenched patriarchal structure, as well as a pervasive ‘culture of silence’ contribute to the perpetuation of some of the most glaring inequalities and the under-representation you refer to. Do you know that Principle 3 of the Code of Governance highlights the importance of ensuring diversity inclusive of gender on such Boards? But are those concerned paying any attention to the Code of Governance or simply paying lip service? If meaningful attention was paid, we would not have had such paltry figures as the ones we have actually.

Can we expect to see more women in senior management positions in the private sector by 2030?
We can certainly expect but if we do not, as a ‘Collective’, work hard to make it happen, we will find very little progress made by 2030. And this work should also take place in the public sector. It is true that the private sector situation is much worse than the public one but Statistics Mauritius 2017 tells us that there is only some 36.6% of female representation as compared to 63.4%. of males in ‘Senior Positions in Government services.’ I am sure that the situation has not changed much since. What we need is a revolution in the thinking and making. As you may know, the theme retained by the UN to mark the 2019 International Women’s Day is “Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change’, but unless and until all stakeholders make this their motto for action, we will not get very far.

Gender equality is not only about human rights but also about smart economics. We could have had more women financially independent, if necessary steps were taken to enhance the SME sector, promote a green gender inclusive economy and other innovative job-creating sectors while revisiting our training system."

There is nowadays a rise in cases of divorce in Mauritius. What is the cause?
People often have huge expectations of married life and when these expectations are not met, there is disappointment followed by divorce. Personality conflicts, lack of dialogue, violence, infidelity and sheer incompatibility of character are some of the reasons for a divorce. Also, the pressures of nuclear family life, with the woman having to multi task, can easily take their toll on the couple. Some people also argue that the softening of the legislation regarding divorce is contributing to such a rise. I am not of this view; the subject needs further research.

Although our society has evolved, we note that women still suffer from domestic violence. What explains this?
Domestic violence is often the result of a complex interplay of social and psychological factors.  It also reflects a very unequal power relationship between the sexes. The desire for ‘power and control’ built on a culture of masculinity, is often the trigger to different forms of violence - physical, sexual, psychological and economic.

Otherwise, there can be no denying a deterioration of moral values at all levels. What explains this?
The consumerist society we are living in, with greed and materialism having invaded almost every sphere of our lives, is largely responsible for this deterioration. Also, institutions such as the family and schools often fail in their responsibility. The younger generation grows as wild trees, disoriented and with no bearings. And to make matters worse, we suffer from a serious lack of role models. It is not self proclaimed ‘mentors’ or ‘guides’ who can be role models. We need genuine ones; whose every act is in tune with a high moral order

What should be the role of women in preserving family values?
The woman is undeniably a central pillar of the family. She is a preserver and transmitter of family values. But sadly, there are times when circumstances are such that people are forced to let go of certain values, often beyond their control. It is important to note that if we want a strong social fabric, preserving of family values should not be left to women only. Men too have an important role to play.

What should be done to encourage more women to be engaged in politics?
An appropriate electoral reform with a gender friendly dose of proportional representation would have helped immensely, but unfortunately the government decided to tie the question of female political representation to the electoral reform they proposed. And with such an aberrant proposal, it was obvious that no opposition party would have supported it. However, I think that if political parties are sincere, they should field at least one woman in each constituency at the next elections. Finding and fielding women candidates should be as easy as finding the female vote!

Why is it important for women to be involved in politics?
More than half of the human race are women; democracy would be flawed if there is no gender equitable representation.  Women bring different perspectives, ideas and values and in so doing enrich the tapestry of diversity. The application of gender lenses to policy and law making becomes much easier when there are more women involved and this can then lead to a more inclusive and just society.

How do you see the future of women in Mauritius?
The future of Mauritian women depends largely on the kind of leadership and governance we shall have in the years to come. The politics of clientelism and cronyism that the current regime has practiced over the last four years has tarnished the woman’s image. I do not wish to mention names but examples are not lacking. 

We are at 112th ranking on the Global Gender Gap Index, trailing behind a number of African countries. This shows that very little is done to close the gender gap. We need more expertise and political will on gender budgeting, many more women in politics, we need to revisit gender insensitive laws. In short, we need responsible, committed, competent, gender friendly and ethical governance if we want a brighter future for our girls and women.

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