A general rule: as elections come closer, the crazier the political slogans get. And so it was in the days following Women’s Day as each party sought to outdo the other in courting just over half the electorate.
Exhibit A: Leader of the Mouvement Patriotique Alan Ganoo wants a quota for women to be imposed in the National Assembly. Sounds quite nice and gels in very comfortably with the dominant mood within Mauritian feminist circles. Of course, nobody pointed out that the state dictating who can or cannot be a candidate for a political party is a supremely anti-democratic act (as is legislation concerning the imposition of gender quotas on candidates fielded). But identity politics has always had a tenuous relation with democracy, or logic for that matter. The crux of the demand for such a quota is that it’s needed for better ‘representation’ of women. Presumably, the people that women are actually voting for in elections do not really represent them, so ‘real’ representatives need to be manufactured by getting the law to twist the hands of political parties to come up with candidates that the state approves of. Identity is however a slippery slope: once a quota is conceded on the basis of gender, how long before other groups – defining themselves differently of course – start clamouring for their own quotas using the same argument of underrepresentation? How soon before we start seeing ethnic quotas demanded in the National Assembly? Or an LGBT quota for that matter? Under what argument will their identity claims be rejected?
The truth is that women in politics generally tend to act and speak just like the men: weren’t the ladies of the Labour Party just recently tearing one another apart for alleged criticism of their leader? The MMM for its part has been more careful, its leader, Paul Bérenger, said his party would float the “maximum” number of female candidates in the next election. A typical MMM statement that wants the credit for the sentiment, but no tangible promise that it would have to answer for later on. Not to be outdone, Pravind Jugnauth, the prime minister, hotfooted it to a hospital to meet a couple that had quadruplets to burnish his feminist credentials. The PMSD for its part, through the leader of its women’s wing, Arline Koenig, proposed a nine-month maternity leave. To be paid by whom? Would companies not become less reluctant to hire employees who could take nine months off at a stretch every time they fell pregnant? The timing was bad coming as it did at just as the headlines were dominated by textile factories closing down, so the party just as suddenly withdrew its demand.
Speaking of textiles, this historically big employer of women is now on the way out and working women are bearing the brunt of the job losses. In 2012, they made up 61 per cent of workers in the sector and in 2017, that figure had gone down to 50.6 per cent. These are poor women though. They are not going to grovel for party tickets, they won’t give money to political parties, are not in the top echelons of the public and private sectors and don’t populate NGOs. So they don’t count.