International Women’s Day 2019. Gender balance in Mauritius, 51 years later

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International Women’s Day celebrations at the SVICC, Pailles, in 2018.

International Women’s Day celebrations at the SVICC, Pailles, in 2018.

This article was published in Weekly No. 339 of 7 March 2019. 

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Better the balance, better the world #BalanceforBetter’. The official website of International Women’s Day states, “The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage…” However, to pave the way for international gender balance, we need to look at the issue at a national level first. As Mauritius celebrates its 51st Independence next week, it is important to take a look at the gender gap present in every aspect of the Mauritian life.

Statistics show that the situation is dire. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, the global rank of Mauritius is 109 out of 149 countries, with a global gender gap score of 0.663. When it comes to economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment, Mauritius is ranked at 119 and 116 respectively. Even at a regional level, Mauritius takes the 19th position out of 33 sub-Saharan African countries.

A mere look at parliament is enough to confirm why Mauritius is ranked so low: only eight women have been elected in parliament out of 71 members in the 2014 general election. As Arianne Navarre-Marie, deputy leader of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), stated in Le Mauricien, “Unfortunately, when it comes to women’s representation in politics, we are far from equality. The country needs women to get things going. There are so many competent women who could contribute in driving things forward, but we still have a long way to go.”

The reason for this sizable gender gap in politics could be attributed to the disparity between men and women in the Mauritian society itself. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare’s report ‘Statistics in Mauritius: A Gender Approach’, published in March 2018, women are less economically active than men. In 2016, only 45.5% of women aged 16 years and above were actively participating in the economy as opposed to 74.3% of men belonging to the same age group.

The Statistics Mauritius’ 2017 Gender Statistics provide even more alarming facts: there are more unemployed women than men in the country, and the average income is lower for women than men, with an average of Rs16,800 against Rs22,300 per month in 2017 – a pay gap of Rs5,500, which is over half the minimum wage in the country.

There is, however, a positive element that stands out in the 2017 Gender Statistics. The proportion of women in the most senior positions in the public sector has increased from 20% to 37% in the span of 10 years.

When it comes to both the public and the private sector, the statistics are far less exciting. According to 2015’s Hay Group Survey on Directors’ Remuneration in Mauritius, only 5.6% of board members in the private sector are women. The report further criticises the gender disparity: “The presence of women on boards and sub-committees is rare; only 4.58% of the 612 directorships reported in this survey are held by women, and at board level, only 5.6% of board members are female. At committee level, only the Risk and Audit Committees show a small presence of female chairpersons (7.7% and 6.7% respectively).” As far as domestic violence is concerned, in 2016 alone, 1,852 (89.2%) new female cases were reported to the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare.

As we are about to celebrate International Women’s Day this 8 March and the Independence Day of Mauritius on the 12th, it is crucial to establish that there is still work to be done when it comes to the position of women in society.

Compared to 51 years ago, there surely has been progress when it comes to women’s representation in society: more women can now be seen leaving their homes every morning to earn money; and there are now women in positions that were mostly male-dominated. While there has undeniably been progress, we cannot deny that to achieve gender balance, there is still work to be done. A lot of it.

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