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Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

Promoting Inclusive and Participative Elections
Participation of women in political processes has been a long-standing agenda of many developing countries. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase within a number of countries particularly, in Africa in adopting electoral models to increase female participation and representation in national parliament and local governments or municipalities alike. It is commonly claimed that increasing the inclusiveness of elected bodies impacts their democratic legitimacy, largely because it provides a voice for previously under represented (women in this case) groups. The demand for equality of men and women in democratic spheres has always been key to feminist discourses. This has been due to the understanding that equality is a universal value ‘framed by an Enlightenment perspective that all human beings have the same rights by virtue of being human. It has been construed around the ideas that legitimate democracy is that one that puts women on an equal footing with men, as such even patriarchal democracies must be transformed from the traditional understanding of the role of women and revisit constitutions and electoral laws to allow equal distribution of power.
Notwithstanding, the battle for political equality for women is far from over as even in most representative democracies women’s participation still lags behind that of men. As a way to curb this problem, most countries especially in developing world have focused on increasing women representation in through effective voter education. This emphasis on voter education in promoting democracy has been emphasised by both national actors and international community alike. Notably, there is an over-arching understanding that not only will women be able to address the needs of women at the community level, but also to change the traditional attitudes towards women leadership at the very level where resistance might be most prevalent.
Over the years, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of the Kingdom of Lesotho has been working in partnership with the Civil Society Organisations to engage Basotho citizenry particularly women into the Voting process ensuring that their political rights are being recognised. This stems out of the IEC’s understanding that Civil Society engagement forms a major part of democratic process and a desire to see that the people of are indeed governed well. This is also out of the realisation that battle for political equality for women in a patriarchal society like Lesotho, is far from over as attitudes and perceptions still avows men over women.
As a way to demonstrate the commitment towards women in Lesotho through Voter Education, IEC in partnership with Campaign for Education Forum took a giant step in the National Assembly Elections 2015 to extend the voter education to women in the garment sector of Lesotho. This target group was particularly important because factory workers in clothing and textile industry are mainly women who suffer a number of indignities due to their position within communities. Not only that, but women in the garment industries have been identified as some of the main breadwinners for many families in the country, but their economic value has always been undermined. It is said that on average, these women from their meagre resources are able to feed the family of five people, yet our social constructions have placed them as victims of discrimination thereby violating both their democratic and human rights.
Accurate information on their human rights and freedoms is almost wanting and as a result, they fall prey to vicious politicians who make them promises that they never fulfil once they are elected. Quality voter education for these women (as factory workers are mostly women) was therefore provided in order to ensure their full participation in the elections. Due to the nature of their work, the campaigns were organised through road-shows. This was an innovative strategy to target workers when they were on their lunch breaks since their employers would not afford them another time. Campaign for Education Forum procured the Public Address System with music to allow as many women as possible to gather around the readily available voter educators to unleash voter information to the audience. Over 35 factory garment industries were covered in major cities and towns meeting over 30000 women in a period of two months. This was a mammoth yet fulfilling task. Both the IEC and CEF were confident that the said women were empowered to make informed decisions and choices when voting. At the end of the campaign, these women were motivated to go and make their poll decisions fully aware of the purpose of elections, of their voting rights and obligations, and of the range of electoral procedures and options. They were able to understand several parts of the Electoral Law and extended that knowledge to their families and friends. This was indeed a critical invention in the elections process, the one that is believed to have influenced how the general public voted in the General Assembly Elections of 2015 in Lesotho.
To conclude, despite tremendous efforts that have been made to include women in the electoral processes in Lesotho, one fact remains; there are low polls from women on the elections day. This may be due to the fact that patriarchal societies by nature invest in the people’s mind-set. People are defined not only their culture and identity but also their perceptions and attitudes. It has therefore become very glaring that targeting numbers alone may not be an effective way of dealing with inequality, rather there is a need to tackle sources of repression, to challenge the deep seated gender repressions that are embedded in institutional norms and practices, including the society at large. When this is done, it is believed that the future health of Lesotho’s democratic governance and that of the world at large will enjoy a large number of eligible voters that actively participate in the election processes. And that will be recognised victory in the campaign against gender inequalities.

 Kholu Tsumane
(National Coordinator of Campaign for Education Forum)
Lydia Macheli
(Civic Education Officer, Independent Electoral Commission)