Women from five major political parties, women organisations, and civil society partners have compiled a compelling package of issues affecting women that they insist should find a place in the new Botswana Constitution.

Gender Links, which is coordinating the process, has since made submissions to the Commission of Inquiry into The Review of the Constitution that is currently soliciting inputs from members of the public across the country.

Submissions are compiled in a document titled, Molaomotheo-Buang Bomme, and Gender Links hope that by today, Friday, July 15, they would have received a good number of endorsements from those who have read and agree with their submission.

Chigedze Chinyepi of Gender Links told Botswana Guardian that they have been given July 25th to make a presentation in person to the Commission, which in essence wants to ensure compliance with global, African, and Southern African regional commitments to attain equality.

“That is where we will expand more on what we expect to be reviewed in the current Constitution,” she said.

Chinyepi further said their major contention with the constitution is that it contains the worst discriminatory clauses at odds with its international obligations.

“Areas that need review and strengthening have been pointed out in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Botswana by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)’s Committee Conclusions and Recommendations to Botswana’s report in 2019,” Chinyepi said.

The CEDAW recommended that Botswana review laws in order to stop violations of women’s rights in the areas of adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and devolution of property on death and other personal law matters, among others.

According to Gender Links, several Constitutions and laws globally now provide for formal and substantive equality. Germany for example provides that men and women shall have equal rights, further that the state shall promote the implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that exist.

The Constitution of Ecuador on the other hand recognises the right to formal equality, material equality, and non-discrimination. Right next door in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia, their Constitutions provide formal and substantive equality, something that lacks in the Botswana Constitution.

As far as political participation is concerned, the Constitution provides for a First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system and six nominated MPs as well as Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, however, it does not provide for specific affirmative action for women’s equal participation in all areas, nor in political decision-making levels.

While some political parties claim to have voluntary quotas, none have observed them, instead, the number of women MPs and Councilors in Botswana has either remained constant or declined over the last three elections.

CEDAW recommends that Botswana should ensure the representation of women at all decision-making levels through the introduction of temporary special measures.

Gender Links proposes that Botswana looks to countries like Kenya, whose Constitution states that the country shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.

In Zimbabwe, the Constitution states that the National Assembly shall consist of an additional 60 women members six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces.

The Constitution of Rwanda commits to building a state governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic government, and equality of all Rwandans and between men and women, which will be affirmed by women occupying at least 30 percent of positions of the members of elective or appointive bodies.

The Constitution further spells out how this will be achieved through FPTP, Proportional Representation (PR), and specially-elected seats.

“Botswana can benefit from the lessons learned in other countries. Rather than reserve all PR seats for women, which may result in women being regarded as a token, these seats can be distributed equally between women and men based on a legislated quota.”

Gender Links Botswana's boss, sees the review of the Constitution as a unique opportunity for Botswana to strengthen equality and non-discrimination clauses, and identify current gaps and weak provisions which will in turn inform proposals for specific provisions for women’s rights.

She believes that it will also provide for affirmative action, broadly and enhance women’s political participation specifically. “Currently women constitute less than 10 percent of MPs and less than 20 percent of councillors, well below the gender parity mark that Botswana committed to,” she explained.

Organisations that made contributions to the Gender Links submission include; Gender Links, Botswana Congress Party, Alliance for Progressives, Botswana Patriotic Front, Botswana National Front, Botswana Democratic Party, UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Botswana, Women Political Participation sponsored by the Embassy of Sweden in Addis Ababa.

The Independent Electoral Commission, Botswana Association of Local Authorities, and some lawyers also made valuable inputs into the debates that shaped the submission.