A new gender law in Mauritius that requires one-third of candidates in local elections to be women represents another small step towards parity in decision-making.
The gender quota is contained in the new Local Government Act that entered into force on 1 January 2012 and compels all political parties to field more women to contest in local elections due by April this year.
Under Mauritian law, the town and village councillors are elected every five years and their main role is to ensure the smooth running of five towns and 108 villages, overseeing the provision of services such as garbage collection and road maintenance.
They are also tasked with taking care of the environment and organising cultural, leisure and sporting activities. Just 6.4 percent of all village and town councillors are women at present.
The quota system is expected to enable at least 1,300 women to participate as candidates in the forthcoming local elections.
The new law falls far short of the 50-percent target for women's participation in political decision-making by 2015 set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of which Mauritius is a member.
The fact that the quota system applies only to local elections means that the representation of women in positions of authority in Mauritius remains low.
Mauritius is one of the lowest in SADC in terms of the number of women in decision-making positions such as parliament and cabinet, and is one of two member states yet to append its signature to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. The other is Botswana.
Only 10 women were elected into the 70-seat unicameral House of Assembly in the 2010 general elections, while three more were appointed among the eight "best losers", a total of 13 women and just 19 percent of the seats in parliament.
A total of 62 parliamentarians are elected by direct popular vote under a block system where each voter casts three ballots for three candidates from each of the 21 constituencies, including the island of Rodrigues off the south-east coast of Mauritius, which elects two deputies.
The remaining eight candidates are drawn from a list of "best losers" to ensure a fair representation of various communities of the country.
This voting method is not used to address the gender imbalance, yet women make up the largest number of voters as well as just over half of the population of Mauritius.
Only three women serve as ministers in the 25-member Mauritian cabinet, representing just 12 percent. Prime Minister Navichandra Ramgoolam said the new quota system is expected to see a significant increase in participation by women in the socio-political process of the island nation, adding that more should be done to elevate women to positions of authority.
"We must ensure that the number of women candidates rises considerably," Prime Minister Ramgoolam said. On the need to extend the gender quota system to national elections, he said the government would wait for the outcome of a study by a team of constitutional experts before taking a decision to review the system.
Mauritius is scheduled to hold national elections in 2015 and expectations are that the necessary changes to the laws would have been made to ensure that more women are elected to parliament and appointed to Cabinet.
In the 15 members states of SADC, South Africa has the highest representation of women in parliament at 45 percent, followed by Mozambique at 39.2 percent and Angola at 38.6 percent.
These countries have electoral systems based on proportional representation that encourage participation by women, as well as voluntary political party quotas.
A minimum 30 percent representation is a constitutional requirement in the United Republic of Tanzania