Namibia: Women's representation quotas

Updated December 2009

Legal quotas

As with other constitutions in Southern Africa the Namibian Constitution (1992, Article 10) provides for formal equality before the law for men and women and out laws discrimination on the basis of (among other things) sex. However, the Constitution goes further and qualifies Article 10 equality with Article 23(2), which empowers parliament to enact legislation that leads to the "advancement of persons within Namibia who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices, or for the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational imbalances in the Namibian society arising out of past discriminatory laws or practices, or for achieving a balanced structuring of the public service, the police force, the defence force, and the prison service" and Article 23(3) permits "regard to the fact that women in Namibia have traditionally suffered special discrimination and that they need to be encouraged and enabled to play a full, equal and effective role in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the nation". The state is tasked with promoting the welfare of Namibians and adopting policies that aim at the "enactment of legislation to ensure equality of opportunity for women, to enable them to participate fully in all spheres of Namibian society…" (Article 95(a)).

Thus though the constitution does not mandate quotes to ensure the adequate representation of women in elective bodies it creates a framework that recognises the marginalisation that women have experienced and the discrimination they have suffered and enables and requires that measures be taken to redress these substantive inequalities. Namibian legislation does not provide for quotas for women's representation at national or regional level, but the 1992 Local Authority Act mandates that 50% of candidates on lists submitted by political parties for local government elections, which are conducted on a proportional representation basis, be women (Tonchi & Shifotoka 2005, 13, 17). The 50% quota did not, however, translate into something like a 50% representation as might have been expected, though the proportion of women councillors did increase from 41.3% in 1998 to 43.4% in 2004 (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 84). The reason was, as Christiaan Keulder (2004, 3) explains, "because not all parties submitted "zebra-lists" [alternating male and female candidates], and generally more men than women occupied the first position on the lists. This means that when small parties won a single seat, it was usually a male seat".

Since no legal quotas are applied at national and regional levels, the advancement of women's representation is dependent on the adoption and implementation of voluntary quotas by the political parties.

Party quotas

Regional Council members in Namibia are elected by plurality in single member constituency elections, a system that has generally led to a severe under representation of women in Southern Africa (and elsewhere; Tonchi & Shifotoka 2005, 17; Lebeau & Dima 2005, 4). In 1998 only 6% of regional councillors were women and in 2004 this rose to 12.2% (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 73, 85). In 1998 one of 13 (7.7%) regional governors was a woman and this rose to and three (23.1%) in 2004 (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 73, 85). This low representation was despite the fact that the ruling South West Africa People's Organisation of Namibia (SWAPO) introduced a 50% quota for women on its electoral lists in 1997, the Congress of Democrats (COD) did the same when it was formed in 1999 and the National Unity Democratic Organisation (NUDO) adopted a 50% quota for candidates subsequent to its break with the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) in 2003 (Global Database of Quotas for Women 2006; Tonchi & Shifotoka 2005, 28). It proved to be more difficult to implement quotas in nominating candidates for the first-past-the-post elections Regional Council election than for the proportional representation local government elections; moreover, voters (including women are less likely to vote for male candidates than female candidates in Namibia (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 73, 85).

The upper house of parliament, the National Council, is indirectly elected by the Regional Councils, and given the low proportion of women in these councils, it might be expected that these would also present low levels of women's representation. However, the Regional Councils have returned a higher proportion of women to the upper house than they themselves are comprised of, for 7.7% of the members were women in 1998 and in 2004 this rose to around 19% (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 85).

The adoption of party quotas has been much more effective at improving women's representation levels when combined with the proportional representation electoral system used in lower house elections (Tonchi & Shifotoka 2005, 17). In the 1989 Constituent Assembly, elected by proportional representation prior to the adoption of quotas by political parties, women formed only 6.9% of the body (see Women's representation in the National Assembly). In 1999, after the adoption of 50% quotas by SWAPO and the COD, the proportion of women elected to the National assembly rose to 25% of the members of the National Assembly and remained at 25% after the 2004 election before declining to 22.2% after the 2009 election. Namibia compares poorly with Mozambique (35.6% in 2004) and South Africa (43% in 2009) where proportional representation and voluntary quotas by dominant ruling parties have been combined.

The reason for the relatively poor performance lies in the attitude of the parties to women's inclusion on proportional representation lists where quotas are not mandatory. The EISA observation mission report on the 2004 elections (EISA 2005, 16) remarked: "the mission regrets the fact that although the parties had more than 30% women candidates in their lists, women were placed too low on the lists, which resulted in Namibia failing to achieve the minimum 30% target after the elections" (see also Kaapama 2004, 12). Thus SWAPO with its commitment to 50% of candidates failed to place women sufficiently high enough on the lists to ensure parity of representation, so that only 27.3% of its elected representatives in the National Assembly were women (see Women's representation in the 2004 National Assembly by party). The COD and the United Democratic Front (UDF) performed better, with 40% and the 33% respectively. None of the nine other members of the National Assembly returned by the other opposition parties (DTA, NUDO, Republican Party (RP) and Monitor Action Group (MAG)) were women (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 84).

The situation deteriorated in 2009 (Women's representation in the 2009 National Assembly by party). The proportion of women elected on the SWAPO list increased marginally to 27.8%. The COD lost four of its five seats and returned a single male member to the National Assembly, while NUDO lost one seat and returned only two males in 2009. Thus three seats previously held by women on the opposition benches were lost. The new Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), which had broken away from SWAPO, returned only one woman out of eight MPs. This despite the RDP's commitment in its party manifesto to: "Strive to achieve at least 50% representation of women, both in government and public service, as well as within our own Party's political and organizational activities" (RDP 2009, 21).

Party leadership quotas

The ruling party, SWAPO, established a 50% quota for women's internal leadership representation at regional level and 30% for its Central Committee (Tonchi & Shifotoka 2005, 22; Lebeau & Dima 2005, 81). In 2005 23% of its regional coordinators, 22.9% of its Central Committee members, 30.8% of its National Executive Committee members and 19% of its Politburo members were women (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 82). The COD at that time committed itself "to include a provision for a gender quota [for leadership structures] in line with the most current international agreements" (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 81). This, presumably, meant 30% as laid down by Namibia's commitments to the Southern African Development Community. In 2005 women formed 47.3% of COD 's Central Committee and 13% of its National Executive Committee (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 82).

None of the other parties had quotas governing women's representation in internal leadership structures. Lebeau & Dima (2005, 81) state that: "The DTA in particular has been reported by its own members to undermine women's status within the party". 18.8% of DTA Central Committee members are women and 19.2% of its National Executive Committee (Lebeau & Dima 2005, 82). The RDP's Constitution was not available for study at the time of writing (December 2009).


CONSTITUTION OF NAMIBIA 1992, [www] default/grnnet/AboutNamibia/constitution/constitution1.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 23 Feb 2010).

EISA 2005 Electoral Observer Mission Report [PDF document].

GLOBAL DATABASE OF QUOTAS FOR WOMEN 2006 "Namibia", [www] [opens new window] (accessed 13 Mar 2008).

LEBEAU, D " DIMA, E 2005, "The Electoral System and its Impact on Gender", "Conflict and Elections: Gender" and "Gender and Youth representation" IN Multiparty Democracy and Elections in Namibia [PDF], EISA Research Report 13.

KAAPAMA, P 2004, "Equitable Representation in the National Assembly" IN EISA Election Update: Namibia 2004, 3 [PDF], 12.

KEULDER, C 2004 "Gender and Representation at the Local Government Level in Namibia" IN Election Talk, 15 [PDF document].

TONCHI, VL & SHIFOTOKA, AN 2005, "Gender Equality" IN Parties and Political Development in Namibia [PDF], EISA Research Report 26.

TRIPP, AM 2004 "The Changing Face of Africa's Legislatures: Women and Quotas", [www] [MS Word document] (accessed 13 Mar 2008).