Gurib Fakim is among the most qualified woman in the region let alone Mauritius. She is a monument in the scientific and technological fields. She now joins the club of women world leaders. We are proud that she is among the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; Cristina Fernandez de Larchner of Argentina; Dalia Grybanskaite of Lithuania; Dilma Rousseff of Brazil; Michelle Bachelet of Chile; Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo; Park Geun-hye of South Korea; Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia; and Marie Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta, to name only a few female presidents. After Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, we now have Ameenah Gurib Fakim— the only woman President in the SADC region.
Gurib Fakim was not born with a golden spoon in her mouth, but contrary to many African girls, she was lucky to have parents who believe in gender equality and in girl’s education. Never in our wildest dream would we have thought that in such a patriarchal society like ours, Mauritians are speaking with one voice to say we are ready for a woman president of the Republic. This comes after 47 years of independence and 23 years of being a Republic. Gurib Fakim made it to the top through her achievements at the national, regional and international fronts. Breaking glass ceiling is not an easy job especially when the glass is still so very thick.
I still remember when I was conducting training to encourage women to join politics, a man in a high level position told me I wanted to put “vase a fleur” (flower pots) in decision-making posts. Gurib Fakim is proving him wrong. Our women parliamentarians may have a lot to learn, and they must use our new president as a role model.
Gurib Fakim completed her university studies in England and holds a PhD in Chemistry from Exeter University. She was the first woman to become Chair in Organic Chemistry at the University of Mauritius, as well as Dean of Faculty of Science and Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius. She helped create the Centre for Phototherapy and Research, and now rebranded CIDP R & I at the very first Bio Park of Mauritius.
As founding member of the Pan African Association of African Medicinal Plants Standards, she has co-authored the very first African Herbal Pharmacopoeia. She has co-authored and written over 30 books on medicinal and aromatic plants. Her list of achievements goes on, but it is worth mentioning that she sits on several international boards; is fellow of several prestigious institutions; and is honoris causa of Marie Curie and Pretoria Universities. She is also the first Mauritian woman to have obtained the L’Oreal-Unesco Prize for Women in Science; the CTA/NEPAD/AGRA for African Women in Science; and the African Union Award for Women in Science among many other distinctions. Gurib Fakim has been elevated to the Order of the Commander of the Star and Key by the Government of Mauritius, and admitted to the Order of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the Government of France.
The African Union (AU) officially launched the African Women’s Decade (AWD) (2010-2020) with the aim to advance gender equality through the acceleration of the implementation of global and regional decisions and commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The then AU Chairperson and former Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika reiterated had said that despite many frameworks and commitments, women have still not yet been fully emancipated. He stressed that the AWD should bring real positive changes to the lives of African women, including their participation in all decision making processes.
On the flip-side of the coin, out of 15 SADC countries, Mauritius has regressed in its ranking for the percentage of women in parliament. The country which held the 10th place with 19% women parliamentarians, is now at 12th place with a mere 12% women in parliament. Mauritius is now among the five Southern African countries with the lowest percentage of women in parliament— Malawi, Zambia, DRC and Botswana.
We must encourage women and girls to see themselves as leaders. We must dare to be ourselves. The AU is submitting its first AWD report this year, and Mauritius is lighting the way with Professor Ameenah Gurib Fakim as President of the Republic and Maya Hanoomajee as the first woman Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Let us hope that she will no longer be called, “Madam Speaker Sir” !
Loga Virahsawmy is the former Gender Links Francophone Director and now sits on the GL Board. She writes in her individual capacity. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, offering fresh views on everyday news.