Highlights of the African Regional Congress
of Women in Politics - 1995

Background

In the recent United Nations Development Plan index on gender empowerment, African countries fared poorly, landing in the lower third of all countries surveyed. Botswana took the lead and placed 55th and 38th out of 130 countries included in the index. Such statistics are indicative of the limited decision making roles given to women in this region, as well as the need to support girls' education and women's more active participation in politics.

The UNDP report cited the possible factors for the dismal figures: the imbalance between the extensive work that women in the region do and their limited reward. In agriculture; for instance, women do 80% of the work and yet receive only 5% of credits in loans. Women also face other restraints such as limited land ownership, the triple burden of attending to childcare, household chores and livelihood, as well as social expectations that attribute negative images to women involved in politics.

Yet the changing political climate in Africa bodes well for women. The trend is for increased democratization which, in turn, has opened up space and opportunities for women. While Africa women need to grab these breaks, their sisters who have entered party politics caution against equating multi-partyism with democracy. Most parties as yet refuse to take up grassroots issues like girls' education and provide few openings for women.

Armed with these realities, a group of African women held a consultation on women in politics in May 1995, in Botswana. The gathering hoped to encourage women in the region to maximize the democratization process slowly taking root in their respective countries.

The results of the Botswana consultation were used as starting points to generate further discussion on the participation of African women in politics, during the African regional congress held in Huairou, Beijing on 3-4 September 1995.

Several encouraging developments in the region were noted:

At the same time, several persistent problems that block women's more dynamic participation in the politics of the region were noted:

It should be stressed, however, that these situations are focused on the experiences of women coming from countries south of the Sahara, and therefore do not reflect varied circumstances in other countries in the African region.

Strategies

  1. Linkage-building among various NGOs, groups working for women's political participation and individual women in politics, to develop candidate support and to build constituencies for women and women's issues.

  2. Coalition building; coalitions formed earlier for other issues and especially "women's wings" of existing coalitions can function as lobby groups for women's full participation in politics.
    Women politicians from different parties should also be encouraged to get together and create a woman's voice in parliament.

  3. Efforts to build the confidence of women to speak out and to run for office are especially important. Women must realize that it is their right to run for office.

  4. Money and economic security are crucial if women are to actively participate in politics at every level. Women who run for office need resources to run campaigns. Even more important, women can only have time to support women's causes and to run for office themselves if they have the economic security to take time off from work.

  5. Networking and the development of solidarity among women are the key to women's participation in politics. Women must work toward this end at both the national and regional levels.

Proposals and Recommendations

  1. Congress participants affirmed the present composition of the twelve-member committee, which was formed during the Botswana consultation. The committee is composed of eight sub-regional representatives-two from each of the four and one representative each from the four sponsoring organizations, namely the African-American Institute, Emang Basadi (Stand up Women), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The possibility of expanding the network and the committee framework was also brought up.

  2. The formulation of the terms of reference for the committee was likewise suggested. The committee could serve as a base or a forum through which people can share and learn what is going on with regards to the issue of women in politics.

  3. The establishment of a database of organizations and centers that are working actively to strengthen women's political skills, to get more of them into political life.

 


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Dated: 26Feb2001