SOURCE: New Times
The inclusion of women in political processes is a key element in achieving a truly inclusive democracy, and women must have a chance to exercise their political rights and participate fully in all political decision making, a senior Tanzanian lawmaker said on Wednesday, June 15.
MP Anastazia Wambura, a member of the Tanzanian Parliament, said this during the start of a three-day peer to peer regional learning event for lawmakers themed “Enhancing Voice and Choice: Women Lead Africa,” that is hosted by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in Arusha, Tanzania.
The event co-organised with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance is meant to identify the most pressing concerns around women’s political participation with which, to African women lawmakers and other stakeholders who influence the political participation discourse should be grappling with.
Wambura said: “We must be committed to ensuring that women from across society have equal opportunities, access political structures and positions of influence.”
Wambura recognises the progress made around the continent but noted that so much more needs to be done. Her country, Tanzania, for the first time has a woman President who is the sixth woman President on the continent.
EALA Speaker, Martin Ngoga said women’s rights are human rights and women’s leadership unleashes their potential and talents. The AU Agenda 2063 and UN SDGs, in particular goal 5 on gender equality, cannot be attained if over 50 per cent of the world’s population is underrepresented on the negotiation table, Ngoga said.
Raise career aspirations of young girls
He said: “Women’s political participation is fundamental to strengthening justice, equality, democracy and sustainable development. When women are equally represented in political decision-making, they make choices that support their community’s wellbeing and equality in access and control over opportunities.
“Increased presence and visibility of female politicians raises career aspirations of young girls and contributes to changing societal attitudes and expectations paving way for gender equality for current and future generations.”
Ngoga then shared some highlights of the EAC experience in advancing gender equality in the political sphere, based on the bloc’s established gender sensitive legal framework.
Women representation in the EALA has increased beyond the established quota. The first Assembly, whose tenure ran from 2001 to 2006 had nine women out of the 27 elected members (30%). The current fourth Assembly has 22 women out of 54 elected members (40.7%).
The Assembly recently established a Parliamentary Women caucus to spearhead gender sensitive activities.
Dr. Roba Sharamo, International IDEA’s Regional Director for Africa and West Asia, said: “There will be no full democracy and no full and effective political participation and there will be no election that is free and transparent without equal participation of women.
“Our annual global state of democracy report shows that there is a lot that still needs to be done in Africa and even in West Asia regions. Across the continent, whereas there has been progress towards the realisation of the ‘Africa We Want’ as enshrined in the AU Agenda 2063 and the Maputo Protocol, among others, there still is a lot that needs to be undertaken.”
Sharamo noted that it is no secret that the deeply entrenched patriarchal society continues to be a structural barrier to the effective participation of women in political governance.
As noted, data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, and achieving gender parity in political life is far off.
A lot of investment needs to be undertaken at both the regional level and also at the national level, he said, so as to achieve gender parity.
“We only have 25 percent representation of women in both lower and upper parliaments across Africa and that is not a good statistic. It must improve,” Sharamo said.
Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of EAC Affairs, gave examples of things she has done to change things, and urged that women in power “should use those positions."
Gender audits, she said, were one of her tools. Auditing facilities, budgets and services is important, she said.
“The first thing is to audit where you are. We are working together with the women caucus of Uganda Parliament, we established a certificate of gender equity which is now a requirement in the law that any budget which is brought must be audited,” Kadaga said.
Kadaga explained how she used her office while Speaker of Parliament and influenced things back home to ensure that the Ugandan government took serious notice of the danger of female genital mutilation, a dangerous practice especially in the eastern part of the country along the Uganda-Kenya border.
"If I was not in that chair, I would not have been able to do it. The other thing was now the budget. The Government was able to put in money for that (FGM) campaign and it is still going on."
Although a 2010 law made FGM illegal in Uganda, the practice continued.
Complicated, lonely road to leadership
MP Anne Leonardo Itto, Chairperson of EALA’S Women Caucus, said that women’s road to leadership is full of twists and turns; “hyenas and tornadoes which are ready to tear her up.”
She said: “Very often it is either the heavy workload or looking for permission to get out of the house. It's either lack of respect or denial of rights. It's either discouragement or lack of support even from your own family. It's either violence or media discrimination. It's either fear or exclusion. That is what the political paths and the journey for women leaders look like when you are here in Africa.”
“In short, even if you get to the very door of success, you can be kicked out of there very easily.”
The path to leadership, Itto said, is very complicated, and “very lonely, to say the least.”
“We have to go back to the drawing table, identify those challenges and work together to create an environment where there is legal policy or practical environment that will enable women to reach their aspirations.”
Amb. MP Fatuma Ndangiza, the Secretary General of the Assembly’s Women Caucus, emphasised that gender equality is not a women and girls fight.
Ndangiza said: “And when we talk about gender, although now there is more emphasis on women because of the disparities we see, because of culture and because women have lagged behind in our societies, we know there are also parts of our societies where boys and men are lagging behind.”
“Although now the focus is on women and girls, we know that gender is not homogeneous and there are variations from here and there. As we talk about women and girls empowerment, we need to also talk about men empowerment. If women are empowered, it trickles down to the whole society and the entire society is empowered. The role of men in all this process is important.”