“The glass ceiling in women’s minds about being president in this country has been shattered,” Justine Diffo Tchunkam, head of the Network for More Women in Politics in Cameroon, told TrustLaw.
“It is not common here in Cameroon to see women aspire to run for president although there is no law which prevents them from doing so, which makes us proud of the courage and determination of these two candidates,” she said during a phone interview from Yaounde.
With Edith Kahbang Walla and Esther Dang among 23 candidates in elections slated for 9 Oct, it is the first time that women are effectively running for the office of President in the West-Central African nation.
Walla, 46, is an U.S.-trained entrepreneur, human rights and pro-democracy activist and politician. Dang, 66, is a French-trained economist and a former director general of the country's National Investment Corporation.
However, analysts say both women, as well as 20 other opposition candidates, will find it hard to beat the incumbent President Paul Biya who has been in power since 1982 and is seeking re-election for another seven-year term.
The opposition is fragmented with very few parties having a national presence while there has been general apathy among many Cameroonians who believe the electoral process is not transparent and is skewed in favour of the ruling party.
Diffo Tchunkam said both female candidates are good technocrats with sound policies that are better grounded than those of some of their male opponents but they lacked the necessary political clout that would see them through.
“Winning the election will be hard but the fact that they are running is already victory for groups like mine which are encouraging women to be more involved in politics,” she added.
She said news of possible female candidates spurred other women to register on electoral rolls as a means of also participating in country’s political and decision-making processes.
According to Cameroon’s National Institute of Statistics the percentage of women in government has risen from 6.7 to 13.5 percent between 1992 and 2010. There are currently 25 women members of parliament (as against 10 in 2002) out of 180 parliamentarians.
More Women in Politics says this still needs to improve and the group has launched an advocacy campaign targeting the 23 presidential candidates to make women’s empowerment a priority during their term of office should any of them win the upcoming election.
“Many politicians are now making big promises about what they would do for women because they realise about 60 percent of the electorate is female but we are not going to take such vague statements,” Diffo Tchunkam said.
Her group is urging the candidates to pledge to a 12-point agenda on women’s empowerment which includes the setting up of a 30% quota of the ministries headed by women, the adoption of legislation requiring political parties to have women represent at least 30% of their list of candidates for each election.
The group also wants the winner of the forthcoming election to adopt a law on violence against women and to get the government to deposit instruments of Ratification of the African Union Protocol on Women's Rights. The country ratified the instrument in 2009, but the instruments are still to be deposited with the African Union.
“Whether it is a woman or a man who wins the October poll there are many things that Cameroonian women need to see implemented,” said Diffo Tchunkam.
“We are encouraging women to turn out and vote whichever candidate who clearly convinces them of having their interests at heart,” she said.