Gender Links Press Release - Via AWID:





Africa - Urgent Action Needed for 50% Women in Government Decision-Making

Gender activists from East and Southern Africa have expressed shock at the backward trends in the 50/50 campaign in recent elections. The African Union (AU) has set a goal of achieving parity between women and men in decision-making by 2020, while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) target calls for 50% women in decision-making in all sectors by 2015.

At a meeting to reflect on support to women parliamentarians participants from 21 organisations working in Eastern and Southern Africa convened by Gender Links, Hivos and Akina Mama wa Afrika said it is ironic that at the very moment when there is commitment to moving forwards the trend seems to be backwards.

Namibia has signed and ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development but women's representation declined from 30.8% to 22%, with only 16 women now in the 72 member National Assembly in the November elections. Fifteen of the women are from the ruling South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO). The law gives the Namibian President the powers to appoint six additional members, but even if he appointed all women, this would only bring women's representation to 30.5%.

In Botswana, which has not signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, the proportion of women in parliament dropped from 11% to 6.5% in the October elections.

Although two of the top three ranked countries in the world in terms of women's representation in Parliament are in Africa, the majority of African countries fall well below the average representation of women across all parliaments in the world and fall short of African targets.

Rwanda with 56.3% women in Parliament is number one in the world, while South Africa at 44.5% women is number three. But as women participants at the just-ended conference on Support to Women Leaders in Eastern and Southern Africa noted, African governments need to put in place special measures and support systems to speed up the pace of change to meet Africa's own target of 50%women in politics and decision-making positions.

According to statistics from the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), given the current Sub-Saharan African regional average of 17.8% women's representation in parliaments, it will take some 25 years just to reach a critical mass of 30% women; and another 25 years to reach 50%. African governments need to put in place a variety of measures - adoption of the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system at national level which favours women's representation, plus legislated or voluntary party quotas - to quicken the pace. Namibia for example, uses the PR system for parliamentary elections, but as the recent polls showed, the absence of a special measure for women at this level militates against the achievement of the SADC parity target.

The meeting on support for women in politics and decision-making comes amid the continent's preparations for the Beijing+15 Review to be held during the 54th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in March 2010, and the launch in July 2010 of the African Women's Decade (2010-2020). GL is a Southern African NGO working on gender and governance at national and local government levels throughout the region, and AMwA, a pan-African women's organisation based in Kampala, Uganda, focuses on Feminist Leadership Development in Africa.

"...We have to realise that women leaders are made and not born," said thirty-one year Anele Mda, the youngest member in the new South African Parliament from the Congress of the People (COPE) party, who participated in the three-day meeting. "I saw this as an experience where I could get to learn and exchange with others my experiences. The meeting highlighted the issues that women need to be vociferous about and with a spirit of oneness," said Mda, chairperson of COPE's Youth Movement.

Flavia Rwabuhoro, a former district councillor in Uganda who plans to stand as a candidate for Parliament in Uganda's 2011 general elections, said although she received leadership training and skills as a councillor from AMwA as an individual, "this workshop has taught me that I need to do more collectively rather than as an individual. I need other women to rally around me."

One of the key lessons that emerged in the seminar was the need for capacity building and training initiatives for women leaders to focus on building women's collective strength to advance the agenda of gender equality and women's human rights. A strategy for doing this would be to incorporate knowledge and skills into programmes that help women identify, enhance and leverage their power bases within political parties, Parliaments, and the women's movement. Participants also identified women within the women's wings of political parties and other political party structures as a target group for building women's collective leadership capacity.

Tapping into the knowledge and skills of women who have years of experience in the political arena, participants noted, is one of the key strategies for increasing the support to women leaders. And, they emphasized that the ‘quantity versus quality' debate around women's participation in politics should change to ‘quantity' and ‘quality' and training and capacity building efforts should push this message during the African Decade for Women.

With almost two-thirds of Africa's population now below the age of 25, the meeting also focused on ways to encourage young women to take an interest in politics and public service in Africa. A panel of young women told the workshop that while young women do have an interest in entering politics, they are "disinterested in the politics of Africa today". "My friends and I talk politics all the time and for me, the personal is political," said Ottilia Anna Maunganidze a lawyer with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. But she added that it has been difficult to find politicians who address the issues of the youth.

Discussions and recommendations from the three-day meeting will be taken forward in various ways during the Beijing+15 process and beyond. Participants also agreed to set up a ‘Working Group' to explore ways to set up mechanisms to share information between organisations in Africa working on women's leadership; to conduct consultations with women politicians and leaders on their capacity needs; and to develop a handbook on lessons learned from experiences across Africa on building women's leadership. (ENDS)

For more information, contact: Colleen Lowe Morna, Executive Director, Gender Links on execdirector@genderlinks.org.za, tel. +2786516995 or Christine Butwegwa, Regional Coordinator, Africa Programmes (AMwa) or Christine@amwa-ea.org, tel: +256 414 543681/+256 752470129.

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