We need more African women in political spaces

By Imali Ngusale

By 2030, Africa’s population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion and women’s population will account for 58% of that population. Yet the continent is far from achieving 50% women’s representation in politics.

Unfortunately, the current political climate around Africa seems to eschew women in political spaces. This notwithstanding, African women continue to advocate for the full implementation of the Maputo Protocol, a.k.a the Protocol to the African Charter on Gender Equality and the Rights of Women in Africa.

Article 19 (b) of the Maputo Protocol underscores that women have a right to fully participate in decision-making, implementation and evaluation of development policies and programmes.

The protocol also underscores other key policies like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its Optional Protocol, which do not only justify why women should be at the centre of political development but also admonish the AU States to implement their commitments.

Unlike any other women’s human rights instrument, the Protocol details wide-ranging and substantive rights for African women covering the entire spectrum of civil and political rights among others.

Speaking in Nairobi Kenya during the 20th commemoration of the Protocol, Mama Kaliya, a pan-Africanist and renowned human rights, gender, and women rights activist from Malawi said, “Maputo Protocol is connected to other policies in the continent and that’s why it should be implemented.” 

Kaliya, who is also the chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the NGO Gender Coordination Network in Malawi, said, “Political power must be pursued by African women in demand for leadership roles.

Additionally, Bernice Dodoo, a She Leads activist from Ghana said, “Young women like me have either been left out of the policy implementation space. Yet, the policies discussed literally determine our future.”

Dodoo also exclaimed that “African girls and women are a significant fraction of the continent’s population and should therefore not be left out of the political space.”

“Girls and young women must meaningfully engage in the policy space,” said Dodoo while addressing the WPP session on Intergenerational Experiences of Women’s Voices in Leadership in Africa.

Speaking at the same forum, Mildred Ngesa, a renown pan-African feminist said, “We must practice intentionally in mentoring the next generation.”

“Girls and young women of this continent are the ones who will benefit from the implementation of the Maputo Protocol. We must therefore incorporate in the implementation journey and in the Pan-Africanism of gender equality,” said Ngesa.

Extolling the same view, Memory Kachambwa, the Executive Director of the African Women in Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) insisted that there must be genuine commitments in the full realization of the Maputo Protocol.

“As African women, we must not relent but continue to shift mindsets in the political space because Sub-Saharan Africa has only 26 percent of women legislators,” said Kachambwa.

While mindsets are slowly changing in Africa, policies and equal representation commitments are not being implemented fast enough.

To date, the Maputo Protocol has not secured universal ratification. Of the 55 African Union Member States, six are yet to sign on, and 13 are yet to ratify. Seemingly, full domestication seems far-fetched.  Only Rwanda is hailed to have 61 percent of women representation in legislative roles.

Worse still, political instability in some African countries has prevented women from fully participating in politics and electoral systems, even where it is permitted by the constitutions.

Implementing Maputo Protocol, therefore, remains a journey that needs continuous efforts in shifting the trajectory on the promotion and protection of women’s political participation.

It is against this backdrop that the Women in Political Participation (WPP) consortium partners under IDEA continue to engage African women in all their diversities in political space.

The WPP consortium encompasses; FEMNET, Women in Law SA, IFAN, Gender Links, Padare, and Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE).