Inter Press Service » Africa: Women from P♂lls to P♀lls http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:18:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Burundian Women Want a Greater Say in Running of Countryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/burundian-women-tops-in-service-delivery-but-need-greater-management-role/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundian-women-tops-in-service-delivery-but-need-greater-management-role http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/burundian-women-tops-in-service-delivery-but-need-greater-management-role/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 07:36:29 +0000 Bernard Bankukira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135379 The Burundi National Police is composed of 2.9 percent women. Despite a 30 percent quota for women’s representation in parliament, there is still a long way to go to fill the gap in government institutions where women represent only an average of 20.15 percent. Courtesy: Bernard Bankukira

The Burundi National Police is composed of 2.9 percent women. Despite a 30 percent quota for women’s representation in parliament, there is still a long way to go to fill the gap in government institutions where women represent only an average of 20.15 percent. Courtesy: Bernard Bankukira

By Bernard Bankukira
BUJUMBURA, Jul 5 2014 (IPS)

As Burundi heads towards the 2015 general elections, and despite a quota of 30 percent women’s representation in parliament, women in this southeast African nation feel that they are yet to have a significant say in the management of their country.

Bernardine Sindakira, the chairwoman of Synergy of Partners for the Promotion of Women’s Rights (SPPDF), a Burundian coalition of women’s rights organisations, tells IPS that the country’s very traditional culture still considers women as “homemakers” as women are educated to play this role from young. “A hen doesn’t crow when the rooster is there,” says a Burundian proverb."We’ve got so many woman engineers at building sites, doctors, heads of organisations, business women, security women, and so many others." -- Marceline Bararufise, Burundian Member of Parliament

“This has long kept her in the position of being unable to [ensure] her empowerment and have the place she deserves in the country’s management,” says Sindakira.

This country is still recovering from a 12-year ethnic-based civil war after the 1993 assassination of the country’s first democratically-elected president, Melchior Ndadaye. Almost 300,000 people died in the Hutu-Tutsi violence and the conflict “had a very negative impact on women and young girls who experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence,” according to a 2011 Global Network of Women Peacebuilders report.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, after the 2010 elections women in Burundi held 34 out of 106 seats in the lower house, about 32.1 percent, “as well as a significant rise in the upper house to 46.3 percent, due to a considerable degree to its quota system.“

But according to a 2011 report by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders “the law does not specify the quota for women in other decision-making bodies. Thus in the top three offices i.e. President, First Vice President and Second Vice President, there are no women.”

SPPDF figures show that although the 30 percent quota is almost fully respected in elective agencies like parliament and local administration, there is still a long way to go to fill the gap in government institutions where women represent only an average of 20.15 percent.

In security services, women’s representation remains the lowest.

  • The 2012 official records of the Burundi National Defence Force show that women represent just 0.5 percent of the force — 148 woman soldiers of the total 25,000.
  • The Burundi National Police comprises 2.9 percent women.

Marceline Bararufise, a Member of Parliament (MP), head of the Parliamentary Education Sub-committee, and head of the Association of Parliamentarian Women in Burundi, told IPS that there is proof that women can perform better than men when it comes to public service delivery.

A 2012/2013 national survey conducted to assess the public service delivery at the district level, revealed that the district which came in first place for service delivery was a northern district headed by a woman. Many other districts headed by women were among the most successful, Bararufise said.

As SPPDF has launched a nationwide campaign for increasing women’s representation in the overall management of the country, Sindakira regrets that the law itself still discriminates against women.

“For example, we have been fighting for a parliamentary review of the matrimonial law so as to enable women to benefit from [inheritance], but the current situation is that we are even banned to raise the issue. This hampers all women’s efforts to stand for their rights,” Sindakira said. Here, women are not allowed to inherit and property passes from father to male heir.

She also regretted that so many women still consider that a review of the matrimonial law would be a breach of culture.

“Having educated women implies that the culture has also changed and thus no reason for the dark cultural practices to keep the Burundian woman behind,” said Sindakira.

Bararufise, who served as a governor before becoming an MP, points out though that Burundian woman have made significant steps towards self-empowerment.

“Now, apart from these political positions enshrined within the constitution, we’ve got so many woman engineers at building sites, doctors, heads of organisations, business women, security women, and so many others. This is to show that a woman of 20 years back is totally different from women now,” she told IPS.

She said that while she understood that Burundian culture was among several factors impeding women’s emancipation, it was important to note that women’s empowerment did not mean standing completely against culture as there remain some positive aspects of Burundian culture that need to be preserved.

“The only thing is that both men and women must understand that the sustainability of their family is the duty of both of them [and comes] with equal responsibility,” she said.

Bararufise regretted that Burundian women in leadership positions were disrespected by their male counterparts. “In some situations, women in positions of leadership find it difficult to command respect from men.”

She also acknowledged that a lot still needed to be done to evolve and change these current attitudes. “We want men to understand that women are able and have rights to contend for higher positions, instead of staying home.”

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda Gains Support for ‘Fraudulent Election’ Recounthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/malawis-president-joyce-banda-gains-support-fraudulent-election-recount/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawis-president-joyce-banda-gains-support-fraudulent-election-recount http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/malawis-president-joyce-banda-gains-support-fraudulent-election-recount/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 11:48:02 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134626 A woman casts her vote on May 20, 2014 in Lilongwe Mpenu North, about 70km from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

A woman casts her vote on May 20, 2014 in Lilongwe Mpenu North, about 70km from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, May 29 2014 (IPS)

When Malawi’s President Joyce Banda said that last week’s elections were fraudulent and riddled with rampant irregularities, social media went viral calling her a loser. 

“She is a cry baby,” said one Malawian on Facebook who identified himself as Wellington Phiri. “She should just concede defeat,” said another."I am ready to leave whichever way this goes. But I am happy that the people of Malawi know that I wasn't lying when I called this election fraudulent." -- President Joyce Banda

Banda had nullified the elections and ordered that voting be repeated within 90 days, triggering public anger and resentment. But a legal challenge from the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) prevented the nullification of the results as she had no lawful basis to annul the election.

But now it appears that Banda has rallied support for a recount even from her worst critics, which include the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and various other opposition.

“MCP cannot accept these results because they are fraudulent,” MCP vice president Richard Msowoya told IPS. Malawi went to the polls on May 20 in its first tripartite elections. Banda contested the presidential seat against 11 other candidates. The MCP’s head, retired evangelical pastor Lazarus Chakwera, was one of Banda’s main challengers for the presidential seat.

“We cannot allow people to steal our vote just like that and we have evidence and agree with President Banda that the election has been rigged,” Msowoya added.

The High Court in Blantyre is expected to make a ruling on Friday, May 30, to either order the MEC to declare the winner based on the current votes or initiate a recount as demanded by Banda and some opposition parties.

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda said that she is ready to leave the stage if the country’s High Court rules that the electoral commission should announce the winner of the tripartite elections and not initiate a recount. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda said that she is ready to leave the stage if the country’s High Court rules that the electoral commission should announce the winner of the tripartite elections and not initiate a recount. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

In a quick interview with IPS, Banda said that she was ready to leave office if the court ruled that the MEC should rather announce the winner of the election and not initiate a recount.

“I am ready to leave, whichever way this goes. But I am happy that the people of Malawi know that I wasn’t lying when I called this election fraudulent,” she told IPS.

On Sunday, May 25, the MEC admitted it had received overwhelming complaints about the election and could not proceed with announcing the winner.

Last week’s poll had been plagued by problems from the outset, with voting materials turning up hours late and ballot papers being sent to the wrong parts of the country. Organisers had to extend voting in some urban areas for a second day and initial counting was delayed by power outages and a lack of generators at polling stations.

Voters went on the rampage in the capital Lilongwe and in the commercial city of Blantyre burning tyres and shops before the military moved in and intervened.

To date the MEC has only released 30 percent of the official vote count, which showed that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), lead by Peter Mutharika, brother of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, was in the lead with 42 percent of the vote. Banda followed with 23 percent.

But Msowoya pointed out that across the country there were cases of having more votes than voters. He said that in the constituency of Machinga, in southern Malawi, 184,223 people voted — this was 33,778 more than the total number of people on the voters’ roll for the area.

“In another constituency jn Dowa West were 70,845 people registered the final tally sheet shows only 1,164 voted which is very strange,” Msowoya said.

Banda’s ruling People’s Party (PP) also stated that several polling centres across the country recorded more people voting than the number of registered voters for those areas.

United Democratic Front presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi told IPS that his party had also received complaints from several centres. “In one instance, a presiding officer for a polling centre ended up signing for the results of two other centres, which is illegal,” Muluzi said.

The push for a recount of the vote has also now gained traction with several leading civil society groups.

The Malawi Council of Churches, an influential grouping of protestant churches, joined the chorus to push the elections body for a recount. The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, a leading rights NGO here, and the Association of Media Owners have also called for a recount.

“President Banda has been vindicated because she took a bold and brave move to challenge the MEC and ask for investigations into the electoral process. No one wanted to listen but now its clear that she was right,” Shyley Kondowe, one of Banda’s most trusted aides, told IPS.

However, if the MEC institutes a recount of the vote, it faces a legal challenge from the DPP.

“There is an invisible hand controlling everything because we are surprised that three political parties have formed a post-electoral alliance to fight our presidential candidate because he is in the lead,” the DPP’s lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale told IPS.

He said that the MEC and the courts had no power to extend the eight-day period outlined in the constitution for the electoral body to announce the results. The constitution, he said, can only be amended by parliament.

Whatever the outcome, Onandi Banda, a political commentator and human rights activist, believes that this is a major test for Malawi’s democracy.

“The president was after all right that the election was rigged. But how we move forward from here is what will make or break Malawi,” he told IPS.

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 08:37:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133294 Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Mar 30 2014 (IPS)

The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation.

This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political reforms to ensure the effective participation of women in all positions of political leadership.

“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well,” Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, tells IPS. The NGO has received support for the campaign from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. non-profit that supports freedom across the world.“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well.” -- Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap

“What we’re doing has nothing to do with partisan politics,” says Touray. “It’s not about disempowering men. It’s about development, and it’s about gender politics.

“When we talk about gender politics, we’re talking about women from different political parties coming together to look at their issues and promote it, under one umbrella.”

The preliminary results of this tiny West African nation’s 2013 census show that women constitute more than 51 percent of the country’s almost 1.8 million people.

As of 2011, women represent 58 percent of national voters. Their numerical strength is not, however, reflected in the number of women in governance and leadership positions at both national and local level.

This is despite the fact that the Gambia has a female vice-president, Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, who has held the post since 1997.

“Out of 53 National Assembly members, we have only four who are elected and one nominated female deputy. That’s nine percent,” Amie Sillah, a gender activist and politician, tells IPS.

“Also, out of 1,873 village heads, only five are women. There’s no female governor, no female district chief. So is that impressive?”

The structures within various political parties, at best, relegate women to being permanent deputies of male propagandists. Women mostly only hold leadership positions in the female wings of their political parties.

And the majority of politically-active women here spend their time campaigning for votes and financial donations for their male counterparts.

“In the selection committees of parties, even if a woman is made chair, as our proverb goes: ‘They [men] give you the head and take out the tongue’, so that the woman is not able to speak out. Men give you just a nominal power. In a nutshell, you propagate what they want you to,” Sillah says.

The Constitution guarantees women’s right to participate in politics and criminalises any form of gender-based discrimination.

Over the past four years, at least three pro-women laws have been passed: the Women’s Act of 2010, the Domestic Violence of Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, both of 2013.

Yet, women remain politically marginalised.

Activists say that because men dominate the political scene, the pro-women’s legislation has been watered down.

“Most of [women’s] issues have not been passed into law…and if passed, critical clauses are removed,” Touray says

Sillah explains: “They took out all the good things, all the crucial provisions in the Women’s Act dealing with marriage, inheritance … Also, they’ve refused to pass the provision on female genital mutilation. They took it out and this is about the reproductive health rights of women.”

Sillah called for an affirmative action quota system for the National Assembly that will allott at least 30 percent of seats to women.

“It’s time for women to be where the laws are made. So that when laws come that protect women’s rights, they can effectively engage to allow the bills to be passed.”

Haddy Nyang-Jagne is one of the four female members in the National Assembly from the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). She thinks that the government has done a lot to ensure women’s participation in politics and that one of the reasons for the low number of women in parliament is the existing cultural barriers.

“The government has created the enabling environment, sensitised women. Now, is it stigmatisation? Women are afraid to come out because people speak ill of them.”

“Is it lack of funding? In APRC, money is given to candidates…Sometimes, it’s about religious and cultural barriers. Some people would tell you our religion of Islam does not accept women taking part in politics and we know that proposition is unfounded,” Haddy, who is serving her second term in the National Assembly, says.

However, women from the opposition say that the democratic space for vibrant multi-party politics has shrunk as arbitrary arrests and detention of opponents have become the norm.

Mariama B. Secka, the secretary-general in the opposition United Democratic Party’s female wing, explains that it is hard to be part of the opposition in the Gambia. The country has been a one-party dominant state since 1996 when army leader and now President, Yahya Jammeh, formed the APRC after he took power in a 1994 coup.

“I was invited to a forum by the women’s federation. When I started introducing myself as a member of opposition party, I was heckled. I was totally harassed. It’s not easy at all. We need a more level playing ground,” she tells IPS.

And the only people who can change this are the country’s majority female voters.

“We’ve observed that most of the educated women don’t even vote. We want to remain in our comfort zones,” says Touray. “And until the educated woman goes to the grassroots, we may not be able to achieve what we want.”

But Touray is optimistic and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a female presidential candidate for as early as the 2016 presidential elections.

“Of course yes! Why not! It’s possible,” she says. “The political landscape is for everybody. Women are saying that they have a right to be there and we’re going for elective positions rather than being nominated.”

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Swazi Chiefs Shut Women Out of Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/swazi-chiefs-shut-women-out-of-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swazi-chiefs-shut-women-out-of-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/swazi-chiefs-shut-women-out-of-parliament/#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2013 08:15:11 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126712 Women in Swaziland’s Ekwendzeni Chiefdom register to vote for the primary election. Analysts say that chauvinistic practices are being used to prevent women from participating in the Aug. 24 elections. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Women in Swaziland’s Ekwendzeni Chiefdom register to vote for the primary election. Analysts say that chauvinistic practices are being used to prevent women from participating in the Aug. 24 elections. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE, Aug 21 2013 (IPS)

Archaic and chauvinistic practices are being used to prevent Swazi women from taking part in the upcoming primary elections, despite the country having a constitution that guarantees their rights, says political analyst Dr. Sikelela Dlamini.

“The discrimination [against] women by preventing them from participating in politics is a consequence of deeply-rooted notions of male dominance and the subordination of women,” Dlamini told IPS.

He was reacting to a recent warning issued by the chief of Ludzibini, Prince Magudvulela, who told his subjects that they should not vote for women in mourning during the country’s Aug. 24 primary election.

It was clear during the meeting that Magudvulela was referring to former member of parliament and a contender for the Timphisini constituency, Jennifer Du Pont. She lost her husband, Bheki Shiba, in May and mourned him for a month instead of the normal two-year period. She is running for a second term of office.“Women don’t look good in pants and the chiefdom banned them from wearing pants." -- local headman, Zephaniah Dlamini

During an Aug. 17 meeting at the Ludzibini Royal Kraal in northern Swaziland, Magudvulela told his followers that according to customary practice, women in mourning were not allowed inside parliament, royal residences and near the King. Magudvulela said that electing women in mourning to parliament would be an embarrassment to the chiefdom.

Swaziland, a landlocked nation in southern Africa with a population of just over one million people, is ruled by a polygamist monarch, King Mswati III. Here political parties are not allowed to contest for power but individuals are elected to parliament from 55 constituencies know as “Tinkhundla”. The constituencies are sub-divided into 385 chiefdoms or districts nationwide. In the primary elections voters choose candidates from their chiefdoms who will then contest the secondary elections and compete against other candidates in their constituency for a seat in parliament.

“You must vote for someone that the King will be able to use,” Magudvulela had said.

Magudvulela told his followers that even though, according to the country’s constitution, Du Pont had a right to decide whether she followed the custom of mourning or not, customary law was still superior to the constitution.

Du Pont, who attended the meeting, was devastated by the chief’s conduct but said that she was still determined to win the elections.

“I’ll launch a complaint with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC),” she told IPS.

Local chiefs play a huge role in the election process here. Swaziland’s EBC gives them the responsibility to decide where in their local districts to hold the elections.

Since the election process began, some chiefs have told their subjects not to elect gay people or those who belong to political parties.

King Mswati III , when dissolving parliament on Aug. 2, told the nation to elect people that he would be “able to use”. It was a statement that has been criticised by the progressive movement.

“It might look like it is just advice from the authorities, but this was a way of telling people what to do,” head of department in theology and religious practices at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), Nonhlanhla Vilakati, told IPS.

Du Pont was not the only woman to be discriminated against ahead of this election.

When Mana Mavimbela was nominated to run for a seat in parliament in the Lusabeni constituency, EBC presiding officer Lindiwe Sukati disqualified her because she was wearing pants.

“The presiding officer just asked the audience if a woman wearing pants [should] be allowed inside a cattle byre,” Mavimbela told IPS of the Aug. 4 incident. “When the people said ‘no’, she just moved on.”

She has since launched a complaint with the EBC.

“I was nominated and I haven’t done anything wrong in terms of the law that would have disqualified me,” Mavimbela said. She was the only woman out of four candidates nominated from her area.

Mavimbela was also summoned to appear before the Lusabeni chiefdom where local headman Zephaniah Dlamini said that it was unacceptable for women in the district to wear pants.

“Women don’t look good in pants and the chiefdom banned them from wearing pants,” Dlamini told local newspaper, Times of Swaziland.

Mavimbela said that she had apologised to the Royal Kraal council on Aug. 10, because she feared for her destitute family who live in rural Ncandvweni, in southern Swaziland.

But Vilakati said that the chiefs’ conduct was not surprising in a country where people are expected to live according to the public transcript.

“We have no gender policy in the country and people react in different ways depending on their living realities,” said Vilakati.

Women in rural areas tend to face more challenges with regards to customary practices compared to their urban counterparts, Vilakati noted.

While EBC chairperson Prince Gija condemned the violation of women’s rights on the basis of customary practices, he said he had no control over the chiefs.

“The chiefs are appointed by the King,” he told IPS. “The EBC can only advise them [about] civic education, but we have no power to reprimand them.”

Gija admitted, however, that chiefs play a big role in the Swazi elections.

However, giving chiefs the right to run the elections is an anomaly on its own, said UNISWA law lecturer, Maxine Langwenya.

“The EBC is abdicating its responsibility because the constitution is very clear that the EBC should run the elections,” Langwenya told IPS.

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Woman President Shows Malawi the Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/woman-president-shows-malawi-the-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=woman-president-shows-malawi-the-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/woman-president-shows-malawi-the-way/#comments Sat, 03 Aug 2013 23:05:19 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126241 Malawi’s President Joyce Banda says women must be empowered and have to be actively involved in all decisions related to their health and well being. Credit: Katie C. Lin/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda says women must be empowered and have to be actively involved in all decisions related to their health and well being. Credit: Katie C. Lin/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Aug 3 2013 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda knows a thing or two about women’s empowerment. After all she is the first female southern African head of state.

But she has not had it easy. Banda had a tough job fixing a sputtering economy after taking over from her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office on Apr. 5, 2012. In 2011 the country witnessed nationwide protests against Mutharika and the failing economy. The United Kingdom, Malawi’s largest donor, had suspended 550 million dollars in aid after Mutharika expelled its ambassador for calling him an autocrat.

But she did succeed. Since taking office she has implemented of a number of austerity measures, which included selling the country’s presidential jet for 15 million dollars and taking a 30 percent cut in her salary. She also embarked on a range of reforms that not everyone has agreed with. The most controversial has been cultivating closer ties with international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, which is known for its heavy-handed austerity plans.

But in June, the World Bank said the country’s economy was recovering, with manufacturing expected to grow six percent and agriculture 5.7 percent.

In September 2012, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute reported that since Mutharika’s increasingly autocratic rule ended, respect for democracy and human rights has returned to the country under Banda’s presidency.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Banda said that women’s empowerment remained high on her agenda.

“The message I am trying to send is ‘Nothing for us without us’ – nothing for women without their involvement and inclusion. We need to make deliberate efforts and policies that will aim at eliminating the structural barriers posed by poverty and gender inequality in economic empowerment of women because such efforts will have long-lasting improvements on the welfare of a woman,” Banda told IPS.

In June, Banda appointed Anastasia Msosa the country’s first female chief justice. Msosa is just one of a number of women who have been appointed to high-level positions by Banda. In March, she appointed Hawa Ndilowe the first ever female head of the public service. Banda noted that even after women’s active participation in the fight for independence in the 1960s and their involvement in liberation movements in Africa, “women did not get prominent decision-making positions to correspond to their inputs in the struggles.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Many scholars and activists say that there is a direct link between gender equality, good governance and women’s empowerment and sustainable development. Do you agree with that?

A: Gender equality unlocks the potential of women and men to allow space for each other. And women’s empowerment proactively enhances the capacity of women to participate in decision making and in matters that affect them.

Q: Since you came to power in April 2012, you have appointed a number of women in very influential positions like chief justice and head of the public service. You have also appointed more women to your cabinet. What is your agenda?

A: It is important that women’s needs, aspirations and realities become central drivers of policies and programmes to increase maternal health care access and utilisation. Women must be empowered and have to be actively involved in all decisions related to their health and well being. As I have said many times before in different forums, we cannot talk about empowering a particular group without involving the group itself. No decisions should be made about women without women’s involvement.

Q: Before you joined politics, you formed the National Association for Business Women, an organisation that lends start-up cash to small-scale business women. You also successfully set up a school to help educate girls. Why are you so passionate about this?

A: Women constitute the majority of our population in Africa. Therefore, when we talk about poverty, suffering and underdevelopment, we are talking mostly of women. That’s why I believe that the promotion of gender equality, women’s empowerment, improvement of maternal health and achieving education for the girl child is a transformational strategy to achieving development.

Q: Women’s subordinate position in most African societies restricts the ability for them to take control of their lives to combat HIV/AIDS, leave a high-risk relationship or have adequate access to quality health care and education. What is your take on this?

A: In Malawi women and girls between the ages of 15 and 30 experience very high rates of HIV/AIDS infection. The infection rate of women/girls is six times higher than that of men/boys in the same group and the reason is because of the low socio-economic status of women in addition to various cultural practices that prevent women from negotiating safer sex.

Q: So what needs to be done to change this?

A: We need laws that protect women and my government has managed to push through the Gender Equality Bill and it has been passed by parliament. We also need deliberate policies to push capable women into decision-making positions in every sector so they lead and help empower fellow women.

Q: Finally, what are your last thoughts on empowering women?

A: In most African countries, women have over time faced a variety of legal, economic and social challenges. These disadvantages placed women and girls at the margins of society. In most homes, girls lack opportunity to access education. It is typical that in most African families when resources are low they prioritise boys’ education over girls’.

Sex-stereotyping on the part of parents, educators, religion, the media and society at large encouraged the practice that certain jobs are exclusively for men, and as a result the majority of women remained in the ‘feminised’ jobs. In some African societies, customary laws regarded adult women as minors and these women in most instances did not enjoy property and inheritance rights.

This increased their dependence on men. Treatment of women as minors manifested in formal provisions barring women from opening their own bank accounts and apply for credit in their own right, for instance. Women have not enjoyed access to factors of production like their male counterparts.

However, I am pleased that African women have not just sat back, and accepted being pushed into the margins of society. African women have risen up to claim their rightful place in society and are driving the agenda for their empowerment.

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Sudan Hits Hard at Female Activistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/sudan-hits-hard-at-female-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sudan-hits-hard-at-female-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/sudan-hits-hard-at-female-activists/#comments Tue, 02 Jul 2013 04:22:31 +0000 Reem Abbas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125369 Sudanese women are not exempt from the government’s repressive tactics and are increasingly targeted for speaking out against Sudan’s government. Credit: Zeinab Mohammed Salih/IPS

Sudanese women are not exempt from the government’s repressive tactics and are increasingly targeted for speaking out against Sudan’s government. Credit: Zeinab Mohammed Salih/IPS

By Reem Abbas
KHARTOUM, Jul 2 2013 (IPS)

More and more of Sudan’s female politicians and rights activists are being arrested and detained in the government’s clampdown on opposition political parties.

Asma Ahmed, a lawyer and member of the banned Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N), was released on Jun. 14 after a five-week detention. She believes that the Sudanese authorities are increasingly targeting women because they have become more active in the political and social arena in recent years.

“The targeting of women activists is because we are continuing to send our messages effectively. If we weren’t, we would not be detained … but detentions will not make women less keen to continue activism,” Ahmed told IPS.

The rebel SPLM–N was banned in 2011 when it took up arms against government forces in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“My house was watched for a few days before my detention. My family was told by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers that I had been summoned, and so I went to the interrogation in Khartoum north and didn’t return home that day,” Ahmed said.

According to international rights watchdog Amnesty International, Sudan’s 2010 National Security Act, “provides agents of the security services with wide powers of arrest and detention. Torture and other ill-treatment remain widespread.”

In April, Human Rights Watch said in a statement that “in recent months the Sudanese government has increased repression of political and civil society groups. The authorities shut down four civil society groups in December, accusing them of receiving foreign funds, have also closed down Nuba cultural groups, and recently re-instated restrictions on the media.”

It is unclear how many women remain in detention. The Sudanese Council for Defending Rights and Freedoms, an independent body of human rights defenders, lawyers and politicians, stated that the SPLM–N alone has 600 detainees, a significant number of whom are women.

Women are not exempt from the scare tactics used by security services. The events culminating in Entisar Al-Agali’s arrest are almost like a Hollywood action film. She was driving home from a meeting on Jan. 7 when a car belonging to the NISS began following her until she reached Africa Road in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

“They tried to stop my car, but I was speeding and trying to get away. They caught up with me and hit my car from the back and, because I was trying to avoid an accident, I stopped the car,” Al-Agali told IPS.

Al-Agali had returned from Kampala, Uganda where she had been taking part in the talks that led to the drafting of the New Dawn Charter, a document signed by Sudanese opposition political parties, as well as rebel groups and civil society, that deals with the methods to be used to bring down the Sudanese regime and set up a transitional government in the war-torn country.

“I spent 87 days in Omdurman Women’s Prison, 75 days of which were in solitary confinement,” said Al-Agali, who is a leading member of the opposition Socialist Unionist Nasserist Party.

Al-Agali was the only woman to be detained after the signing of the New Dawn Charter on Jan. 6, which saw a wave of arrests of political leaders. She is, however, not the only woman to spend weeks or months in detention in the past two years.

In November 2012, 34 alleged members of SPLM–N, most of whom are government employees, were detained in Kadugli, the capital of the embattled state of Southern Kordofan. On Apr. 26, 14 were released, but the 20 others continue to be held in detention in Kadugli Prison.

Khadija Mohamed Badr was one of the detainees released and she now stays with her family in Khartoum.

“She was severely hurt and broke two spinal discs as she slipped while in detention. She is now paying for treatment with her own money,” an activist who is trying to raise financial assistance for Badr, and who wished to remain anonymous for fear of his safety, told IPS.

Meanwhile, the government National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been trying to establish itself as an advocacy body for political detainees. But Abdelmoniem Mohamed, a human rights lawyer who has monitored the NHRC’s role in other cases, told IPS that it has not been responsive to cases of political oppression, such as that of Jalila Khamis.

“The commission asked us to submit cases to them, cases of political detainees. But I am sceptical as they were slow to act on Khamis’s case,” he told IPS.

Khamis, a teacher and human rights activist, was detained in March 2012 for a video she recorded on the war in her homeland, the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan. Fighting between the Sudanese army and the rebel SPLM–N has been ongoing in the region since June 2011. Khamis had faced life imprisonment but was released in January after a long trial.

“I was subjected to long interrogations, the worst time was when they told me that they would kill my son. This was when I was diagnosed with arterial hypertension,” Khamis told IPS. Although released, she continues to be monitored by state security.

While it is difficult to say how many female political activists are in prison, one activist who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS:  “When the family of a detainee in Kosti (a city south of Sudan’s capital Khartoum) visited her in detention, they were given a long list of women’s names to choose from. This means that there are many women detainees we don’t know about.”

Fatima Ghazzali, a pro-democracy activist and journalist working for the political section of Al-Jareeda newspaper said that women were at the forefront of the calls for democracy and freedom in Sudan.

“It is women who are the majority of internally displaced in this country, they bear the brunt of war. Women suffer the most under authoritarian regimes, that is why it does not surprise me to see that women are more keen to have democracy in Sudan,” Ghazzali told IPS, adding that only democracy would give women their full rights and protect them from security forces.

The escalating participation of women activists in recent protests and campaigns has even made the police take notice of women’s participation in calls for democracy, she said.

“They said that women and journalists are always there, always present at protests,” said Ghazzali, who spent time in jail in 2011 for an article she wrote on the gang rape of a female protestor in detention.

 

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Women in Zimbabwe’s Parliament Will Change Widow’s Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/women-in-zimbabwes-parliament-will-change-widows-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-zimbabwes-parliament-will-change-widows-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/women-in-zimbabwes-parliament-will-change-widows-lives/#comments Mon, 24 Jun 2013 15:00:04 +0000 Michelle Chifamba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125154 Zimbabwe’s legislation is silent on the issue of women’s rights to inherit communal land. And upon their husband’s deaths, many widows find themselves evicted from their matrimonial homes. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

Zimbabwe’s legislation is silent on the issue of women’s rights to inherit communal land. And upon their husband’s deaths, many widows find themselves evicted from their matrimonial homes. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

By Michelle Chifamba
HARARE, Jun 24 2013 (IPS)

When Maude Taruvinga* votes in Zimbabwe’s elections later this year, she will be voting for her local female politician as she has placed her hopes for a better future on the presence of more women in this southern African nation’s legislature.

In January 2012, Taruvinga became a victim of Zimbabwe’s patriarchal traditions when her in-laws forced her out of her matrimonial home in Marondera, Mashonaland East Province, after her common-law husband passed away intestate.

“I eventually decided to leave my husband’s land because I could not endure the harassment any more. No one could help me. Even the police took the side of my husband’s relatives.“Only a woman in parliament is capable of changing the life of another woman.” -- Member of parliament and chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Beatrice Nyamupinga

“Many widows find themselves thrown out of their homes by greedy relatives and give up because of a lack of knowledge and (because the do not receive) protection from the police,” 45-year-old Taruvinga told IPS.

The Zimbabwe Administration of Estates Act No. 6 of 1997 stipulates that if a spouse dies without a will, the surviving partner inherits their immovable property. Prior to this act, a husband’s estate was dissolved if he died intestate.

However, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association director Emilia Muchawa told IPS that although 86 percent of the country’s women earn a living farming communal land allocated to their husbands by traditional chiefs, legislation is silent on the issue of women’s rights to inherit this land.

“Customarily chiefs allocate land to male heads of households, but women do not automatically inherit this upon their husband’s death.

“They may be evicted from the land when widowed, regardless of the years they spent married. Many who remain on the land do so at the goodwill of their in-laws or traditional leaders. Childless widows are often evicted, as are young widows who refuse to be physically ‘inherited’ by a male relative of their late husband,” she told IPS.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which was enacted into law in May, provides for equality of both sexes, and activists who spoke to IPS said that there was a need for laws to be revised to reflect this, and to protect widows married under customary law.

Civic groups here believe that if more women were elected to Zimbabwe’s parliament, they would be more vocal in addressing this and other discriminatory practices against women.

Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), a non-governmental organisation that aims to increase the participation of women in policy- and decision-making, launched a “Vote for a Woman Campaign” ahead of the presidential elections.

The campaign is meant to help the country achieve gender equality in accordance with the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender Development .

The protocol includes several progressive clauses and 23 set targets, including the target that women will hold 50 percent of decision-making positions in public and private sectors by 2015. Women constitute some 6.7 million of Zimbabwe’s 12.9 million people.

“The ‘Vote for a Woman Campaign’ will accelerate the number of women taking up positions in parliament and local government. It is meant to raise awareness among the general populace to vote for a woman in the hope that women in parliament will improve the lives of women at the grassroots,” WiPSU director Fanny Chirisa told IPS.

Marlene Sigauke, programmes manager at the Center for African Women Advancement, an organisation that works for the development of African women, told IPS that policies and political party manifestos on gender equality must be fully implemented.

“Women in power should be able to develop strong, gender-sensitive policies (that benefit) women at the grassroots,” she said.“Only a woman in parliament is capable of changing the life of another woman.” -- Member of parliament and chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Beatrice Nyamupinga

Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Monica Mutsvangwa told IPS that it was time to fight for women’s rights.

“The new constitution reserves seats for women and we want to take that opportunity … to improve their welfare,” she said. The constitution allocates 60 total affirmative action seats for women in both the country’s 210-seat parliament and 88-seat senate.

“The constitution now approves an 18 percent quota of women’s participation in politics. We are therefore going to use this constitution to implement policies and turn theory into practice,” Mutsvangwa said.

Member of parliament and chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Beatrice Nyamupinga told IPS that although Zimbabwe was signatory to a number of conventions, the government has failed to implement these policies.

“Many victims (widows not allowed to inherit their husband’s property) are afraid to report their cases for fear of being judged and interrogated by authorities and the police. The new constitution has provisions for gender equality and certain clauses protect the rights of women. If women themselves are not present in parliament to make sure that the laws are implemented, then the provisions will never come to pass,” Nyamupinga said.

“Only a woman in parliament is capable of changing the life of another woman.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

 

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Looking to Cameroon’s Women Senatorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/looking-to-cameroons-women-senators/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-to-cameroons-women-senators http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/looking-to-cameroons-women-senators/#comments Thu, 06 Jun 2013 06:56:26 +0000 Dorine Ekwe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119582 Ndomi Magareth, sows bean seeds on her small piece of land in Njombe. The lives of Cameroon's women could change for the better now that 20 women were elected to the country's upper house of parliament. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Ndomi Magareth, sows bean seeds on her small piece of land in Njombe. The lives of Cameroon's women could change for the better now that 20 women were elected to the country's upper house of parliament. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Dorine Ekwe
YAOUNDE, Jun 6 2013 (IPS)

Marlyse Aboui, a 40-year-old nurse, has still not gotten over the astonishment she felt when she heard that Cameroon’s President Paul Biya had nominated her to the senate.

“I feel like I am in a dream that I will wake up from at any minute. When I first learnt that I had been appointed to the senate, I told myself that it couldn’t be true. I asked myself what I could possibly have done to receive this high appointment from the president,” she told IPS.

As the local party chair of the National Alliance for Democracy and Progress, an opposition party in eastern Cameroon, Aboui is one of only 20 women in the 100-member Cameroonian senate. Seventy senators, 17 of whom are women, were elected on Apr. 14 in the country’s first-ever senatorial elections. Biya was required to nominate the remaining 30 senators, and included in his nominations were three women.

“It is a great honour that I truly appreciate,” Aboui said.“Women can contribute much to politics. We have often seen that some conflicts are narrowly avoided thanks to their powers of persuasion." -- Justine Diffo

Nicole Okala Bilai, a senator from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), shared Aboui’s excitement. The female politician, who was elected in Mbagassina in central Cameroon, hopes to use her presence in the senate to radically reform this Central African nation’s schools.

Women’s rights organisations and politicians say that the appointment of women to the upper house of parliament was timely.

Yvonne Muma Bih, a national executive committee member of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, is one politician who welcomed the appointments.

“The rise of women to this office offers some encouragement to those still suffering under the yoke of male domination, who believe that women cannot pursue political careers. We have done better than certain European democracies and this is something to be celebrated,” she told IPS.

The secretary general of CPDM, Jean Nkuete, told IPS “female candidates were strongly encouraged throughout the course of this election, not just to meet gender quotas, but mainly to highlight the place our party gives to women and to their vision.”

However, Justine Diffo, national co-ordinator of the NGO More Women in Politics Network, a support network for women’s political participation, told IPS “20 percent is inadequate.”

“Women can contribute much to politics. We have often seen that some conflicts are narrowly avoided thanks to their powers of persuasion. Why then deny them the 30 percent (women’s representation demanded by women’s groups)?”

According to Diffo, the only way to fully address women’s marginalisation “would have been for the president to nominate 15 women out of the 30 senators that he is mandated to appoint.”

However, the Association to Combat Violence Against Women believes there is reason to applaud the progress made.

In fact, Cameroon’s Electoral Code of Apr. 19, 2012 provides a way to reduce the existing gender gap in electoral contests, through various forms of affirmative action during the electoral processes. Articles 151, 164, 181, and 218 of the Electoral Code aim to increase women’s participation in politics.

A study by the National Institute of Statistics (INS), published on International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, pointed to a slight overall increase in the number of women in Cameroon’s national assembly.

According to the INS, between 1992 and 2002, the number of women in the national assembly dropped from 23 to 10 out of 180 members of parliament. However, between 2002 and 2012, the number of female members of parliament increased from 10 to 25.

At the local level, between 2007 and 2012 out of 360 mayors only 24 were women. Furthermore, Cameroon has six female ministers of state out of 30. There are also four female director generals in state-owned entities.

Claude Abe, a sociology lecturer at the Catholic University of Central Africa in Yaounde, the capital city of this country of 20 million people, explained the causes of poor female representation in decision-making positions.

“Structurally, Cameroonian society sits between tradition and modernity. As a result, there are many persistent and long-standing elements from tradition that continue to play a part in our society,” he told IPS.

“There is one category of women who remain stumbling blocks for other women – they are not prepared to vote for a woman simply because she is a woman,” he said.

He added that many men still believed that a woman’s place was in the home, while a number of women still believed that they could not play a role in politics.

In addition, he said, “Politics also requires a lot of money. Invariably, the majority of women are financially dependent on men and this limits their ability to get involved in politics.”

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Treason Case May Fuel Unrest in Malawihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/treason-case-may-fuel-unrest-in-malawi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=treason-case-may-fuel-unrest-in-malawi http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/treason-case-may-fuel-unrest-in-malawi/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 05:55:53 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117310 Leader of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peter Mutharika (c), was released on bail on Mar. 14 after being arrested with 11 other top Malawian government officials on charges of treason. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

Leader of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peter Mutharika (c), was released on bail on Mar. 14 after being arrested with 11 other top Malawian government officials on charges of treason. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Mar 20 2013 (IPS)

Malawi’s first-ever tripartite elections in May 2014 will be a litmus test for President Joyce Banda, who is faced with an opposition majority in parliament, soaring food prices, and a potential treason trial.

The charging of 12 top Malawian government officials with treason may be a catalyst for more unrest and a recipe for disaster for Banda as soaring food prices are set to impact over 65 percent of Malawians this year.

“Those who blame Joyce Banda for the food shortages and the high (food) prices will easily join in and use the arrests to ferment their anger towards her government leading to the elections next year,” independent political commentator John Phiri told IPS.

Banda, the country’s first female president, will seek re-election next year. She took over the role after her predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika, collapsed and died on Apr. 5, 2012. She heads the governing People’s Party (PP).

However, on Mar. 11 she ordered the arrests of 12 government officials, including Peter Mutharika, the late president’s younger brother, and Minister of Economy and Planning Goodall Gondwe, a former vice president of the International Monetary Fund. Gondwe has since resigned from his post as minister.

The accused, who were released on bail on Mar. 14, have been charged with seven counts of treason, inciting mutiny, conspiracy to commit a felony, breach of trust, and giving false evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into President Mutharika’s death.

The Commission of Inquiry report found the accused guilty of conspiring to prevent Banda’s ascendance to the presidency. The inquiry also found that they allegedly tried to convince the Army Commander of the Malawi Defence Forces, General Henry Odillo, to take over the country. Odillo had refused as the request was against the country’s constitution, which calls for the vice president to assume power in the event of the death of a sitting president.

However, the arrests of the government officials sparked protests in Lilongwe and Blantyre, and the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is headed by Peter Mutharika, is already using this to pressure the government to drop the treason case.

“President Banda should focus on the suffering of many Malawians who cannot get food or medicines in hospital, and not on arresting Peter to stop him at all costs from contesting the 2014 tripartite elections,” DPP spokesman Nicolaus Dausi told IPS.

“Such actions breed violence and she will be blamed if things get worse,” Dausi said. The latest data from the Centre for Social Concern, a local research institution focusing on the cost of living in urban Malawi, showed that since Banda took over, a family of six now needs an average of 200 dollars per month to meet basic food demands. In a country where the minimum monthly wage is about 20 dollars, it has left many unhappy with Banda’s austerity policies.

Charles Mlombwa, a vendor and DPP supporter, warned of more protests if Peter Mutharika was prevented from participating in the next election.

“I support late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s party … because I know that many things are wrong and this government has failed,” Mlombwa told IPS.

The government estimates that over two million people need food aid this year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationscereal production for 2011/2012 was seven percent below the previous season’s harvest. In addition, “significantly high maize prices in the southern region are negatively affecting access to food, especially for vulnerable people.”

In urban centres women have been sleeping outside Admarcs, government grain markets, waiting to buy cheap maize. Reports of women fainting from hunger in queues have become the story of the day here. Many here blame Banda for the maize shortage.

On Mar. 13 the Consumer Association of Malawi accused her of emptying the country’s silos of maize and distributing it to the poor for free. The association claimed that much of the maize Banda was distributing was meant for sale at the Admarc markets.

Elizabeth Gama, a mother of seven, has been travelling over 70 kilometres every day from her home on the outskirts of Lilongwe to the nearest Admarc.

“There is no maize in the Admarc markets and when I find it, I am only allowed to buy 15 kilogrammes per person, and yet the president is busy distributing maize for free across the country,” Gama told IPS.

Mphatso Katuli, a mother of four who said she had been sleeping outside an Admarc depot for the last three days waiting for maize, was also unhappy with Banda’s regime. “During President Bingu wa Mutharika’s time all of this (did not happen) because we had enough maize and Admarc markets were well stocked then,” she told IPS.

Meanwhile, Augustine Magolowondo, the Africa regional programme coordinator for the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, feared that the treason arrests were likely to fuel unrest in the country.

“It is apparent that these arrests have created an environment of tension in the country and the reaction of the supporters when their leaders were arrested cannot simply be wished away…under such circumstances, conflicts are bound to arise,” he told IPS.

Ophamally Makande, the spokesman for the PP, defended the arrests.

“This government is only trying to promote a culture of accountability and the arrests, therefore, are justifiable because people need to know what happened to their president (Bingu wa Mutharika) and why they wanted to stop President Banda from taking over,” Makande told IPS.

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Voting Will Change the Lives of Zimbabwe’s Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/voting-will-change-the-lives-of-zimbabwes-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voting-will-change-the-lives-of-zimbabwes-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/voting-will-change-the-lives-of-zimbabwes-women/#comments Fri, 15 Mar 2013 04:51:23 +0000 Nyarai Mudimu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117193 Five million registered voters in Zimbabawe have an opportunity to change the lives of this country’s women. Women represent the majority, some 53 percent of the Zimbabwe's 12.6 million people. Credit: Trevor Davies/IPS

Five million registered voters in Zimbabawe have an opportunity to change the lives of this country’s women. Women represent the majority, some 53 percent of the Zimbabwe's 12.6 million people. Credit: Trevor Davies/IPS

By Nyarai Mudimu
MOUNT DARWIN, Zimbabwe, Mar 15 2013 (IPS)

“Ten reasons why women must vote ‘Yes’ for the draft constitution…” says the Constitution Select Committee’s campaign radio jingle that plays over the airwaves in a grocer’s store at Mukumbura border post business centre on Zimbabwe’s northeastern border with Mozambique.

Zimbabwe is holding a referendum on Mar. 16 to decide on whether to adopt the draft constitution that has taken almost four years to draft and gobbled 50 million dollars of donor funds from the impoverished country’s economy.

The Constitution Select Committee (Copac) is the constitutional parliamentary committee tasked with writing the draft constitution, and ahead of the referendum has been tasked with informing Zimbabweans about the draft and encouraging them to vote.

But the radio jingle is almost drowned by noise from a neighbouring beer hall’s jukebox.

Ironically the jingle’s message is seemingly aimed at women at the border post business centre, but they appear to be busy going about their daily chores – vending fruits and vegetables, almost indifferent to a process that local politicians have described as a game changer in this southern African nation’s political history.

A disinterested Maria Nyamasoka, 48, tells IPS that she does not care about the draft constitution.

“Nothing will change for me. Maybe for you people from Harare it will. Maybe that’s why you have travelled all this way to come down here to talk about this draft. In the last election my homestead was burnt and I narrowly missed rape from some party youths. I really do not want to talk about this…I don’t want to have anything to do with politics,” she says.

Despite attempts by Copac and political parties to push supporters for a “Yes” vote this weekend, some say they are unaware of the referendum or the draft constitution that they have been asked to vote on. Sithembile Mpofu, a Bulawayo housewife, is one of them.

“Maybe it is because I do not watch ZTV,” Mpofu tells IPS, referring to the national television station where programming has, in recent weeks, been dominated by campaigns asking registered voters to tick “Yes” on the referendum ballots.

“I cannot go and vote for something I do not know, even if I vote ‘No’ I will be dishonest,” she says.

But despite the lack of interest by some, five million registered voters here have an opportunity to change the lives of this country’s women. Women represent the majority, some 53 percent of the country’s 12.6 million people. The Women’s Coalition, a grouping of women’s rights NGO, has been campaigning for the acceptance of the draft constitution.

“Women have fought hard to get almost 75 percent of our demands adopted in the draft. Definitely life for women will never be the same again under this new constitution, if it’s adopted,” says Slyvia Chirawu, a national coordinator at the Women and Law in Southern Africa, and a member of the Women’s Coalition.

Chirawu says that women suffered particularly from Section 23 of the current constitution, which denies them equal rights as men with regards to custody and guardianship of their minor children.

“Under Section 23, a woman could not apply for a passport for her child without the consent of the father…(a woman) could not get her child’s birth certificate in the absence of the father of the child. But men could do all these things in the absence of the mother of the child,” says Chirawu. In the draft constitution women are now able to apply both for passports and birth certificates for their children without the consent of their child’s father.

Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Deputy Minister Jessie Majome, a member of Copac, tells IPS that according to the current constitution girls can marry at 16, while boys can legally do the same at 18.

“What this meant is girls had to drop out of school to be married off, while boys continued with their education. The boys had to wait to reach the legal age of majority, creating an unfair advantage against women. But according to this new draft, both boys and girls will be allowed to marry when they reach the legal age of majority,” says Majome.

The draft constitution will also ensure women relief from some harmful cultural practices that have been considered permissible.

Under-age girls have been married off to older men, while widows have been forced to become the “wives” of their late husbands’ male relatives.

“Although the (current) constitution had been amended recently to forbid some harmful cultural practices, this draft actually forbids and makes it unconstitutional for customary law to take precedence over common law. Women had been disadvantaged when it comes to inheritance, as they could not inherit family property. Widows also lost their property upon the deaths of their spouses,” says Majome.

Jane Chiriga, a gender researcher, says the draft is “a triumph for women.”

“There is a deliberate effort to address the flaws and gaps of the current constitution. What remains, I think, is to align this with the country’s laws,” Chiriga says.

In the past, the participation of women in politics has largely been left to the discretion of political parties to create quotas for women. But the draft constitution proposes to set aside 60 seats for women in the 210-seat parliament. In addition, women will constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies.

“What takes the cake for me is the half membership for women in all commissions and other elective or appointed governmental bodies,” says Chirawu.

A legislator from the Movement for Democratic Change led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T), Tabitha Khumalo, says “it is a big step for women to be given prominence in the supreme law.”

“(In the past), women’s issues in this country have been addressed in token terms as if to appease us. But we have rights as equal citizens and this draft, if read with other laws, is something that will change both our public and private lives,” she tells IPS.

Constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa also believes that the draft could help stop the “politicisation of the security forces,” who have not hidden their support for President Robert Mugabe and in the process aimed their baton sticks at men and women alike.

The current constitution is silent about the key issue of political neutrality of institutions such as the army, police, and civil service.

“The draft has clear and extensive provisions that require these bodies (security forces) to be politically neutral and not to interfere with electoral processes,” he tells IPS.

*Additional reporting by Ignatius Banda in Bulawayo.

 

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Kenya’s Electoral Opinion Polling Marred by Suspicionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/kenyas-electoral-opinion-polling-marred-by-suspicion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-electoral-opinion-polling-marred-by-suspicion http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/kenyas-electoral-opinion-polling-marred-by-suspicion/#comments Wed, 27 Feb 2013 06:34:02 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116757 Steve Bonuke, chair of Trans Youth Group, a youth group in the Rift Valley Province that promotes peace, political tolerance and youth empowerment, says polling companies withhold important information about how they reach their conclusions. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Steve Bonuke, chair of Trans Youth Group, a youth group in the Rift Valley Province that promotes peace, political tolerance and youth empowerment, says polling companies withhold important information about how they reach their conclusions. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI , Feb 27 2013 (IPS)

When Kenya’s only female presidential candidate, Martha Karua, dismissed electoral opinion pollsters who claimed that she stood a mere one percent chance of being elected to office, many said she did so because the results had not favoured her. 

Karua’s misgivings were, however, not without merit. The issue of sampling methodology and procedures used by opinion polling companies to arrive at their conclusions have raised serious concerns in this East African nation ahead of its Mar. 4 elections.

“Pollsters use registered mobile phone users as their sampling frame, as opposed to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) list of registered voters,” statistician Charles Onyango told IPS.

“Recent opinion polls have shown that, while 95 percent of their respondents claim to be registered voters, only two-thirds are registered voters according to IEBC records,” he told IPS.

There are three main electoral opinion-polling companies in Kenya — Infotrack, Ipsos Synovate and Strategic Research — and their research results have received extensive media coverage, often becoming big headline news.

But political analysts continue to claim that these polls are commissioned by biased sources and rather than reflect the opinion of the public, their controversial results are more likely to influence voter behaviour and possibly result in violence.

According to political analysts, in 2007 current Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s supporters refused to concede defeat because the opinion polls had predicted that he would win the presidency.

“And the danger is that there are many who don’t understand that an opinion poll is not an electoral poll,” Paul Muigai, a political analyst in Nairobi, told IPS.

“It is this misconception that largely contributed to the much-disputed 2007-08 general election violence provoking a near civil war,” he added.

After Kenya’s first presidential debate held on Feb. 11, pollsters claimed that presidential candidate and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta look the lead in the polls.

But Wilson Ugangu, a media analyst and lecturer at Multimedia University College of Kenya, told IPS that the results of such a poll could not be useful in providing a picture of likely voting trends, winners or losers in the coming elections.

“Further, the pollsters did not take into account the dynamics of two different mediums — radio and television — and their impact on people’s perceptions of the candidates’ performance in the debate.”

Ugangu added that those who listened through the radio, and those who watched the debate, certainly formed two very different perceptions of the candidates.

Such concerns affect the general credibility of polls.

“This country has not reached the point of having reliable and trusted pollsters because they withhold vital information. For instance, we don’t know who funds them and whose interests they serve,” Steve Bonuke, chair of Trans Youth Group, a youth group in the Rift Valley Province that promotes peace, political tolerance and youth empowerment, told IPS.

 

“Their results will only fan tension, conflict and violence as they did in 2007-08 when losers believed in pollsters more than they did in the electoral body,” he said.

Bonuke pointed to a recent series of opinion polls carried out by two major polling companies within the same period, targeting similar counties and which arrived at significantly differnet results.

“It has confirmed what we have always believed: the polls are neither scientific, nor objective.”

According to political analysts, electoral polling will have a significant impact when Kenyans cast their ballots.

“If they do not (predict) trends carefully, they could raise the public expectations and cause euphoria around perceived winning candidates, and result in a disputed election.

“Many Kenyans don’t know that electoral opinion polls are sample polls and not election polls….When the outcome of the elections goes against what the pollsters are saying, we might have a repeat of the 2007-08 violence where losers might refuse to concede defeat,” Onyango says.

It is a concern shared by the chair of the IEBC, Isaack Hassan, who has previously called for opinion polling to be barred for three months prior to the general elections.

But there has been little political support to regulate the process.

When former member of parliament, Bonny Khalwale, introduced the Publication of Electoral Opinion Polls Bill to parliament in 2011, it faced stiff opposition from those who have been consistently favoured by the polls. The bill was meant to regulate electoral opinion polling according to international standards.

“Odinga opposed the bill vehemently because opinion polls always favoured him,” Muigai said.

Although the Publication of Electoral Opinion Polls Act 2012 demands that pollsters reveal information on the methodology used, like, for instance, who was sampled and from which region, this is yet to happen.

“The issue of sample spread is key. If you are collecting data in Nairobi County, and have a lazy data collector who only samples people in Kibera, the results cannot be representative,” Onyango said.

This, he said, was because Kibera is one of Odinga’s strongholds.

“You cannot sample one sub-ethnic group and claim that the results are representative of the communities’ voting patterns. Each community tends to gravitate towards certain politicians,” Onyango added.

Immaculate Musya, a politician formerly with the Orange Democratic Movement Secretariat and who is no longer contesting the elections, also questioned who pollsters used as samples. “I have never been sampled — neither do I know anyone who has. I live in Nairobi and am constantly in the streets,” she told IPS.

Jennifer Massis, who is vying for a seat in parliament in Rift Valley Province, sees no harm in polling.

“Let us not politicise a purely scientific exercise. Electoral opinion polls are really done for the benefit of politicians,” she told IPS. “They inform us on likely voting patterns and facilitate strategic thinking.”

 

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Power Sharing a “Dangerous Concept” for Kenya’s Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/power-sharing-a-dangerous-concept-for-kenyas-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=power-sharing-a-dangerous-concept-for-kenyas-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/power-sharing-a-dangerous-concept-for-kenyas-democracy/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 07:23:38 +0000 Brian Ngugi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116686 Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Mzalendo Kibunjia, (right) flanked by constitutional expert Paddy Onyango (left) says that the country should opt for power sharing in the next government. Credit: Brian Ngugi/IPS

Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Mzalendo Kibunjia, (right) flanked by constitutional expert Paddy Onyango (left) says that the country should opt for power sharing in the next government. Credit: Brian Ngugi/IPS

By Brian Ngugi
NAIROBI , Feb 25 2013 (IPS)

Days ahead of Kenya’s general elections, the country’s former deputy Minister of Information Koigi Wamwere has slammed calls for power-sharing among minority ethnic groups in the next government, calling it a “dangerous concept”.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a government agency set up to address inter-ethnic conflict, and a section of Kenyan civil society have called for this East African nation to adopt negotiated democracy as a way to stem the deep-seated differences between various ethnic groups here.

Ethnic violence followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 poll, claiming around 1,200 lives and displacing 600,000 people.

But Wamwere told IPS that a sharing of power could threaten the country’s young, multiparty democracy.

“It is pure nonsense to imagine that Kenyans are not ready to live with democracy. Democracy is not easy to implement, but we should not opt for short cuts, but go by its principles for the long-term good of the country,” he said.

All eyes are on Kenya to see whether it will avoid a repetition of the 2007 violence when it goes to the polls on Mar. 4. Several rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group (ICG), have warned that this year’s elections could be ethnically divisive if rising tensions are not curbed.

According to HRW, inter-communal clashes related to pre-electioneering have claimed more than 477 lives and displaced some 118,000 people since the beginning of 2012.

But according to the chair of the NCIC, Mzalendo Kibunjia, negotiated democracy – a system in which political power is shared evenly among various ethnic and interest groups – would enhance inclusion among Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups by doing away with Kenya’s current political model where “the winners take all and the losers lose all until the next elections.”

“Kenyan politics is about numbers and you get those numbers, not by selling ideas, but by retreating into your tribal cocoons. This means that small tribes continually feel neglected once the dominant ones win power, and this feeling of seclusion is being replicated in the run-up to this election,” Kibunjia told IPS.

But Wamwere, who is author of the book “Negative Ethnicity: From Bias to Genocide”, which looks at the ways ethnic rivalries in Africa undermine democracy, pours cold water on claims that power-sharing enhances inclusion and cohesion among various ethnic communities.

“If people are clear about whom they want to be led by, that person can come from the smallest ethnic community or grouping in the country,” he said.

Retired President Daniel Arap Moi, whose regime spanned 24 years from 1978 to 2002 and was widely seen as dictatorial, had embraced a similar mode of politics by insisting that Kenya was not ready for democracy, according to Wamwere.

“Moi kept telling Kenyans that they were not ready for multiparty politics and democracy,” he said, “And that is partly how he maintained his grip on power for more than two decades. Kenyans should be wary of those advocating for negotiated democracy.”

Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa project director at the ICG, agreed that Kenya was ripe for democracy in its original sense and a repetition of the 2007 post-election violence was unlikely.

“If (in 2007) Kenya had strong and independent institutions such as a strong judiciary and electoral body that could have instilled confidence among Kenyans, this would have seen people confide in its institutions, reducing the risk of people taking to the streets and against each other to protest election results,” Barnes told IPS. He added that since the country’s new constitution was adopted in 2010, it had strengthened government and institutional frameworks.

But Cyprian Nyamwamu, the executive director of the National Convention Executive Council, which lobbies for good governance and reform, told IPS that there was needed for the inclusion of minority groups and communities in the government.

“Negotiated democracy is a platform to end suspicion and mistrust among antagonistic groups,” said Nyamwamu. “Whereas the new constitution has brought checks and balances of executive power and devolution promises to promote equal distribution of resources, we need negotiated democracy to ensure that all ethnic groups are brought to the table.”

According to Rose Waruhiu, a Democratic Party of Kenya politician and former member of the East African Legislative Assembly, the idea is a practical one for Kenya.

“Any party that wants to lead in today’s Kenya must reach out to all the various ethnic groups in the country. All ethnic groups want to see parties and politicians reach out to them in a special manner and, as such, negotiated democracy is a plus for both politician and voter,” Waruhiu told IPS.

Most say that it will take more than the negotiated sharing of elective positions to heal the country and enhance ethnic cohesion.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya, which was set up to investigate past injustices and lead reconciliation efforts, has yet to file a report three years after its formation.

Leadership wrangles and financial problems have rocked the commission, whose mandate covers alleged violations between December 1963 and February 2008, and has delayed its work by over six months.

It remains unknown when the commission will file its report after parliament refused to grant it an extension.

 

 

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Women Navigate Political Minefield in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/women-navigate-political-minefield-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-navigate-political-minefield-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/women-navigate-political-minefield-in-kenya/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2013 19:05:46 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116047 Hamisa Zaja dropped out of the Mombasa County gubernatorial race for lack of resources. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Hamisa Zaja dropped out of the Mombasa County gubernatorial race for lack of resources. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 25 2013 (IPS)

Few women in Kenya harbour illusions of entering politics. Blatant discrimination, threats and intimidations, an uneven playing field and a largely unsympathetic public have turned electoral politics into a veritable minefield for women hoping to secure top government posts.

Despite adopting a more gender sensitive constitution back in 2010, in which Article 81(b) stipulates that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender, male-dominated parties continue to make a farce of the little political space offered to women.

Whereas previously women were only allowed to contest three seats – namely for the posts of president, Member of Parliament (MP) and councilor of a ward (a subdivision of a municipality) – an additional three seats are up for grabs in elections scheduled for Mar. 4 this year.

But “the environment is still not enabling”, Hamisa Zaja, a politician in Kenya’s Coastal region, told IPS.

“Women remain under attack from male opponents and even society,” she added.

When Vesca Kangongo presented her bid to vie for the gubernatorial seat in Uasin Gishu, a county in Kenya’s Rift Valley region located about 313 kilometres from the capital, Nairobi, her rivals swore that the governor of the region “would be anything but a woman”.

This statement has been echoed across the country and consequently only a handful of women are running for tickets of top seats.

Zaja explained that besides society’s negative attitude towards women’s leadership, the financial resources required to launch a competitive campaign automatically exclude many women from the running.

“I pulled out of the race for the governor of Mombasa County under the Wiper Democratic Movement because I don’t have the economic muscle required,” she said.

To qualify for the party nominations, Zaja was required to pay the equivalent of 1,700 dollars, a huge sum in a country where, according to government statistics, the average monthly wage is about 250 dollars.

“This is besides the money required to oil an effective campaign such as getting vehicles, fueling them to facilitate mobility, branding and so on,” noted Jacky Mwaura, a campaign agent.

When the presidential candidate Martha Karua, running on the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC)-Kenya ticket, announced that she only has about 640,000 dollars to her name, it was not clear how she would finance her campaign when her most serious rivals are talking about a 91.4-million-dollar budget.

“Campaign money in Kenya largely comes from personal wealth,” political analyst Peter Otondo told IPS. “Although top politicians hold dinners to raise money, this is often to hoodwink voters that they are being transparent and accountable.”

But even for those women able to pay the prohibitive nomination fee, a host of other hurdles present themselves.

“Women aspirants across the country face many challenges, only to lose the nomination ticket in the end,” a returning officer from Mombasa County, located in the Coast region about 440 kilometres away from Nairobi City, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

She added, “Most people here know Alice Maitha, the wife of the late former MP Kharisa Maitha, who has won the ticket to battle it out for the Senate (the future upper house of parliament) position under The National Alliance Party (TNA).”

As a returning officer, the anonymous source has insider information and revealed that Maitha was initially a staunch member of the Wiper Democratic Movement, and even paid the 1,700-dollar fee in order to fight for the Senate ticket.

“But at the very last minute, the party informed her that she was not financially fit and that “the Senate isn’t for women”, the officer told IPS.

But Maitha refused to be discouraged. She quickly joined the TNA, where she paid another 2,000 dollars to be allowed to vie for the same ticket, and successfully made it onto the ballot.

But her woes did not end there. According to the officer, Maitha has since been under pressure to “sell” her seat to a male rival.

The widespread use of violence, which has become part and parcel of Kenyan politics, is another serious deterrent to women’s participation.

A few days ago, a returning officer tasked with overseeing the elections succumbed to stab wounds sustained during skirmishes between rival groups in the recently concluded nominations.

“Women tend to shy away from violence,” John Ndeta, media coordinator of a project dubbed Peace Initiative Kenya, told IPS.

Since a great deal of the election outcome is determined by bribery, intimidation and outright hostilities, women invariably fail to secure the kind of support that is won through violence and coercion.

According to Ndeta, although the constitution requires a third of elected officers – at least 117 out of 290 members of the upcoming national assembly – to be women, “it will be an uphill task for women to get there”.

Furthermore, “Men campaign and lobby at night. A woman isn’t expected to do so. You find that a woman aspirant goes to bed thinking that her position in the party is secure, only to wake up to new realities in the morning after men have kept their night vigils,” Zaja explained.

Women who defy these political traditions face threats of rape, and other forms of bodily harm.

Education, or the lack thereof, also continues to be a thorn in the side of aspiring female politicians.

One of the strongest politicians in Nairobi County, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, found herself locked out of party nominations at the very last minute for lack of a university degree.

Wanjiru, who is assistant minister for housing, has always been open about her struggle as a single mother of three.

“Before she was disqualified, Wanjiru was the only female candidate in the race for governor, and she has a massive following,” Otondo noted.

With no hope of a sea change on the horizon, it seems that the constitutional space allotted to women is Kenya still far out of reach.

(END)

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The Race for a Peaceful Electionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-race-for-a-peaceful-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-race-for-a-peaceful-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-race-for-a-peaceful-election/#comments Fri, 21 Dec 2012 05:56:45 +0000 Peter Wahwai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115389 Hosea Nailel (5039), Julius Muriuki, (5103) and Peter Chesang (5106) joined over 2,000 participants in Nakuru Town in a race that aimed to bridge ethnic divisions ahead of this country’s March 2013 elections. Credit: Peter Wahwai/IPS

Hosea Nailel (5039), Julius Muriuki, (5103) and Peter Chesang (5106) joined over 2,000 participants in Nakuru Town in a race that aimed to bridge ethnic divisions ahead of this country’s March 2013 elections. Credit: Peter Wahwai/IPS

By Peter Wahwai
RIFT VALLEY, Kenya , Dec 21 2012 (IPS)

Runners Hosea Nailel and Julius Muriuki, who are from Kenya’s rival ethnic Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities respectively, met during a half marathon when they broke away from the pack and remained in the leading group. 

They shared water during the race and tried to outdo each other at various sections of the last stretch. They did not talk; they only tried to outrun each other.

Having met for the first time at the newly-inaugurated Menengai Half Marathon in Nakuru Town, Rift Valley Province in November, Nailel and Muriuki have become friends and want to become training partners.

It is particularly poignant in a country where the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities from the Rift Valley Province have been involved in deadly ethnic clashes almost every election year since 1992. The worst of it was in the 2007-2008 post-election violence, in which over 1,300 people were killed, 3,000 women were raped and more than 600,000 people were displaced, according to a report by the government-appointed Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence.

Nakuru County in Rift Valley Province was considered a political hotbed during the 2007-2008 election violence. And tensions are flaring in the country again ahead of the 2013 polls. This month the investment group Old Mutual Kenya said that ethnicity would also play a role in the upcoming elections.Recently inter-ethnic violence has flared in this East African nation over competition for resources.

On Sep. 9, 38 people were killed in revenge attacks in the Tana River Delta district of Kenya’s Coast Province. The deceased include eight children, five women, 16 men, and nine police officers.

In August four people were killed in a separate incident in Muradellow village in Mandera North, in North Eastern Province. Police said that the conflict occurred at a water point where herders had taken their animals.

In March, 22 people were killed in Mandera, in North Eastern Province. More than 1,500 people fled their homes as a result of the violence, which occurred in El Golicha village, close to Kenya’s border with Somalia.

But ethnic differences mean little to the two talented runners.

“I met Muriuki and several other athletes from Central Kenya at the marathon. I did not know him before, but since then we have been in communication, and we shall meet soon. We plan to train together and compete in a forthcoming half marathon. As athletes we shall use our talent to demonstrate unity,” Nailel, who comes from Eldoret town in North Rift Valley, which also experienced ethnic violence after the country’s 2007 election, told IPS.

Nailel, who placed sixth in the Paris Half Marathon in October, led a squad of runners from North Rift Valley to join over 2,000 participants in Nakuru Town in a race that aimed to bridge ethnic divisions ahead of this country’s March 2013 elections.

“Such races will definitely unite different communities and eventually the nation; Kenyans are known for uniting behind their sportsmen and women,” Nailel said.

Muriuki lives in Nyahururu, a town in Central Province, and is an up-and-coming runner.

“They are great runners,” Muriuki said of Nailel’s team. “They helped me improve my speed, it was a united race and we raced together to the finish line. I am in communication with Nailel and some of the other runners and I look forward to meeting them at the next race,” Muriuki told IPS.

Muriuki had appeared strong throughout the race but Nailel broke away at the finish and clocked 61:02 to win the half marathon with Muriuki coming in fourth. Muriuki was the only runner from Central Province who finished in one of the top 10 positions in the race, while Nailel’s team registered a convincing victory by scooping all the other positions.

Nailel and Muriuki hope that running will help melt the differences of their respective ethnic groups.

“It was very encouraging to see residents of Nakuru Town line up by the sides of the roads to cheer us on as we passed through the streets. We felt encouraged and part of Nakuru despite it being our first time participating in a race in the town,” said Nailel of the majority Kikuyu community in Nakuru Town.

Muriuki agreed: “It was the first time we met with many of these athletes in such large numbers and it would be a great thing that such events continue uniting young people from opposing communities.”

Both he and Nailel talk about finding a suitable place to train together. They think that Nakuru Town, where they met, could be a possible training ground because of its strategic location between their home towns. They also discuss visiting each other regularly.

Their show of unity is encouraging to others.

Athletics Kenya secretary general David Okeyo said that athletics was one of the most practical ways to build unity among communities ahead of the country’s March 2013 elections.

“There are hundreds of upcoming (runners) from different communities who can do more than just run, they can unite communities, if we bring them together like we did in Nakuru,” he told IPS.

Okeyo said that races like these were very important in areas like Nakuru County and the entire Rift Valley Province where the 2007-2008 clashes occurred.

Nakuru North District Commissioner Michael Kagika said that participating in races was a rare opportunity for athletes to use their sporting talents to unite, and to mend their differences.

“The marathon is a major step towards building and sustaining peace among communities living in Nakuru County and Rift Valley Province. It brought different cultures and communities together and it came at a time when Kenya is poised to hold the general election,” Kagika told IPS.

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No Women, No Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/no-women-no-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-women-no-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/no-women-no-elections/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 20:00:15 +0000 Brian Ngugi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115162 Zipporah Kittony (l) former chair of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, Justin Muturi (c) chair of the Centre For Multiparty Democracy, and Alice Wahome, vice-chair of the CMD (r) addressing journalists in Nairobi on Dec. 13. Credit: Brian Ngugi/IPS

Zipporah Kittony (l) former chair of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, Justin Muturi (c) chair of the Centre For Multiparty Democracy, and Alice Wahome, vice-chair of the CMD (r) addressing journalists in Nairobi on Dec. 13. Credit: Brian Ngugi/IPS

By Brian Ngugi
NAIROBI , Dec 14 2012 (IPS)

Kenya’s rights activists are furious that the country’s highest court “violated” women’s constitutional rights by ruling against the implementation of a gender quota in parliament ahead of the 2013 general elections.

Activists here are threatening to boycott the Mar. 4, 2013 elections and bring the government to a standstill unless the gender parity law, which states that no more than two-thirds of one gender should hold elected office, is enforced in the senate and national assembly in the upcoming elections.

Rukia Subow, chair of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, the largest women’s rights NGO in Kenya, told IPS that this East African nation was headed for a constitutional crisis if it failed to heed the provisions of the 2010 constitution.

The Kenya Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, Dec. 11 that the constitutional provision calling for a mandatory one-third gender representation would not apply to next year’s general election and instead should be implemented progressively by August 2015.

“We respect the Supreme Court, but still we have to fight its ruling even if it means going to higher courts in the region. We will ensure that there will be no parliament next year as it will be unconstitutional should we fail to implement the gender principle,” she said, adding that the organisation would see to it that the principle was implemented by “any means necessary.”

As the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, the next court of appeal would be the East African Court of Justice.

Article 81 (b) of the constitution provides that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.”

Further, Article 27(8) of the constitution states that there shall be legislation to provide for the above principle. But the failure of parliament to pass this legislation prompted the attorney general Githu Muigai to petition the Supreme Court for an interpretation on how the country should attain the gender equity principle.

In the landmark decision by four of the five judges hearing the case, Jackton Boma Ojwang, Njoki Ndung’u, Philip Tunoi and Smoking Wanjala ruled that the one-third gender requirement for the national assembly and senate could not be enforced in the 2013 elections.

They said that the historical marginalisation of women in elective politics could not be resolved by quotas but would only be realised over time and in stages.

The fifth judge on the bench, the country’s chief justice Willy Mutunga, ruled in favour of the principle being implemented ahead of the upcoming elections.

According to Rose Waruhiu, a prominent Kenyan women’s rights activist and former member of the East African Legislative Assembly, the ruling is a blow to the empowerment of women.

“The women of Kenya are seeing this as a blatant and direct violation of women’s constitutional rights of equality and non-discrimination based on sex. The ruling makes a charade of the whole idea of constitutionalism and is the ultimate insult to Kenyan women, women around the world, and in essence the Kenyan people,” Waruhiu told IPS.

The Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya has consequently advised political parties to immediately file a case with the East African Court of Justice, to force Kenya to observe gender equality in elective and appointive public positions.

According to the lobby’s chair, Justin Muturi, Kenya “is the only country within the East African community which has not (achieved) this.”

“We have resolved to sensitise Kenyans around the theme ‘no women, no elections on March 2013’, unless and until women are included in public office as stipulated in the constitution,” Muturi told IPS during a press conference in Nairobi on Thursday Dec. 13.

“The Supreme Court ruling effectively denied women their constitutional right to fair representation. We hold the view that the Supreme Court itself has failed to uphold the constitution and it is time the people who hold sovereign authority acted to stop further erosion of constitutional provisions,” added Muturi.

Meanwhile, Waruhiu said the court ruling was a fraudulent act.

“It has set women back in a big way. More importantly, however, it’s not a women’s issue, but an issue at the heart of our constitution. It’s about the affront to the sovereign will of the people,” said Waruhiu, who is also the vice chair of the Democratic Party of Kenya.

“Women of Kenya do not, and will not, accept a zero or minimalist approach in terms of the fulfilment of their constitutional rights. They are entitled to them as a matter of course, they fought for independence, and they continue to carry the greatest burden in building this nation,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Winnie Lichuma, the chair of the National Gender and Equality Commission, the body charged with women’s empowerment in Kenya. She told IPS that women must demand that the principle be implemented immediately and not in stages.

“The gender equity principle on representation must be implemented now and can’t wait,” she said. Political representation for women in the current Kenyan parliament is considered low at only 9.8 percent, according to Lichuma.

Prior to the controversial ruling, the country was awash with heated debate about how the principle could be achieved.

Some legislators had said that it should not be implemented in the 2013 general elections. However, the attorney general and other observers had said that if the gender rule was not implemented, Kenya would head towards a constitutional crisis.

“This action by the highest court in the land of Kenya, if left uncorrected, would widen the inequality gap between men and women in leadership positions,” said Waruhiu.

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Tough Foreign Policy Challenges for Somalia’s “Iron Lady”http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/tough-foreign-policy-challenges-for-somalias-iron-lady/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tough-foreign-policy-challenges-for-somalias-iron-lady http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/tough-foreign-policy-challenges-for-somalias-iron-lady/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2012 13:17:09 +0000 Abdurrahman Warsameh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=114296 Somalia's first female Foreign Minister Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan has a tough road ahead. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Somalia's first female Foreign Minister Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan has a tough road ahead. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Abdurrahman Warsameh
MOGADISHU, Nov 20 2012 (IPS)

As little-known politician Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan was sworn in as Somalia’s first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister on Monday Nov. 19, the stateswoman who hails from the unrecognised, self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland is tipped to become the country’s “Iron Lady”.

This is according to Adan´s political ally Mohamed Daahir Omar, who used to work closely with her in local Somaliland politics, in which he is currently active.

“We know Fauzia as a person with strong determination and as an approachable individual who likes to form consensus. But when she has to make a decision, she just goes for it and works to convince others of her way. She was mostly successful, and for that she can be considered Somalia’s Iron Lady,” Omar told IPS from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, referring to Adan’s strong will.

Adan, who returned from her first state visit to neighbouring Djibouti on Nov. 18 and missed the official swearing-in ceremony of the cabinet on Nov. 15, takes on the mantle of leadership in a country with a number of tough foreign policy challenges.

While details of Adan and her background are sketchy, and she has been reluctant to grant interviews to the press, Omar said that because of her skill as a consensus-builder, the new foreign minister could play a role in bridging the divide between this Horn of Africa nation and Somaliland.

One of her first tasks will be to advance tentative and delicate talks between the Somali government and politicians in the northern state. Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia following the collapse of the country’s government in 1991.

“The talks between Somalia and Somaliland will be an acid test for Adan because as a northerner she will have to show her people that she does not want to force them into a union (with Somalia) that they don’t want.

“But at the same time as a key minister in the federal government she has to represent the views of the government – the sanctity of national unity and sovereignty,” Garaad Jama, an analyst from the Centre for Policy Development, a think tank in Somalia, told IPS.

Adan, who is only one of two women in the 10-member cabinet appointed by Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, will also have to deal with the growing friction between Kenya and Somalia over the formation of local administration areas in southern Somalia.

The Kenyan military captured the Al-Shabaab-controlled southern Somali port city of Kismayo in late September. The port was one of the key strongholds of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist radical group.

But Kenya has reportedly been pushing for the region in southern Somalia known as Azania or Jubaland – where Kismayo is the main city – to be given the status of an autonomous state, to serve as a buffer zone between Kenya and the chaos in Somalia.

The Somali government has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of such a state, which it fears would become a Kenyan satellite rather than a local administration that would fall under its control.

Although Kenya vehemently denied the charges, its soldiers in control of Kismayo’s airport prevented a Somali government delegation from entering the city on Nov. 7, after a local militia leader objected to their arrival.

“The signs are already not good, with deteriorating relations between Kenya and the new Somali government and other tough and pressing challenges,” Maryan Muumin, a women’s rights activist from the Somalia National Women’s Organisation (SNWO) in Mogadishu, told IPS.

“It seems that the daunting task for the new foreign minister is clear cut and it’s for Adan to deal with the challenges facing her, not only as Somalia’s foreign minister, but as the first woman to hold that post,” she said.

Adan will also have to deal with Al-Shabaab, which still poses a threat to the government in many parts of southern and central Somalia.

Al-Shabaab, which is opposed to women taking up roles outside the home and has imposed strict Sharia law in parts of the country that it controls, has threatened to target Somalia’s United Nations-backed government leaders. The militant group led a failed attempt to assassinate the country’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Sep. 12, his second day in office.

“Although Al-Shabaab is now on the back foot, the group is the greatest threat to any government in Somalia,” Jama said “How this new government deals with the militant group, which has assassinated several ministers and other top government officials, will be a major test for the ministers, including the first female foreign minister.”

Adan described her appointment as a precedent that will open doors for Somali women.

“This is a historic day not only for Somali women but for all Somalia,” Adan said after the announcement of her appointment on Nov. 4.

Haliam Elmi from SNWO told IPS that Adan’s appointment was “a gift not only for Somali women but also for Africa and the world at large because women’s situations are similar in many parts of the world.”

She said she hoped that it would result in the acceptance of women’s participation in politics in this conservative Muslim country.

“This is a step in the right direction and we hope that society will finally accept women’s ascent on the political ladder,” she told IPS.

But Adan will have a tough road ahead of her. Not everyone has welcomed her appointment. Somalia’s Islamic clergy, for example, said that Adan’s appointment was against the teachings of Islam.

“In Muslim society women are given the highest role a human being can take, which is rearing children and being head of a Muslim home. What we hear from the government is in contradiction to our way of life as a Muslim society, and nothing but calamity will come from giving such political leadership roles to Fauzia, not only for her, but for her family and society in general,” said Sheikh Ali Mohamoud, a Muslim cleric in Mogadishu.

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Keeping the Veil on Women’s Electoral Participationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/keeping-the-veil-on-womens-electoral-participation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-the-veil-on-womens-electoral-participation http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/keeping-the-veil-on-womens-electoral-participation/#comments Wed, 07 Nov 2012 13:38:59 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=114007 Cultural practices in Cameroon’s patriarchal society could prevent women from registering to vote in the country’s February 2013 elections. Courtesy: Ngala Killian Chimtom

Cultural practices in Cameroon’s patriarchal society could prevent women from registering to vote in the country’s February 2013 elections. Courtesy: Ngala Killian Chimtom

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MORA, Cameroon, Nov 7 2012 (IPS)

Cameroon’s new biometric registration of voters may end up disenfranchising many potential voters, especially women in the country’s predominantly Muslim north where cultural practices may prevent them from having their photos taken.

“This is a sticky issue,” Adji Massao, the Far North regional representative of the country’s elections management body, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), told IPS.

Biometric voter registration, which involves the use of fingerprint scanners and digital cameras to capture the bio-data of applicants, began in this west Central African nation on Oct. 1 in the country’s capital Yaounde and will be introduced to all 360 council areas across Cameroon.

In order to register to vote in the February 2013 parliamentary and local council elections, citizens are required to have or obtain a national identity card, which requires a photograph. In addition, passport-sized photographs must be taken of people registering to vote and people are not allowed to wear caps, lenses, veils or anything that could distort their facial identity.

In this part of the country, women are hardly allowed to go out, let alone remove their head-concealing veils as their husbands do not allow them to, even if the women themselves are willing.

Aisha Ibrahim, a housewife in Mora, a small locality in Cameroon’s Far North Region, in all probability will not be able to register to vote in February 2013.

Her husband, Alhadj Moustapha, told IPS that he was not comfortable with his wife removing her veil in the presence of another man.

“It’s risky,” he said.

“A true Muslim lady must cover her hair and her face,” he said with an air of finality, sending a clear message that he would never allow his wife to unveil in public.

Cultural practices in this patriarchal society tend to confine women to the home, preventing them from fully participating in society. Allowing women to get national identity cards could also be potentially upsetting for men who want absolute control over their wives.

Moustapha puts the situation rather brusquely: “Women with a national identity card could be difficult to control. Remember this is a key document required for anyone to travel … and your wife may just escape from home and go elsewhere … I can’t take such a risk.”

Ibrahim, however, has voted a couple of times in Cameroon’s various elections without an identity card.

“When it came to voting, the law at the time provided that any voter without a national identity card could present themselves with at least two witnesses,” Massao said.

Ibrahim was able to vote in accordance with these procedures.

“My husband and his friend flanked me as we went to the voting centre,” Ibrahim told IPS in a whisper. And casting a furtive glance around, as if she was about to betray a prized secret, she said, before moving quickly away: “They instructed me to vote for the ruling party.”

And she was not the only one. According to Massao, 40 percent of people who registered for the 2011 presidential election in the region did so without an identity card. Most of them, he said, were women.

It is no wonder that John Fru Ndi, the leader of the country’s main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), called that registration process a “gigantic fraud”.

“The method did not have the inbuilt mechanism for detecting multiple registrations and therefore there were several instances where some unscrupulous individuals registered more than once,” he told IPS.

“That is why the SDF fought relentlessly for the introduction of a biometric system in voter registration.”

Meanwhile, the elections governing body is already taking measures to ensure that cultural practices do not infringe on women’s right to vote.

“We are definitely worried by the situation,” Thaddeus Minnang, chief of operations at ELECAM, told IPS.

“As for women who would not take off their veils in the presence of men and do not even leave their homes, we plan to get female ELECAM officials to go to those homes and do the registration. This way, we will ensure the full participation of women in the process,” Minnang said.

But his optimism is tempered by the fact that many women in this part of the country also do not have a national identity card and would need to apply for that first in order to register.

“Women should register to vote. For that, they first need to get their official documents. Yet, there are still among us women without proper identification,” Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family Cathérine Abena told IPS.

Minnang said the electoral commission planned to work with political parties, civil society and the government to encourage all Cameroonians of voting age to acquire national identity cards. A special focus would be given to the northern parts of Cameroon, where ELECAM plans to sensitise husbands on the need to allow their wives to have a national identity card.

“We are ready to accept receipts testifying that someone is in the process of acquiring a national identity card,” Minnang said.

That women in the north of the country could find it hard to register on the voter rolls could worsen an already bad situation of electoral apathy in Cameroon, according to Owona Nguini, a professor of political science at the University of Yaounde.

Of the roughly 7.5 million people who registered for the 2011 presidential election, only 4.9 million voted. Observers have said that in a country where close to 11 million people have already reached voting age, such a turnout gives elected officials very little legitimacy.

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Sierra Leone – Women Shoot Themselves in the Foot in Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/sierra-leone-women-shoot-themselves-in-the-foot-in-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sierra-leone-women-shoot-themselves-in-the-foot-in-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/sierra-leone-women-shoot-themselves-in-the-foot-in-elections/#comments Tue, 06 Nov 2012 14:10:41 +0000 Mohamed Fofanah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=113965 Navo Kai-Kai from the Sierra Leone People’s Party told IPS that there were other pressing reasons for the decreased number of women contesting high political positions this election. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

Navo Kai-Kai from the Sierra Leone People’s Party told IPS that there were other pressing reasons for the decreased number of women contesting high political positions this election. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

By Mohamed Fofanah
FREETOWN, Nov 6 2012 (IPS)

Only 38 women – of a total of 586 candidates – will contest parliamentary seats in Sierra Leone’s November elections, and the blame for this can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the current group of female lawmakers, according to Barbara Bangura, the director of the women’s organisation Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance.

The Nov. 17 elections will only be this West African nation’s third election since the civil war ended here in 2002.

And while the country will see its first female vice presidential candidate, Kadi Sesay from the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), run for office, there are not many women joining her in the race for parliament. There is no female presidential candidate. But in addition to the dismal number of candidates running for seats in the legislature, there are only 337 women out of 1,283 candidates for local council elections.

Bangura points an accusing finger at the current crop of female parliamentarians who, she says, are to blame for the failure of parliament to pass the Gender Equality Bill that would have provided for a 30 percent representation of women in the legislature.

Bangura, one of the leading women’s activists pushing for the enactment of the bill, has squarely laid the blame on the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. Women from the caucus were meant to champion and table the bill and lobby their colleagues for its enactment. But they did not succeed, because of what the activist calls a lack of interest on their part.

“We had to be hard on their heels, they did not show enough interest in pushing the bill forward and also getting their parties to support it. Now many of them are not going back to parliament, as they have not retained their seats. I hope they have learned their lesson,” Bangura told IPS.

Banging away on her laptop in the Women’s Situation Room – a room in the country’s capital Freetown where non-partisan women sit, receive and analyse information before the elections – Bangura explained to IPS that there was controversy among the female parliamentarians over which institution would monitor the implementation of the bill when it was enacted into law.

The chairwoman of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and member of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), Marie Yansaneh, told IPS that there was indeed confusion about which institution would monitor the implementation of the bill, resulting in the bill not being finalised before the five-year parliamentary session ended on Sep. 25.

One school of thought said it should be a Gender Equality Commission, while another was calling for the creation of a specific Women’s Commission to monitor implementation.

“None of these proposed institutions had even been set up, so we lost time. And then these female parliamentarians had to go into their various constituencies to campaign, so there was no time for the bill. So that was the end of the matter. As far as we know the bill is still sitting in the Office of the Attorney General and was never tabled in parliament,” said Bangura.

Effective political participation by women remains abysmally low in this country of 5.9 million people.

Before parliament closed, just 17 out of the 124 parliamentarians were women. Women make up 18.9 percent of female councillors in the local government – none at the level of chairwoman – and they comprise less than 10 percent of top civil service positions.

The public information officer of the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL), Henry Sheku, told IPS that the enactment of the Gender Equality Bill would have affected the development of the country.

“There is a whole raft of women with the appropriate skills and experience to take on leadership roles, and the confidence to do so. But because of a bad system these women have been deliberately marginalised,” he said.

However, Navo Kai-Kai from the SLPP told IPS that there were other pressing reasons for the decreased number of women contesting high political positions this election. Kai-Kai has claimed that her male opponent from the SLPP, who was also contesting the post of chair of the Kailahun District Council, had intimidated her after he lost the party primaries to her.

“There was serious intimidation; my male opponent came out with his secret societies during our party primaries so I had to leave my district in Kailahun, east of the country, escorted by the police to Kenema district, for fear of my life. As a result I was unable to contest for the party symbols and lost to my male opponent,” Kai-Kai said.

The endorsement of candidates by political parties to contest elections in Sierra Leone is called “getting the party symbol”.

A number of women also dropped out of contesting the elections when the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) increased nomination fees.

“I withdrew from nominations immediately when the NEC announced increased nomination fees. I know it will be difficult for me to get that kind of money and my party will not help, so I lost my opportunity because of money and the lack of support,” Memuna Sapateh, a candidate representing the Peoples Liberation Party, told IPS.

The nomination fees were increased from one million Leones (250 dollars) to one hundred million (about 250,000 dollars) for presidential candidates, and from 100,000 Leones (25 dollars) to one million Leones (250 dollars) for parliamentary and city councillor positions. The dramatic increase in fees met with stiff opposition from civil society groups and the majority of the nine registered political parties.

Parliament approved the NEC’s decision to raise the nomination fees, and the new fees came into effect on Sept. 10. Only after political parties threatened to boycott the elections did the government allow candidates to revert to the fee rate from the 2007 elections. Instead, the government announced that it would pay the difference in the fees to the NEC.

But Bangura’s accusing finger still points to the female parliamentarians.

“Yes there were challenges for the women, the finances to run elections, the patriarchal political system, the sudden increase in the nomination fees,” she agreed.

“But I still blame the women in the political parties. I always say that women do not know the power they have; we always say to them you are a woman first before you belong to a political party. Not all of them with party symbols will win.  So whilst we are looking at the women that actually have symbols we have to look at the ones that will go through, that will win seats in parliament and council, we will definitely see decreased figures.”

Sheku said that the HRCSL would be focusing on pushing strongly for the passage of the Gender Equality Bill as soon as a new government took office.

Bangura was also upbeat. “After the elections we will re-organise and continue to push for the Gender Equality Bill so it becomes law.”

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