African female members of Parliament see political will, financing and enhancing education opportunities as some of the ways to increase the participation of women in the political sphere.
With more than 15 elections expected to take place on the continent this year, the African Union Commission in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), brought together prominent women parliamentarians to discuss challenges they face and ways in which to address them.
The exchanges took place on the margins of the Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP) Summit 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, moderated by Bineta Diop, AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security.
The challenges outlined were across different categories ranging from sexism and limited support systems and mentorship, to inadequate access to electoral funding.
The MPs said they were also constrained by a lack of an enabling legislative and policy environment, a limited understanding of party politics dynamics and corresponding strategies to engage party leaders. At a personal level, the MPs spoke of the need to build self-confidence, especially when dealing with the media.
Sharing Rwanda’s experience, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in Parliament, Ms Donatille Mukabalisa, highlighted the importance of strong political will at the highest level in promoting women’s political participation, adding that electoral systems need to be geared up to be gender-sensitive and to empower women to assume leadership positions.
Rwanda tops the world rankings with 63.8 percent female representation in parliament, and is one of several countries that has instituted a 30 percent quota of seats to be reserved for women. However, participants noted that quotas should be complemented with other measures to ensure long term sustainability.
On financing, the MPs called for more and faireraccess to public and private sources of electoral finance. Better information on available funding sources and ways of tapping into them, and addressing corruption by introducing funding ceilings were mentioned as ways of moving forward and levelling the playing field for all candidates.
MP Joséphine Drabo Kanyoulou from Burkina Faso highlighted her country’s efforts to incentivise parties to include more women on the electoral lists by providing additional funds.
The MPs also emphasised that improvements in women’s education can help to create a larger pool of women candidates. Media training and coaching were also identified as critical tools to address skills gapswhile platforms to exchange ideas and learn from one another were seen as valuable.
Mrs. Habiba Mejri-Cheikh, Director of Information and Communication of he AUC, underlined the critical role of the media in creating awareness through balance coverage of important political elections in the continent. “Men and women in politics should be given equal importance” she noted.
“Through capitalization of knowledge and synergy between public and private institutions as well as supporting partners, many opportunities related to women’s participation as candidates in elections are still possible,” said Ms Karine Kakasi Siaba, Political Officer at the AUC Department of Political Affairs, on behalf of Commissioner Dr Aisha Abdullahi.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union women make up 21.8 percent of the world’s members of parliament. Along with Rwanda, countries such as Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa have also surpassed the 40 percent mark of female representation in parliament. However a number of African countries are still below 20 percent.
“By building a critical mass of female African parliamentarians, we can ensure that future debates and policies will reflect gender views, which benefits society as a whole,” said Ozonnia Ojielo, UNDP’sTeam Leader for Governance and Peacebuilding in Africa.
The UNDP and African Union joint programme, aligned with the vision and the implementation of the AU Agenda for African Women’s Decade (2010-2020), seeks to support electoral law and processes conducive to women’s participation, training women candidates, and supporting the elected women to be effective in their leadership roles.
This work is part of UNDP’s broader engagement in bolstering Africa’s development by promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.