Women’s political participation and economic empowerment in post-conflict countries

The Great Lakes region has in the last ten to fifteen years seen an increase in women’s representation and involvement in politics and the public sphere, a positive outcome of the region’s peace processes and political transitions.

Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have all developed quota systems whereby women should constitute at least 30 percent in all decision-making institutions – a significant factor in bringing about increased participation.

International Alert’s new report (read here), based on research conducted jointly with the Eastern Africa Sub-regional Support Initiative (EASSI) in Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Burundi, examines the nature and quality of women’s political participation in the four countries.

The report seeks to establish whether women’s increased representation in decision-making has translated into the adoption of gender equality policies and enhancement of women’s socio-economic status at all levels of society. It also analyses the economic dimension of women’s political participation by linking women’s economic empowerment and their representation in the political arena.

The report represents a synthesis of the key findings and recommendations of a regional research project on women’s political participation and economic empowerment in these countries in the following ways:

  • In Rwanda the research project examined and analysed the integration of gender equality into the decentralisation process and the impact on women’s participation in national and local governance.
  • In Burundi it looked at the nature and impact of women’s participation in the Arusha peace process and the impact of the quota system in promoting women in national and local government.
  • In Uganda, Alert examined and sought to understand the position of women in the peace economy and politics, and the interaction between their increased economic power and their participation in political and public life.
  • And in DRC, it assessed women’s participation in the inter-Congolese dialogue and the 2006 general elections.

Political participation is a gendered process and the challenge for women is trying to understand how to transform institutions and political and economic systems that remain deeply masculine in nature. Rwanda, which is one of the most advanced countries in terms of the promotion of gender equality in Africa, is lacking in technical expertise, for instance in terms of gender budgeting, which constitutes a hindrance to the effective implementation of gender issues in the decentralisation process.

In Burundi whereas quotas significantly increased the number of women in decision-making bodies at all levels, including local governance, this did not necessarily lead to substantial and effective representation of women or to significant reduction in inequalities between men and women. The adoption of a quota system was not accompanied by a transformation of the political and institutional systems, which remain heavily masculine and are a hindrance to the promotion of gender equality.

The research shows that the political and security environment in the countries in question is not always conducive to the effective participation of women in political and public life. Some local players attribute the difficulties in implementing gender equality policies to the lack of political will of the ruling governments.

That said, however, increased representation and participation of women in the four studied countries seems to have led to a greater acceptance of women’s leadership in the political arena and the economic sphere. It might be slow, but as demonstrated in the study particularly with Rwanda and Burundi, it is without doubt having an impact.

To find out more about our research, read the summary report here. Alternatively, you can read the country reports in full here: