Women and politics in Africa

“For the first time ever, we sit together, women politicians and activists, and talk about what we can do together. It is big and so important.”
Chou Chou Namegabe, Association des Femmes des Médias

On 23-25 April, International Alert and the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation held a conference in Kampala, Uganda on how to improve cooperation between women in politics and civil society in Africa.

In Africa many civil society activists distrust female politicians, who they feel let them down once they are elected. Female politicians, on the other hand, often feel that activists don’t appreciate how long it takes to get things done in politics. This event gave both groups the unique opportunity to find out about some of the problems each other face and find common ground.

“This is the first meeting I have been to where both sides are working together”, says Jennifer Wibabara, member of parliament for the Rwanda Patriotic Front. “Often it’s just civil society getting together to learn how to lobby against politicians, as antagonists. But here it’s we – not us and them.”

The participants identified several opportunities for greater collaboration and progress on women’s participation in politics in Africa, including training rural women in political issues, creating or re-structuring women’s networks, and better communication by politicians about what is happening.

“We have a very low representation of women in parliament, only eight percent”, says Josephine Francis, a member of the Liberian parliament. “We must find ways to reach out to women in Liberia, increasing both their knowledge and awareness of politics.”

This was a sentiment shared by Catherine Mabobori from Burundi’s President’s Office. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel”, she says. “Let’s use the tools we already have and just make them stronger. We have developed so many strategies and ideas here, now we can go back to our respective countries and work with them.”

The group shared some examples of where coordination is succeeding. For example, in Senegal female politicians are getting support from female lawyers with legislative and other legal documents. While in Rwanda, thanks to the role played by women activists and parliamentarians in drafting a constitution which included a 50 percent quota for women in parliament, today women make up 66.6 percent of those elected. And in Liberia, after somewhat of a backlash against the women’s movement following the progress of the early 2000s, women are now mobilising again and finding new ways of cooperating.

Chou Chou Namegabe, from the women’s organisation Association des Femmes des Médias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, explains how important the conference was for her: “I have never met the female politicians in Bukavu before, even though we live in the same city”, she says. “The gap between us is so wide. We don’t know what the others are doing. But here in Uganda, we met and we have already talked about cooperating. So I will make contact with our local politicians as soon as we are back home.”

The conference was attended by around forty women from six countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda.

This article is based on the article here by Anna Lithander from the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Photo: © Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation