Southern Africa: Women in Politics

Southern Africa: Women in Politics

Southern Africa: Women in Politics

Date distributed (ymd): 960904

Southern African Research & Documentation Centre

August 15, 1996

Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women

Although women in southern Africa constitute half the electorate, they hold on average, only 10 percent of the seats in parliament and six percent in national cabinets. South Africa holds the distinction of having the highest numbers of female members of parliament (MPs) with 25 percent representation.

According to the 1995 Beijing Conference Report on the status of women in southern Africa, Mozambique has the second highest figure of women in political decision-making, holding 24.4 percent of the seats in parliament. Women's limited participation in economic and political decision-making bodies can be attributed to inadequate institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women.

Since changes in society normally come through the political process, the need for women to be among those who make policies and decisions at all levels of government is critical if their plight has to be adequately addressed.

"It is important for women to know that they have to be there (within the political process) where it matters. Whether it is at the rural council, urban council or other levels of policy making, they have to be there to ensure their lot is addressed," says UN Development Fund for Women's (UNIFEM) Regional Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa, Gita Welch from Mozambique.

Welch attributes women's low representation in the political decision-making process to several factors. "Socio-cultural perceptions and inhibitions, lack of finance, lack of political commitment, consciousness and goodwill and the general lack of infrastructure," she says, keep women confined to roles outside of politics.

Establishment of institutional machineries to design, promote, monitor, advocate and mobilize support for policies to advance the status of women was marked as one of the areas of concern to which governments committed themselves at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, in 1995, as well as the African Platform for Action at the Dakar, conference in 1994.

The African Platform defines these machineries as "institutions of formal entities recognised by governments and entrusted with particular responsibility for the advancement of women and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women for monitoring the ramifications of gender relations in a given society, and for acting as advocates on behalf of women."

Available data shows that all the SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries have some form of national machinery responsible for women's issues. However, there is still much debate on the form these machineries should take especially at government level where in the past, women's ministries or departments further marginalised women. Some women in the region are against the idea of a woman's ministry as a machinery for women's advancement. "It is a way of side-stepping women's issues. It is like saying, `do not bother us' because you have a place to go. But then nothing happens," said gender activists at last year's post-Beijing conference in Zambia.

National machineries for the advancement of women should be the central policy-coordinating unit inside government, whose main task should be to support government-wide mainstreaming of a gender-equality perspective in all policy areas.

But studies on the status of institutional mechanisms in the region show that they are frequently hampered by unclear mandates, lack of adequate staff, training, data and sufficient resources.

The Beijing Platform for Action however, places heavy responsibility on governments and other stakeholders to create or strengthen national machineries and integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects for the advancement of women in societies.

Mainstreaming gender should be the core of institutional mechanisms especially at government level, to avoid marginalisation of women's issues in one place, while conditions for an effective function of a national machinery as highlighted in the Beijing Platform for Action should include:

* Location at the highest possible level in the government, falling under the responsibility of a cabinet minister;

* Institutional mechanism of a process that facilitates, as appropriate, decentralised planning, implementation and monitoring with a view to involving non-governmental organisations and community organisations from the grass roots upwards;

* Sufficient resources in terms of budget and professional capacity;

* Opportunity to influence development of all government policies and;

* Report, on regular basis, to legislative bodies on the progress of efforts, as appropriate, to mainstream gender concerns, taking into account the implementation of the Platform for Action;

Strategies for Action

* Governments should ensure that responsibility for the advancement of women is vested in the highest possible level of government, in many cases, this could be at the level of a cabinet minister;

* Based on a strong political commitment, national machineries should be created, where they do not exist, and strengthened, as appropriate, machineries, for the advancement of women at the highest possible level of government. These should have clearly defined mandates and authority with critical elements to include among other things; adequate resources, the ability and competence to influence policy, formulate and review legislation, do policy analysis, undertake advocacy, communication, coordination and monitoring of implementation;

* Provide staff training in designing and analysing data from a gender perspective;

* Establish procedures to allow the machinery to gather information on government-wide policy issues at an early state and continuously use it in the policy development and review process within government;

* Encourage and promote the active involvement of the broad and diverse range of institutional actors in the public, private and voluntary sectors to work for equality between women and men.

* Carry regular reviews on how women benefit from public sector expenditures to ensure equality of access to public sector expenditures, both for enhancing productive capacity and for meeting social needs and achieve gender-related commitments made in other UN summits and conferences.

* Give all ministries the mandate to review policies and programmes from a gender perspective and in the light of the Platform for Action; locate the responsibility for the implementation of that mandate at the highest possible level;

* Promote and establish cooperative relationship with relevant branches of government, centres for women's studies and research, academic and educational institutions, the private sector, the media, NGOs and all others actors in civil society.

* Promote the increased participation of women as both active agents and beneficiaries of the development process, which would result in an improvement in the quality of life for all;

* Establish direct links with national, regional and international bodies dealing with the advancement of women;

* Educate women on how the political mechanisms work and on how women can get into political decision-making positions. Some women NGOs in Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe have already embarked on political empowerment strategies.

* Programme Manager for UNIFEM's Women and Development project in SADC, Nomcebo Manzini of Swaziland, however, maintains that political empowerment strategies must also take into account the fact that filling quotas or placing women in key positions is not enough.

* Women's NGOs should hold seminars aimed at sensitising men in decision-making bodies on gender issues. This is being done in countries like Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

* The proposed SADC gender desk is another strategy towards the advancement of women, as their plight would be addressed at a regional level. The desk could among things, provide training and advisory assistance to government agencies to integrate a gender perspective in their policies and programmes from a regional level. Caution however, should be made to ensure the gender desk does not marginalise women further.

Southern African Research & Documentation Centre (SARDC)

P O Box 5690, Harare Zimbabwe

Tel: +263-4-38694/5/6

Fax: +263-4-738693


SARDC is an independent institution involved in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information about the southern African region. This article is taken from SARDC's biweekly service of Southern Africa News Features, available by mail and e-mail. SARDC also produces special features from its affiliated projects, including the Women in Development Southern Africa Awareness Project. For more information contact SARDC.


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Wed, 4 Sep 1996 09:33:17 -0500 Subject: Southern Africa: Women in Politics

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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