Elections are a key ingredient of democratic governance and women’s political participation is seen as a prerequisite for any truly democratic process. The discipline of acquiring power through an election is assumed to make governments accountable to citizens and confer legitimacy. However, in the absence of women’s full and equal participation as voters, political candidates, critical actors in the electoral processes and, elected office, governments cannot claim to be fully accountable to citizens. Women’s leadership and participation are expected to not only determine the dynamics and distribution of political power but to be active participants in all activities of political parties thereby shaping the nature of institutions that wield political and economic power.
The core mandate of the Peace Centre is to shift and transform peace, and decision-making processes to ensure they become gender-inclusive and responsive, and ultimately result in the political, social and economic development of women. It is within this framework that the Peace Centre through research interrogates the extent to which electoral processes have delivered as a democratic process to promote women’s participation in decision-making. The Peace Centre has since 2016 implemented the Women’s Situation Room (WSR) for promoting peaceful elections. The WSR is a women-led mechanism that works with election stakeholders to ensure peaceful elections and ensure women’s participation in all electoral processes. In the last two years, the Peace Centre has supported the women of South Sudan to implement the Women’s Election Monitoring Platform based on lessons learned in Uganda; and is currently providing similar support to the women of Kenya for the upcoming elections. Thus, providing information to influence women’s political participation and deliberately claiming spaces for women to promote peaceful electoral processes. As an organization we are aware that the lack of women’s participation in decision-making is not unique to Africa, the need to link issues found to the global arena is important for us to share experiences and learn from each other toward building a global understanding on women’s political participation.
It is to this end that the Peace Centre and its Board of Directors convened an online conversation on 27th April 2022 to look at the findings of the 52nd edition of Women’s World, Women and Elections in East Africa, and to use this as a starting point for a wider conversation on women’s roles in elections, political participation and the impact of electoral processes on women. This 52nd edition of Women’s World studied the 2020-2021 elections held in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Through these country cases, writers in each country explored the status, constraints and opportunities for women’s political participation; offering important insights for advancing women’s roles and influence in shaping their societies and their countries’ governments.
The publication also points to the fact that while there are provisions of international and regional frameworks on women’s participation in electoral processes such as The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action which addresses the barriers to women’s participation in political decision-making, and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 66/130 (2012) on women and political participation, women are still underrepresented across all levels of power. There has been a slow increase in women’s representation in national parliaments from 13.1 per cent in 2000 to 24.9 per cent in 2020 (UN Women). The study looks at how Burundi, DRC, and Uganda hold specifically reserved seats for women in parliament. These reserved seats allow these countries to hold a fair percentage of women members in parliament, such as Burundi (38.21%), Uganda (32.89%) and DRC (12.8%).
While interrogating the role of elections and speaking about the benefit of elections to women, Prof. Cheryl Hendricks emphasized the need to question our forms of participation and governance at large. Global representation has only increased by 10% over the 3 decades and Africa is 2nd to Europe with 24% of women, 21% in local government and women in parliament while West Africa has the lowest representation. Women’s representation and participation in decision-making are affected by political intimidation, lack of access to economic resources and political parties remain patriarchal, erosion of term limits, currently pandemic affecting the quality of democracy and among others leading to a decline in the quality of democracy. Prof. Cheryl recommended that societies need to start thinking of how we want to be governed, how we can increase the number of women in elections, how we can make elections more creditable, how we can improve election management, and distribute resolutions for election processes with women at the forefront of designing these policies.
On the role of young women in elections in Africa, Pauline Kahuubire noted that there is an increase in the number of young women’s participation in electoral processes. These processes remain male-dominated and patriarchal which favours the male however despite all these challenges young women have taken part in remarkable electoral processes such as candidates, election observers and political mobilizers. Young women are still marginalized which has affected their participation in electoral processes. However, frameworks such as the CEDAW, The Youth Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights that focus on the role of young women’s participation have played an important role in promoting young women’s participation in electoral processes. Young women are still faced with a high level of poverty coupled with low levels of illiteracy which contributes to low levels of women participation. In her recommendations, Pauline emphasised the need for young women’s movements be built on alliances, power and leadership spaces. There is also a need for adequate access to credible information.
Queeneth Tawo unpacked women’s participation in elections in West Africa and whether women are women taking leadership roles in the political spaces. There is a need to enhance women’s capacities at the formal level so that they are empowered to take up leadership roles.
Anne Nkutu shared the experience of the Women’s Situation Room Uganda, an early warning and rapid response mechanism that works to respond to electoral violence to ensure and promote peaceful electoral processes. The Women’s Situation Room uses three tools to enable support for the promotion of peaceful elections. The three tools are i) The Early warning mechanism that alerts on potential triggers of violence and a timely response is effected ii) the rapid response mechanism is composed of a physical room with a call centre toll-free where people call to report any incidences of violence while working closely with the police, army and the members of the electoral commission and iii) Stakeholder engagement where the Women’s Situation Room works closely with the different political parties, security agencies, and political actors are involved in the elections advocating for peaceful elections. However, in the concluded elections in Uganda, the following shortcomings are still noted. There are still high levels of mistrust between the political actors, the public and a lack of confidence.
Following these initial discussions, The Peace Centre is convening another conversation to unpack women’s global political representation to discuss alternatives to the existing electoral systems that are deteriorating democracy in many countries around the world. The discussion will feature an array of speakers including Prof. Aili Tripp, Vilas Research Professor of Political Science and Gender & Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Elizabeth Lwanga, Board Chair, Women’s International Peace Centre, Lisbeth Pilegaard, Nordic Women Mediators Network, Denmark and Executive Director of the Danish Institute for Partners and Democracy, Prabha Sankaranarayan, CEO, Mediators Beyond Borders International, Dora Christine Kanabahita Byamukama, Former Member of Parliament in Uganda and former member of the East African Community Legislative Assembly, Imani Duncan-Price, former Government Senator and Co-Executive Director, Caribbean Policy Research Institute and Prof. Magda Hinojosa, Director of the School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University who will unpack the following questions:
- What are the factors leading to a decline in the quality of our democracies? How can women’s political participation contribute to turning the tide of democratic erosion?
- Is women’s participation shifting the definition of leadership? Does women’s political participation change/shift power relations and accountability? What has been the value of having women in political spaces?
- How can elections be organized differently to allow women’s meaningful participation and to influence the political process?
- What are the lessons learnt on women’s political participation and what are innovative responses to deal with the longstanding constraints of women’s political participation?
- How can women run for office and/or participate in the political processes when increasingly it requires substantial amounts of money?
This discussion will be moderated by Luz Maria Martinez, Io International.
Register and join the conversation here: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMudOmpqzgqHdShvP7sufVwuNuoL-ILMCZM