Jun 16, 2010

50/50 Campaign

Much has been said about Rwanda’s gender balanced parliament – it recently superseded Sweden as number one in the world in terms of women’s parliamentary representation with 56.3 percent against Sweden’s 47.3 percent. President Kagame also appointed women to nine of 28 ministerial positions.

Malawi also looks to be making strides in this direction to meet the SADC protocol on Gender and Development target of 50 percent women in political and decision-making positions by 2015. A 50/50 campaign  launched to “ensure that more women than ever before sit in local government seats before the November election” is gaining steam. This campaign comes on the heels of an increase in the number of women representatives elected into parliament. Women now constitute 22 percent of the parliament up from 14 percent.

The numbers are obviously impressive and cannot be easily overlooked. However, what I think is even more impressive is the work happening behind the scenes. In Rwanda, UNDP and the Netherlands funded a project to train women in decision making, strengthen women’s civil society organisations and establish structures for women at all government levels.

In Malawi, the strategy employed has been to take women through community mobilisation meetings to introduce the candidates and push the message for why they would be suitable candidates for office. Support has also been provided to gain air time on radio, production of campaign materials and providing transportation.

Women are currently very active in civil organisations and grassroots movements, and it’s quite logical that many are taking the next step into public policy and legislative positions. These are the people with experience in mobilising communities, and that experience is beneficial.
So, if we look at the Rwanda experience, since they have been leading the way in Africa since 1994 are there tangible benefits to having a more gender balanced parliament and cabinet? And if there are can these be replicated in other parts of the continent such as Zambia?

Yes, there have been benefits!        

With the continued presence of women in parliament and their increased number, there has been a normalisation in the discussion of topics that are of great significance to women - these would include gender-based violence, inheritance and property rights.  This has indeed translated into the passage of legislation friendly to women.

Of course these laws have been passed with the help of the male members of parliament and that cannot be understated. With that said, I believe it is important to recognise that without a significance presence of women willing to tackle the issues they know face millions of the country women this would have taken longer to accomplish if at all.

A lot of good work is done in civil organisations because they tend to draw attention to the issues that would otherwise be overlooked or ignored all together and with partners in key government positions and decision-making positions more can be accomplished. And I hope other countries will learn from the Rwandese to help make our societies more equitable for both men and women.

Numbers in politics do matter! 

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