Africa Misses Opportunity to Promote Equality in Elections

29 October 2020

African Agenda

The year 2020 will be remembered for various events that riveted global attention outside the normal and mundane routine of the economic, politics and sport.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent effects which literally ground the world to a halt for the first time in living memory, numbed most people with fear.

With thousands of deaths across the globe daily and the shocking increase of infections, particularly in the West, the future appeared uncertain.

It is the same year that Africa will also regard 2020 as a dynamic period in which 22 African countries held elections -- 12 of them presidential -- in a show of democracy despite the financial and social strain of having to deal with Covid-19.

As Africa is busy with elections, leaders are working hard to ensure that all the necessary measures are in place to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Free and fair elections appear to be the buzz phrase that all countries are agitating for to avoid re-runs in times like these where most resources are being channelled towards procuring PPEs and implementing the World Health Organisation set regulations.

However good, as this may sound, critics are also saying that presidential elections being held in at least 10 African countries would be a historic lost opportunity, after several African countries failed to field female candidates in these elections.

Countries that are expected to hold elections this week and before the end of the year include Central African Republic, Ghana, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania and Niger.

Malawi, Burundi, Cameroon have already held theirs which were highly contested and had predominately male candidates. A cursory glance at the presidential candidates in more than 10 African countries show that of the nearly 100 presidential aspirants who submitted their names for consideration, not more than 10 were women.

Malawi, which at one time had a female president, Joyce Banda, did not have any female candidature in its recent elections, which were won by President Lazarus Chakwera.

Guinea and Burkina Faso sought to play its part in creating equal space for women in politics by fielding two and three women presidential candidates respectively.

Of the 15 presidential candidates in the ongoing Tanzanian elections, less than 10 percent of those are women, a development that calls for urgent intervention to promote gender equality.

Women make up more than half of Africa's population, but their representation in politics in the past decade has been insignificant..

With a numerical significance of 52 percent against their male counterparts, women are least likely to hold political positions and exercise authority across the continent. They are also the majority of voters, but sadly they are not represented in politics and governance despite their calls for inclusion over the years.

What then could be the reason for this mismatch between numbers and political representation?

According to UN Women, two main obstacles prevent women from participating fully in political life. These are structural barriers, where discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women's ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

Systematic gender bias against female leadership, entrenched in socio-cultural and religious values that strongly assert that a woman's position is in the kitchen still persists in Africa.

Other sections of society choose to parrot the usual sentiments that women do not support each other without looking at systematic diversionary tactics that make it practically impossible for women to be elected despite their levels of ingenuity.

However, history has also shown that the dynamics between women's capabilities and ambitions on one hand, and the political will and political power of the "gatekeepers" of the parties on the other, determine the extent to which women can participate in local politics.

It's because of those institutional and physical barriers that have stalled the effective implementation of gender equality policies such as the quota systems. As Africa prepares to embrace the outcome of election results in several countries in the ongoing plebiscites, it is clear that women will not be anywhere near the continent's top political leadership after they failed to contest in these crucial elections.

Looking into the future, African leaders should walk the talk and prop up gender equality in politics.

The continent boasts a litany of protocols and legislative pieces that calls and encourages equal participation of women in politics and governance.

The African Union Gender Policy and the Maputo Protocol on the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa are some of the progressive legal instruments that African leaders need to use to elevate the political status of women in the continent.

Same aspirations are also clearly enunciated in regional charters such as the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development that promotes gender equality.

On country level, more than 90 percent of nations have a government bodies that deal with gender issues.

However, some critics feel that these units, departments or ministries "have become weak and are unable to be responsive" to the challenges presented by the struggle for gender justice, hence the decline in the number of women being voted into powerful political offices across.

Surely women cannot continue to gyrate and sing during political rallies, without anything falling into their plates from the political and governance pots.

The idea of holding elections has often been touted as show of democracy, yet the same elections do not create democratic spaces for women to flourish and achieve their political aspirations.

Africa has many women who are capable of occupying high political offices and positively contribute to the development trajectory that the continent is working on.

While the same women may have failed to make it in the ongoing elections taking place across Africa, that should not cloud the continent's vision to promote engendered leadership.

It remains the responsibility of Africa's member to continuously prop up women in political leadership to ensure diversification in governance and the promotion of pro-poor policies that cater for the majority.

Using the current existing protocols that are gathering dust across the continent, stakeholders in the gender equality discourse should begin to put in place second and third-generation strategies towards the sustenance of the equality narrative.

These will include ensuring that global trade agreements and new information and communications technologies provide immediate benefits to women.

In turn, the majority of financial constrained women will in the long run afford to run for political offices using own resources, while keeping abreast with political trends across the globe.

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