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Last Updated: 03/11/2009
Women and Politics
Edwin Nebolisa NWAKAEME

Though so many international laws exist that recognizes and gives rights to women to participate in politics like their male counterparts, women’s participation in politics is still very low in Africa. This is basically due to poverty and ignorant of the laws and the misconception of tradition that sometimes links with religion.

There is no valid reason that hinders women from actively participating in politics and it should also be noted that there is no reason that women enter politics they cannot pursue it as a prolonged career of service to their country and community. The problem however lies on prescriptive gender roles, patent and structural situation barriers that all combine to keep a high number of interested and dedicated political women low.

As many of these outlined barriers weaken the strength of women to effectively participate in politics and suddenly gives way, but despite all these since in the past few years, governments and human rights activists both at national and international level has been greatly concentrating in reforming laws that promote the right and welfare of women. It is hoped that women will move into political ranks where their presence may make a discernible difference in the quality of lives that affects them.

There has been a significant increase in the number of women MP’s in recent years. It represent 16.3% across all parliaments, though this represent only a marginal increase since 1975, when the participation rate of women was 10.9%. The most significant part have been in Africa and Latin America where on average there has been a gain of more than 5 points in the past 10years, again by adoption of quota for women, female representation in parliaments of at least 30% is widely considered to constitute a critical mass necessary to have a meaningful impact on the work of parliament.

Women in Arab countries remain particularly under-represented in parliaments; the regional average for women’s participation in lower houses is 8.2%, their participation in the last eight years assisted in large part by the implementation of different types of quotas in countries such as: Djibouti, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco.
A number of post-conflict countries rank high as regard to women’s participation in legislative bodies, averaging between 25-30% of women legislatives. In 2003, Rwanda became the country with the highest percentage of women in parliament at 48.8%.

In the Gambia a recent study on the status of women reveal that women represent 51% of the population but do not actively compete with their male counterparts in the selection of national assembly members. The number of women in parliament which saw an increase from 2.0% in previous years to 13.0% in 2001, witness a dramatic fall in the just concluded parliamentary election which is far below the United Nations recommended figure of 50%, while the 50% maybe on high side for the Gambia, the present 13% falls as got nothing to write home about to the recommended 30% as the next level in accordance with international standard.

The just concluded 2006 parliamentary election in the Gambia was a grievous blow to the entire process and campaign of women in leadership and decision makings and a slap on the face of gender equality campaigners in this 21st century. Out of the 53 seats only 5 went to women, it would be noted that it was only one woman that face a challenge and was elected by the people, while the other one was also elected unopposed and the other three were nominated members.

These also pose a serious concern for the Gambian women and an urgent call for attitude change from being Dancers, Clappers, Drummers and Cheerers at their own expense; and to become party flag bearers like their male counterparts.


Access to mainstream decision making and political power is tough on women. Women aspirants have to contend with difficult process of seeking the support of husbands, family and friends, problem of acceptance from party colleagues, problem of how to mobilize the necessary finance for campaign and they also have to endure the harsh realities of political campaigns in Africa, which can break the toughest of women. Just ask Mama Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and she will tell you her ordeals, “The story of her life”, her coming to power is not just a one day journey, and she can be best described as a “prisoner of conscience” has served in prison various times before becoming a president. The few who do survive the difficulties find it extremely difficult to work within structures which are still hostile to the empowerment and equality of women.

The existence of institutional policies and laws mechanism are bold step taken to achieve gender equality and equity but it strategic importance depend on the implementation and domestication of these laws which is still lacking though awareness creation has greatly increase in recent past years as these inputs will greatly help in assessing the level of political will for better justice and equality of women and men at both national and international representation.

And some other reasons that hinder women active participation in politics is that; politics is often not seen as a career goal for most women and therefore women sideline their ambition for a political life even if they want to pursue it. The motherhood role is also among the most important for women identity in politics. As motherhood and some odd hours and constant demand of time are require of politician can create problems, other women can also be denied to participate in politics by their spouses especially in a household where men are seen as the final decision makers. The lack of women politicians as role models is also another factor that contributes to women unequal role in politics.

Since gender equality and equity is among the highly prioritize once for the attainment of Vision 2020 and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), it should be generally noted that gender equality and equity greatly includes “Women access to decision making process” and this could hardly be achieve if women are extremely lacking behind in the political arena. Although individuals affect the time they live in, the social forces that arise from various social, economic and political institutions play a decisive role in creating situation where individual may choose to act. Many people may think women activism is a recent modern social phenomenon. But history of the present day activism can be extended back to many centuries, though the trend has greatly increased from the mid 1960’s to the present. This will no doubt change significantly in the social, economic and political structures of society. And despite the prevailing disparities of men and women in all developmental fields which also vary from country to country, the struggle continues.

Edwin Nebolisa NWAKAEME is editor-in-chief of Windows on Africa Magazine.