* By Essete Fitha-Amlak
In the month of October, Elle UK magazine photoshopped men out of public life pictures to showcase the fact that we have very few women in the different global leadership and political positions as part of their Feminism campaign dubbed #MoreWomen. The pictures give a stark reality of the world we live in, eerily empty of women’s leadership with heavily male dominated power positions. Indeed the imbalanced gender representation in leadership is not new to all of us, however the campaign highlighted the glaring truth that more needs to be done to achieve gender parity in the political sphere.
But why does it remain difficult for women to access political and decision making spaces in the 21st century?
The intensity of the answer to that question may vary depending on which continent we are referring to in spite of the fact that women around the world face common obstacles. African women in particular are bound by strong cultural backgrounds and patriarchal societal structures. Many African countries and their political parties for example, have affirmative action embedded in their constitutions which have mandated reserved seats for women. The challenge however is that unseen barriers are erected to bar these women from taking up leadership. Women need access to education and resources that would enable them to overcome these straining cultural practices and gender stereotyping to take advantage of leadership opportunities and access decision making spaces.
Allow me to take charge of your imagination for a minute. Picture your average African woman. The common picture that we have been led to imagine is that of the desperate mother with her youngest child on her back carrying a big basket with fruits on her head and walking barefoot on a long narrow and dusty road. There is need to change the narrative so that we can imagine African women taking up leadership positions in the political sphere, as leaders in their communities, as decision makers. Years of campaigns in the women’s movements, better legislations and constitutions have paid off and paved the way for more African women to gain access to leadership. To date we have African women have defied the obstacles to become heads of the state and heads of government with many women winning parliamentary seats. Today, Africa is a leader in women’s parliamentary representation globally with some African countries exhibiting the world’s highest rates of representation e.g. Rwanda where women hold 64% of the country’s legislative seats.
Defying existing social structures.
Honest, an Akili Dada Fellow from Uganda, runs a social change initiative called Girls to Lead Africa which aspires to defy the existing social structures by building girls’ capacity to prepare them for leadership and decision making roles. While she is empowering the girls, she is also pursuing her own political dreams of becoming a member of parliament. Serving as an example, Honest, is showing girls that political leadership is an achievable dream for young women.
Her election manifesto is very gender sensitive and key on her agenda would be to address the gender imbalance that is represented in Ugandan politics. Honest will add her voice as an advocate for the 40% rule that seeks to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the country. Honest builds the case for this change based on the realities on the ground, such as the fact that even though Article 78(1) of the Ugandan Constitution states that the Ugandan parliament shall consist of 1 woman representative for every district, which are 112 in number, the current representation stands at 17 women. This shows the urgent need to implement the 40% rule. Her manifesto is centered on the need to adopt policies and/or quotas to promote women’s full participation at all levels of decision-making. She advocates for the inclusion of women by addressing gender discriminatory laws and customs as well as ensuring better laws and/or policies for women.
Kansime believes that the Akili Dada fellowship has empowered and mentored her political career in many ways. She has applied the trainings acquired during the fellowship, such as design thinking and has directly applied this to her political career. Kansiime also follows up on Akili Dadas’ Community Leaders Training activities, a project that works with aspiring young women politicians preparing them for value based leadership. She has had the opportunity to hear and learn from other female politicians' experiences which has added value to her story and encouraged her in her pursuits. The girls in the social change initiative she has, are also inspired by her experience that they also aspire to be politicians, presidents, speakers and leaders in different social spheres. They have been empowered to dare to dream big.
The participation of women in politics has proven to yield better governance practices and results. Research on panchayats (local councils) in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils. This is one minor proof to show how much the world is in need of women’s leadership. Kansiime believes that the world has lost considerably by excluding women from leadership for quite some time. She strongly believes that female law-makers make policies that are more inclusive and therefore translate into better results for greater public good. Honest hopes that her journey to political leadership will leave a positive impact on her community and would serve as a turning point for women’s leadership in Africa.
If things are going to change for better in Africa, women need to have a key role.