Campaigners of gender equality say countries in the Great Lakes region should implement various regional and continental legal instruments meant to boost the representation of women in election management bodies.
This piece of advice arose last week as experts pored over the gender gaps in the region, with some saying some of the political problems in the region are due to women staying out of leadership roles. Currently, only five countries out of the 11-member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have met the threshold of 30 percent of women representation in the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs).
Dr Jean-Paul Kimonyo, the Director of the Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre for Democracy and Good Governance says the threshold alone is not sufficient.
“Just having more women in the commission is not enough. Women must assert themselves and show their unique leadership because women have different ways of resolving conflicts,” he said.
The workshop convened in Nairobi on November 18 by the ICGLR secretariat and the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, came up with various suggestions that help members in legislation policy frameworks that promote gender equality and identify good practices for women's representation in EMBS, as per the Maputo Protocol.
According to Maureen Shonga, the Policy Specialist at the UN Office in charge of eastern and southern Africa, women’s political leadership within EMBs is fundamental because election management is where gender equality begins and it is a human right requirement of democracy since women’s full range of life experiences deserve to be represented.
“Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace cannot be achieved,” said Ms Shonga.
The Maputo Protocol of 2003 — also known as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa — is a landmark women’s rights treaty that provides tailor-made solutions to the problems facing African women.
A study by the ICGLR in 2021 established that women are, numerically fairly well represented in EMBs, with some countries surpassing the 30 percent requirement of women representation, while others are still struggling to meet the target. There, however, currently no women serving as chairpersons of an EMB in any of the member states.
Six ICGLR member states (Burundi, CAR, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia) have a woman serving as vice-chairperson of EMBs.
Rwanda, which leads the region in women’s representation at 61 percent, is also leading the 11 ICGLR member states in women’s representation in the EMB at 57 percent. Four out of the seven members of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) are women.
It is followed by Uganda and Burundi at 43 percent with three out of seven members being women, Zambia (40 percent), Central African Republic (36 percent), DRC (33 percent), Kenya and Tanzania (29 percent), and Angola at 18 percent. The data for Congo Brazzaville, while South Sudan — that has not held elections since independence in 2011 — is yet to create a substantial electoral body.
While Kenya Rwanda and Kenya have specific constitutional requirements on gender balance in public positions, with Kenya providing a constitutional requirement that there must be a gender balance on the two top positions in various commissions, the country is yet to meet its two-thirds gender rule as per the 2010 constitution.
The study also found that the appointment of women commissioners in EMBs is not often based on merit but is often done by heads of state followed by parliamentary approval. Hardly any parliament in the region has the independence to reject the appointees.
In Angola, with 11 members of the National Election Commission (NEC), two of them are nominated by the president, three by the ruling party, and three by opposition parties in the National Assembly.
Others are the justice of the Supreme Court, one representative of the Ministry of Territorial Administration, and one elected by the National Council of Social Communication.
Flaviana Mayutta, the Director of Gender at ICGLR, said that while some countries in the region have made progress in meeting the 30 percent women representation in EMBs, there is still the challenge of implementing political instruments of Maputo Protocol and Kampala Declaration.
“It is the better representation of women in Electoral Management Bodies that gives them the chance of representation in other bodies. All these can be solved when countries have the political will to implement regional and continental conventions of gender parity,” said Ms Mayutta.