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African Women and Political Participation: A Worrying Trend

The small presence of African women in political arena is becoming a worrying trend. The reason being, many African states sign and commit themselves to promoting gender parity in political participation, but end up shelving the agreement even before the ink gets dry. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is trying its best but, structural and functional constraints faced by women in Africa are shaped by social and political relations in society. Some of the factors that lead to exclusion of women from political participation include social political discourses, political structures and institutions as well as socio-cultural patterns. Several changes have affected women’s socio- political stand but women have not yet achieved a favorable and expected position in society and particularly in politics. Audacious, determined, and committed as they are, African women are striving to assert an influential role in determining the course of their states but, they have been faced with many challenges that have actually strengthened their resolve. However, there is a growing civic consciousness in the socio-political sphere about the participation of women in politics and it is yet to bore more fruit. The few women who are actively engaged in politics are demanding for their political space and their optimism about the future seem to keep them pushing towards an all-inclusive politics.

It is worth noting that the level of women political participation in Africa has slightly improved thanks to advancement in general rate of literacy and political awareness. But, much still remains to be done i.e., in as far as the number of women in active politics is concerned. African customary and traditional laws that have always given more power and control over resources and decision-making processes to the men are to be continually challenged. Women empowering programs particularly in rural areas needs to be strengthen. Some women in influential political positions are trying to cease this opportunity to influence and promote legislations and public policies that would favor their fellow women in society in diverse ways. The reason being, these strategic positions offer women a platform to see to it that programs and projects that target and empowerment women are designed and implemented.

A full and equitable participation of women in politics has also some ethical implication such as solidarity, common good and human dignity. The benefit of involving women in shaping the destiny of the Continent makes this African proverb come true “You cannot kill a louse with one finger” or better yet,  a Swahili saying, umoja ni nguvu i.e., unity is strength. The more our women and men collaborate in our political endeavors, the more developed the Continent becomes. Furthermore, opportunity to prove personal and group worth in democratic political participation extends the opportunity for women to prove their worth, individually and collectively for the good of the society. Human dignity can only be recognised and protected only in community with others.

An example at hand is the just concluded party primary elections in Kenya where a handful of women secured tickets to compete with their male counterparts for various posts in the upcoming general elections. At this time around, under the new Kenyan Constitution, one could have expected the number of women seeking for political posts to increase but, on the contrary, intimidations, biases, prejudices, financial constraints, and violence during campaigns threaten women but these have not silenced their voices. What is striking thought is an overwhelming number of women who were elected back by their political parties. More still, one woman is contesting for presidency while one has been picked as a running mate. These women were suddenly voted back because the people of Kenya and their Counties could attest of their excellent work while in parliament or in various cabinet positions. The stage is now set for general elections in Kenya and other African countries and one thing remains; African women will face off with their male contestants and I am optimistic of their win. Our African ancestors said ‘when you see some clouds gathering remember the rain is about to fall.’ And so, is the African women’s political participation. Lastly, African states need to remain true to the commitments they signed and see to it that gender parity prevails while women ought to remain focused and keep their eyes on the common good.