The objective of this exchange visit was to share experiences on challenges for empowerment of women and to discuss strategies for enhancing the participation of women in politics and decision making. The exchange visit brought together twelve female, and four male, politicians from Zambia, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania.
How did they do it?
The programme took place in Tanzania, as Tanzania is one of the few countries in Africa where women make up more than 30% of members in parliament. The participants in the programme were eager to find out how the Tanzanians were able to reach such high levels of female participation and whether the strategies to enhance women’s involvement had any potential negative effects.
Comparing women’s participation across Africa
The main component of the programme in Tanzania was a workshop with presentations from all countries on the challenges and strategies for enhancing women’s participation in decision-making in the region. The participants identified and shared gender-responsive policies and actions important for enhancing women’s ascendance to positions of leadership.
“What was different here, and what was so beautiful, is that we didn’t spend a lot of time in a room. The programme was made in such a way that we visited different kinds of organizations, and the political parties. This allowed us to learn on site.”
A delegate from Burundi
The delegates from Zambia, Burundi and Kenya described how the lack of affirmative action (in terms of an electoral quota system) negatively affected the position of women in their countries. The delegates from Uganda and Tanzania indicated that despite the existence of a framework for affirmative action in their own countries, there is still a significant gender imbalance.
The participants jointly identified factors constraining women including the lack of strong women’s organisations and an activist approach to women’s participation; the lack of financial, moral and political support for female candidates; and the lack of political will to undertake affirmative action, adopt special seats or introduce quota systems.
Besides the workshop, the delegates also met with political parties in Tanzania, and with women’s organisations, in order to appreciate their policies and efforts. Through those meetings the delegates learned of opportunities for collaboration between political parties and civil society organisations.
The gender dimension of development
Through the workshop delegates grasped and appreciated the gender dimensions of development in the five countries. It made them realise that the challenges women face, cross national boundaries.
The delegates also identified various challenges and prospects for empowerment of women and took home concrete strategies for enhancing the situation of women in decision-making. Prominent among the recommendations were the need to lobby for legal reforms to accommodate legislated affirmative action, training of women candidates, capacity building for political parties women’s wings, and the introduction of special seats for women.
The women also decided to discuss specific policy options within their political parties, in order to come up with unique gender responsive policies for adoption by their own political parties. Finally, the delegates expressed the desire to form a Women’s Forum in order to spearhead advocacy for administrative and policy changes.