The convergence of presence and influence of women in positions of leadership emerged as a priority theme during the three-day peer exchange for 30 women leaders from across East and Horn of Africa that was hosted by Hbs Nairobi from 24th to 26th September 2013 in Nairobi. This is because, presence alone does not always guarantee that the woman occupying a political position has influence to define the agenda and make transformative impact. The peer exchange paid focus to this question by critically reflecting on the virtue of quotas in transforming governance.
The group of parliamentarians, civil society leaders, academics and grassroots women organizers attending the peer exchange was drawn from Burundi, Somalia, Somaliland, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Interestingly, whilst affirmative action mechanisms have been entrenched in almost all these jurisdictions (with the exception of Somaliland), the outcome of the measures in terms of numbers and transformation of governance has not been the same. Amb. Joy Mukanyange who has worked for decades on gender equality in her country Rwanda lamented on the dangers of purely aiming to increase numbers “women can get complacent and comfortable. (As with male politicians) they work on their (political) positions more than for woman’s causes.”
Globally, only 30 countries have been able to achieve 30 per cent women representation in parliaments, all of them due to entrenching Affirmative Action mechanisms in their political processes. Among countries that have registered remarkable progress in the representation of women through quotas is Rwanda which currently stands at 64 per cent, Tanzania at 36%, Uganda at 35%, South Africa at 42.3%, Angola at 34.1%, Burundi at 30.5%, and Mozambique at 30%.
Achieving a critical mass of women in political processes has been of paramount importance to enable women to participate equitably in the economic, social and political transformation of society. However the quest to make affirmative action quotas calls for additional measures and new strategies to equalize the exercise of power. As Hon. Betty Achan from South Sudan comments, despite the presence of women in the executive, “women are often the deputies not the head. Women are rarely in the kitchen cabinet of the president…”
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