Democratic, responsive and accountable forms of governance demands women’s participation and representation. While evolving political systems across Africa have been perceived to enhance women’s representation and participation in the last 5 decades, it has not necessarily fundamentally transformed women’s everyday lived realities. As a response the Heinrich Böll Foundation initiated the Engendering Leadership Project (ELP), collaboration between three HBF Africa offices, (South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya) which aims to foster responsive political leadership, governance and accountability on furthering gender equality and a women’s empowerment agenda.
The initial objective of the project to foster learning and networking between feminist academics, activists and political actors from the 3 African countries has yielded a clearer conceptual understanding of obstacles related to the participation of women beyond the issue of numbers. A jointly developed framework links questions of access with agenda setting and accountability – all three being closely related key factors in advancing participation and engagement of women in leadership.
In the next phase the project will focus more directly on the contradiction between the existence of gender machineries, constitutional protections, and measures of affirmation action for women on the one hand and the slow progress in securing full rights for women on the other. The reason for this seems to be the existence of a parallel system of norms and values that is operating within society and actively works in opposition to any achievements in formal institutions. It is hence the objective of the project that “advocates for gender equality in Africa are visible and vocal in challenging interpretations of norms and values that undermine democracy and gender equality”.
In 2013, the project was supported by a part-time coordinator based in Nairobi, Kenya. It continues to build on the expertise of reference groups in each of the three participating countries. Experiences shared on challenging a rigid normative framework that undermines women’s access to power, their ability to set a women friendly agenda and stay accountable to their constituency in each of the three countries will be brought together in an African wide conference in 2013. Testimonies of women on all levels will contribute to a better understanding of the workings of deep patriarchic structures that hinder the emergence of governance that actively promotes gender equality. At the same time the project will create forums and formats for gender advocates across Africa to discuss and debate related conceptual issues and develop counter narratives that provide positive interpretations of local norms and values in support of engendered democratic governance.
You can watch here the Engendering Leadership Project (ELP) Africa Videos: "The stories of 9 African women politicians"