Women, Youths, Thrive in Politics despite Constraints

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Paul Ejime

NOTWITHSTANDING their social, religious, educational handicaps women, youths, minorities and people with disabilities are still able to thrive in politics in West Africa

Women, youths, minorities and people living with disabilities in the ECOWAS region seem to have been able to surmount various inhibitions to fully participate in local and national politics. This was the view of Paul Ejime of the ECONEC secretariat in his presentation at the ECOWAS Conference on Electoral Assistance in West Africa, held in Cotonou, Benin Republic, between March 27 and 29.

Ejime, who listed some of the constraints as socio-cultural; patriarchal Society; religion; psychological barriers; gender role ideology; education disparity; poverty/economic factor;  lack of segregated data on minorities; absence of inclusive laws at country level and non-ratification/domestication and/or implementation/enforcement of international and regional instruments by countries.

That notwithstanding, he noted that in gender mainstreaming Rwanda was a shining example in Africa. He said there was also some major success stories among the ECOWAS countries.  “Incidentally, as noted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, many of the countries with the highest proportion of women in decision-making structures are in post-conflict countries,” he said.

Besides, he said Sierra Leone and Liberia had continued to demonstrate significant improvement in overall governance equality. Citing the example of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia as Africa’s first elected woman president with 59 percent of the votes cast and was sworn into office in January 2006.

Ejime similarly recognised the fact that she won re-election in 2011 and also received the Nobel Prize the same year. “Liberian women represented 50 percent of registered voters, and in seven out of 15 counties, they made up the majority of registered voters. A woman chaired the National Electoral Commission, NEC, and two of the five appointed commissioners were women,” he said.

Despite the relative achievements, Ejime said women’s participation, issues of inclusivity and/or marginalisation remained contentious in Liberia as in other places in ECOWAS countries.

Nevertheless, he argued: “It is unfair to deny these groups their rightful place in politics. Discontentment/disaffection by women who constitute 100 percent of the population or more, and the teeming number of restive employed youths can trigger or fuel political conflicts.”

The lecturer, therefore, recommended “effective planning to determine the number and location of politically marginalised groups; Implement/enforce existing instruments, amend or enact new inclusive laws; address socio-political, religious, poverty/economic and cultural impediments; empower women and youths through deliberate national and regional policies – education, reserving some seats in Parliaments & decision-making organs for women, youth, minorities and PWDs.”

He suggested attitudinal change by men, women and women’s groups to cultivate rather than antagonise the men for effective gender-mainstreaming and inclusive interventions would be required.

According to him, “A true democracy is characterised by the full and equal participation of all citizens qualified to vote and be voted for (Universal Adult Suffrage), under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, covering – right to life, freedom of association, assembly, freedom against discrimination etc.”

He said this was why there had been support from international, regional and national inclusivity instruments such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Beijing Declaration and Affirmation Action 1995; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW; AU African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights;  AU Declaration on the Principles governing democratic Elections in Africa 2002; AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance 2007; ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, among others.

—  Apr 10, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT

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