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WOMEN POLITICIANS IN AFRICA

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the "Iron Lady of Liberia"

Women seem to shy away from active politics when compared to their male counterparts, who have long dominated the world of politics. As a result, there has been to an unequal representation of gender in the political arena.

In an effort to give women more power, most countries in the world have however introduced minimum quotas either through constitutions or national legislations or through political parties. The Welsh assembly set a world record on 02 May 2003 when it became the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women. Women’s rights groups hailed the breakthrough after 30 women were elected to the 60-strong assembly.

In Africa, women are today rising to the occasion and taking on politics and according to a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda is believed to have the world’s highest proportion of female members of parliament (56%)

In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf aka the “Iron Lady of Liberia” made history by becoming Africa’s first elected female head of state.

In April this year, Joyce Banda who was the first female Vice President of Malawi became the first female President of Malawi following the demise of former president, Bingu Wa Mutharika.

Senegal, which held its elections on 26the February this year, made history when, for the first time; the country’s Constitutional Court qualified two women candidates to contest in the Presidential Election. Professor Amsatou Sow Sidibe and

Prof Wangari Maathai the first African woman to receive the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize

Madam Dieng Douma Diakhate qualified out of a list of 14 presidential candidates.

WHAT THE WOMEN IN POWER HAVE DONE SO FAR IN AFRICA

Since its inception, female leadership has proved to be essential for democracy, development and for peace. Studies in the US have proved that whenever there are more women in congress, issues that matter to women e.g. family, children, healthcare and education gain prominence.

Sirleaf who took over a shattered nation whose infrastructure had been destroyed during the civil war in Liberia has seen the country get a face lift, introducing running water and electricity to the capital for instance. Liberia had previously accumulated a huge foreign debt (approximately US$4.9billion in 2006) which she has managed to substantially reduce. In 2007 The United States became the first country to grant debt relief to Liberia, waiving the full $391million owed to it. Sirleaf has also seen to the creation of a “national peace and reconciliation initiative,” led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee. In 2011, together with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman of Yemen , Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Joyce Banda of Malawi in her part has so far worked on mending international ties with Western donors whom the former President Mutharika, had fallen out with, and as a result the country had been faced with a dire shortage of foreign currency, fuel and essential drugs .Banda’s outreach, which has yielded fruits so far, was imperative considering that Malawi depends mostly on western donors for financial support.

Here in Kenya most of the women in parliament have advocated for reforms and introduced Bills that address the plights faced by women and children. The late Prof Wangari Maathai who had served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kibaki’s government, became the first African woman to receive the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

Presidential hopeful Martha Karua

Nominated MP Njoki Ndug’u introduced the SEXUAL OFFENCES ACT (2006) which defines tough penalties for perpetrators of sexual offences. (see this article for reference)

More recently the Public Health Minister Beth Mugo tabled the Breast Milk Substitutes (Regulation and Control) Bill 2012 whose aim according to its sponsors, is to regulate the marketing and distribution of breast milk substitutes (BMS) by providing “safe and adequate nutrition for infants.”

Presidential hopeful Martha Karua early this month paid out Sh 250,000 for mothers who had been detained at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi for failing to pay their bills and has since promised to have all mothers in Kenya enjoy free maternal health care in all public hospitals once she becomes the President of Kenya in March next year.

The 2010 maternal mortality rate in Kenya per 100,000 live births was 530 compared with 413.4 in 2008 with some regions reporting MMRs of 1,000/100,000 live births) in 2008/9.

Karua was also behind the implementation of the Water Act 2002, which has since accelerated the pace of water reforms and service provision in Kenya, during the period she served as the Minister of Water Resources Management & Development.

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN THE POLITICAL ARENA IN THE WORLD INCLUDE

  • Condoleezza Rice who was the first black woman to be appointed the 66th Secretary of State of the United States and was also the first female National Security Advisor. Subsequent to her confirmation as Secretary of State, Rice initiated the policy of Transformational Diplomacy with a focus on democracy in the Greater Middle East.
  • Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor who was the first woman to hold that office.
  • Nancy Pelosi who the first woman in history to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives and is considered to be the highest ranking female politician in U.S. history.
  • Sonia Gandhi, the President of the Indian National Congress and leader of the United Progressive Alliance — the ruling party in the lower house of India’s Parliament.
  • Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s first elected female President; Argentina is the second-largest country in South America and also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The above women have clearly demonstrated that given a chance, women have the ability to lead. Aminata Tall of Senegal could not have put it any better when she said;

Men seek power in order to become someone, but women seek power to do something”.

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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