8 March 2012 DIPD, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Gendernet, Kvinfo and Africa Contact launch the publication “Countries in Transition: Options for Women’s Political Participation”. The publication summarises the main arguments presented by experts from Egypt, Tunisia and Zimbabwe speaking at the conference “Countries in Transition: Options for Women’s Political Participation” held 8 December 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Read more
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The need to go beyond formal political rights and address patriarchal attitudes took centre stage when civil society actors and researchers from Egypt, Tunisia and Zimbabwe gathered in Copenhagen to discuss how to strengthen women’s political participation.
“We need to address the elephant of patriarchy”, Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu from International IDEA stressed as a response to how to support the voice of women in political decision-making.
While 95 percent of the world’s countries have granted women the right to vote and stand for election, the perception of women as vulnerable and without the stamina for politics is still widespread and thus excluding women from political life.
The need to go beyond formal political rights and target cultural barriers to the political participation of women resonated well with discussions among the 50 participants who participated in the conference arranged by Africa Contact, Gendernet and the Danish Institute for Human Rights with the support of DIPD and KVINFO.
Family or Politics
In Zimbabwe, women are expected to take care of children and family. This position is often exploited to silence the demand for democracy in the country, Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly, explained.
Women taking part in the struggle for democracy have become a key target for the political motivated violence that has characterized the political landscape in recent years. They face sexual violence and other physical abuse simply as their role as family caretakers make them extremely vulnerable vis-à-vis men. In the words of Madhuku: “If you target the woman, you target the family”
Political violence targeting women is thus both a tool to defend the position of the regime as well as a “weapon to defend a male dominated political scene”, Madhuku explained. A tactic, which often forces the woman to make a choice: family or politics?
Egypt – Democracy without Women?
Egypt is presently undertaking its first democratic parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak, President of more than 30 years, was toppled in February. There is, however, still a lot to be desired in terms of the inclusion of women, Marwa Sharafeldin, co-founder of Network for Women’s Rights Organizations in Egypt and the Young Arab Feminist Network, argued.
As in the case of Zimbabwe, women in Egypt are expected to take care of children and family. Cultural norms which over time have become intertwined with religion. People who wish to preserve a male dominated political scene thus often refer to religious concepts as basis for their position, Sharafeldin explained: “people say: ‘this is religious. You can’t argue against it because it is from God’”.
Sharafeldin pointed to the current elections as an example of how women continue to be excluded from politics. While the political parties abide by a recent law requiring them to include at least one woman on their party list, both religious and liberal parties have shown reluctance to place women at the top of their lists thus limiting their chances of election.
Sharafeldin urged for a distinction between cultural norms and religious concepts and called for a need to reclaim religion used by some “as an alibi to escape dialogue and escape being criticized”, thus opening up discussions on how to address the cultural norms still excluding women.
Change the Mindsets
Women are vulnerable, in need of male guardianship and unsuited for political life. Perceptions such as these continue to pose a major barrier for the recognition of women’s participation as an integral part of democracy, the participants agreed.
There is therefore a need for actors who wish to support the political participation of women to go beyond formal political rights and address the question of culture.
As Kandawasvika-Nhundu argued at the end of discussions:“an essential element for creating an enabling environment for women’s political participation is changing the mindsets – we are not short of conventions and agreements”.
Violence, discriminatory legislation and patriarchal attitudes are just some of the obstacles to the political participation of women.On 8 December 2011 an international conference co-organised by DIPD will address these challenges facing women today. Read more