WLSA drafts a model law to address the participation of women in politics

November 30th, 2021

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Zimbabwe held a virtual meeting on the political participation of women on 23 September 2021, under the theme: ‘Enhancing the inclusion of women in political participation in Africa’. The National Director of WLSA, Fadzai Traquino, in her opening remarks gave a brief background on how the project, which is supported by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, has been implemented. She said that the project has taken three-years to complete, with five partners namely, FEMNET (The African Women’s Development and Communication Network), Forum for African Women Educationalists, Gender Links, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop-Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire and Padare/Enkundleni Men’s Forum on Gender. She added that WLSA has conducted surveys in seven African countries, where the organisation observed electoral laws, the electoral systems and the measures that have been put in place to include women’s participation towards the journey of gender equality.

Ms Traquino pointed out that a part of the WLSA’s realisation was that several African countries have committed themselves through being signatories and ratifying international and regional instruments from the United Nations to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and moving back to the African continent and observing the African Union and a number of policy frameworks around gender inclusion and gender parity. She said that targets have been set across most of these instruments, either related to 30% in terms of a target in gender equality of 50%. However, she added that most of the African countries are still struggling to meet these targets. ‘Although we also recognise that within new emerging democracies, constitutions have also been reformed to remove discriminatory clauses, to remove laws or deal with barriers and hindering to women’s participation and gender parity within certain legal frameworks,’ Ms Traquino said.

Ms Traquino added that there is still a lot that can be done to reform by looking closely at legislative frameworks to enhance the participation of women and be able to meet the targets. We also recognise political parties, several studies have been completed to audit from a gender perspective, the political parties across the continent, and WLSA also recognise that in order for women to participate in electoral processes and decision-making processes, especially in the politics arena, they have to participate also in political parties. She said political parties, however, are not necessarily gender inclusive and there are several barriers that have also inhibited women from participating or being included in decision-making processes in most political parties.

Ms Traquino pointed out that changing the face of politics requires that women go beyond the political ambitions that they have. We must look at the policy, we must look at the legal framework as well, to see to what extent women can utilise it as a tool to commit and enhance women’s political participation. In so doing the consortium then agreed that it may be prudent for WLSA to develop a model gendered Pan Africa framework, which can be shared across different countries as the best model on how countries can strengthen their legislative framework to adopt measures that are inclusive and allow women’s participation.

Phillip Muziri briefly explained the main content of the discussion paper by WLSA. The summary of the paper states that without the participation of women in decision-making processes, debates about policy priorities and options, which are issues of great importance to women will either be neglected, or the way in which they are addressed will be sub-optimal and informed by women’s perspectives. Mr Muziri pointed out the main features include –

  • literature review;
  • general principles of gendered electoral law;
  • the pre-election phase and gender equality;
  • the post-election phase gender equality; and
  • observations, conclusions and recommendations.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Stanley Nyamanhindi said that there are a lot of good laws out there but all that matters is the implementation of those laws. He presented the draft titled ‘Model Law for the Pan African Model Gendered Electoral Law’ prepared by himself, Obert Bore together with Aminata Ruwodo to WLSA, pointing out that the objectives of the Model Law are to provide model provisions that assist Member States to enact laws on elections that aim to –

  • consolidate electoral democracy through creating gendered normative standards to regulate the conduct of the electoral process;
  • mainstream gender into the electoral obligations for states that are scattered in various electoral instruments, such as the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the Benchmarks for Assessing Democratic Elections in Southern Africa;
  • assist in the domestication and implementation of the gender principles, guidelines and obligations;
  • provide for key gender considerations that ought to be made in the regulation of all aspects of the electoral cycle and electoral processes;
  • promote a cordial approach to gender mainstreaming in election observation and election management, as a means of achieving democracy;
  • promote gender responsive electoral reforms, the strengthening of electoral institutions and the entrenchment of democratic elections;
  • facilitate the development of inclusive and participatory electoral systems, practices and processes to advance peace, mitigate conflict, and deepen democracy; and
  • promote constitutionalism and the strengthening of institutions of democracy such as political parties, electoral management bodies (EMBs) and statutory commissions that are key for electoral governance such as the human rights, gender, and anti-corruption commissions.

Mr Nyamanhindi added that this Model Law on Elections is non-binding, however, it is persuasive in guiding gender responsive law reform and in particular electoral law. It serves as a blueprint to comprehensively guide law and policy makers in modelling gender responsive domestic election laws.

The draft Model Law has more than 15 components and, among others, it includes –

  • principles of elections;
  • the electoral management body;
  • electoral systems;
  • delimitation of electoral boundaries;
  • timing of the election;
  • political parties and election candidates;
  • electoral code of conduct;
  • campaigning;
  • media;
  • polling stations; and
  • checklist essential for electoral law framework.

When making remarks, one of the attendees said that he acknowledged that the paper is comprehensive and looks like a solid base for a good Model Law. He added that there is no doubt that WLSA will produce a good Model Law, however, the concern is: How to make sure that the Model Law is embraced by member states? He pointed out that most of the electoral laws in the continent are not necessarily bad, but they are deliberately not implemented. He said political parties and politicians must not be spared and that the broader society implements the laws that are put in place.

Another attendee said that there is no doubt that more women are needed to get involved in the aspects of the political process. Equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building and sustaining strong and vibrant democracies. The speaker added that women are on the ground and know what is happening in communities, but women are left out of making the decisions and women can play a greater role, not only in participating in politics but also in shaping policy reformed. She pointed out that there should be a move on how to get men to understand that women have a role in society and in politics. She said this will require a fair amount of increased support by women’s organisations to promote women.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.