Panel 12

The quest for fair political participation and representation: African women in national Parliaments

Panel organiser: Veronica Federico, University of Florence, Italy

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In the last two decades, several African countries have moved from the very bottom to the very top of the world-based list of the countries in terms of women's participation in national Parliaments (as it is the case of Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Angola). According to the most recent data (Inter-Parliamentary Union, Dec 2015), the regional average of sub-Saharan women in Parliament is 23,1%, which is a little higher than the world average, but still far from the Northern European countries average of 41,1%.

While the literature on women members of Parliament outside Africa has become quite consistent, little attention has been paid to African female members of Parliaments. The purpose of this panel is to shed light on this specific aspect of women's empowerment and democratic achievement. The panel seeks to provide pertinent answers to the following questions: why electing more women in African Parliaments? How should equal representation be accomplished (electoral systems; quotas; parties' political orientation; women political mobilization, etc..)? Are African women's interests better represented by electing more women to national legislatures? What are the impacts of an increased female political representation in African Parliaments on the legislation, on the institutions and institutional culture, on civil society, on the political landscape, on the media, etc..? Are there best practices and lessons to be learned? And finally, will a stronger female presence in Parliament increase and enhance democracy in Africa?

The panel aims to bring together scholars from different disciplinary perspectives and to encourage a systematic, interdisciplinary conversation about the presence of women in African Parliaments vis-ā-vis contemporary debates in the socio-political, legal, cultural, economic and geopolitical realms. Interested participants are invited to submit both theoretical and empirical papers, and specific case-studies as well as cross-country comparisons are welcome.

Keywords: women's political participation, African Parliaments, women's political representation

Approved abstracts panel 12

1. Who is pursuing women’s interests in the North Africa Region?

Author: Tania Abbiate (Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy, Germany)

The traditional underrepresentation of women in the Parliments of North African countries has recently undergone some changes, particularly through the introduction of a gender quota. As a consequence, the number of women MPs has increased: in particular Tunisia can boast the highest percentage of women MPs (68 out of 217) in the arabic-speaking North Africa, Egypt’s Parliament counts 89 out of 596 women, while Morocco has 67 women out of 395 representatives in the Lower House and 14 women out of 120 in the Upper House (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2016).
Despite the recent increase, it must be noted that these figures are extremely low when compared to Western countries. According to the Gender Gap Report 2015, Tunisia ranks 69th out of 147 countries in terms of political participation, while Morocco ranks 97th, and Egypt 136th. In addition, even if on one side the global comparison of numbers inspires by itself some reflections, on the other the most provocative issue concerns whether women MPs, when present, are actually able to pursue women’s interests.
Moving from the analysis of Tunisian experience, this paper will try to investigate the actors who drive women’s interests. At a first sight it appears that while women in society have deeply pushed for a political representation, once they seat in Parliament they display to be not so active in promoting women’s interests. An example is the fight occurred in Tunisia for the amendment of the Personal Status Code (PSC) enacted in 1959. Despite being remarkably progressive, the PSC entails some discriminations, especially in the area of succession rights. The effort for its modification, however, has been led more by civil society, and in particular by the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, than by women MPs. Similarly the recently adopted modification to the Law No. 40 of 14 May 1975, concerning passports and travel documents, which now allows children to travel with mothers without male authorisation, has been proposed by the Internal Ministry and by the Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood, thus by the Government and not by women MPs.
In conclusion, through an examination of such dynamics, an attempt will be made to identify similarities and differences with other cases in the area, in order to eventually draw some reflections on the strategies enacted to pursue women’s interests.

2. Critical perspectives on African patriarchal impunity in African national parliaments

Author: Susana Yene Chimy (CEFAM, Buea, Cameroon)

Women participation in national parliaments in Africa is marred by patriarchal impunity which is as corrosive as of neopatrimonialism in African politics. Patriarchal practises are those wild forms of African masculinity which tend to exclude or marginalise women in public spheres through direct intimidation or through the resuscitation, invention and misuse of culture, tradition and religion. In essence, patriarchy is the domination of women by men, and this relationship between the sexes exemplifies what the sociologist Max Weber calls Herrschaft, a relationship of domination and subordination.

This paper focuses on the manifestation of African patriarchial impunity in the legislatures of two African countries-Swaziland and Nigeria. Swazi patriarchal revivalism is the retreat of women members of parliament by 96 per cent after 2013 elections. The last 2013 legislative elections in Swaziland were a big waterloo for women as they lost all their seats. King Mswati III managed to appoint a few women to represent special interest groups. The potential threat of patriarchal impunity is represented by the systematic scathing attacks on the female Senate President, Mrs Zwane, by the Prime Minister for over two years now, repeatedly calling for her dismissal.

In the Nigerian House of Representatives, several attempts have been made, since the re-introduction of multipartyism, to marginalise women and reduce their role in politics. Senator Mohammed physically assaulted his female colleague, Senator Anisulowo, in October 2004. This assault was one of the scandalous climaxes of patriarchal impunity in Nigerian politics. A March 2016 bill seeking to guarantee women equal rights with their male counterparts in Nigeria was thrown out by the Senate when it was presented for consideration on grounds that it was anti-Islamic. Essentially, the cause of women's oppression is represented as lying in the timeless male drive for power over women.

Key words: Patriarchal impunity; African Politics; Swazi legislature, Nigerian Legislature.

3. When can electoral gender quotas be a tool for combatting corruption? The case of Tanzania

Authors: Elin Bjarnegård (Uppsala University, Sweden), Mi Yung Yoon (Hanover College, USA) and Pär Zetterberg, (Uppsala University, Sweden)

As more women enter into politics some studies report that increases in women’s legislative representation help reduce corruption. Other studies question this relationship and argue that it is spurious or goes in the other direction. One under-investigated issue is this debate is the role that electoral gender quotas play. Electoral gender quotas have been adopted in a large number of highly corruption-ridden countries. An important underlying ambition with gender quotas has been to disrupt the power that male-dominated intra-party patronage networks have had over candidate selection. Having an agenda-setting and theory-building ambition, this paper aims at addressing this research lacuna by, first, theorizing the relationship and presenting a framework for the potential links between quotas and corruption. Second, we show the usefulness of the theoretical framework by applying it on an empirical case: Tanzania. The paper argues that if electoral gender quotas are going to be used against corruption two necessary (albeit not sufficient) prerequisites are that they provide a clean slate, i.e. that quota candidates are recruited from new networks and that they are given their own mandate to act on a range of issues once in parliament. If quotas are instead implemented by ruling parties in electoral authoritarian regimes, there is a large risk that they will become yet another item on the “menu of manipulation” and that elected representatives will be expected to protect an already corrupt party line.

4. “A woman's place is in Parliament”. African women in national Parliaments

Author: Veronica Federico (University of Florence, Italy)

The participation of sub-Saharan women in Parliament is constantly increasing, and a number of African countries have moved from the very bottom to the very top of the world-based list of the countries in terms of women's participation in national Parliaments, and yet, in several countries Parliament remains a male-dominated field. The paper seeks to provide a general overview of the state of the art of the literature on women members of African Parliaments, against the evidence of numbers and specific case-studies, and to analyse the mechanisms to increase the female presence in African Parliaments on the one hand, and the impacts of an increased female political representation in African Parliaments on the legislation, on the institutions and institutional culture, on civil society, on the political landscape, on the media, on the other. Finally, the paper will discuss the importance of a stronger female presence in Parliament toincrease and enhance democracy in Africa.

5. Gendering institutions – The role of the party structures for women’s political representation in Parliament in Ghana

Author: Diana Højlund Madsen (Aalborg University, Denmark)

The paper explores the role of the party structures for the representation of women for the two major parties in Ghana – NDC the ruling party (National Democratic Congress) and NPP the major opposition party (New Patriotic Party). Paradoxically, Ghana was the first country in Africa to introduce a quota with ten reserved seats for women in Parliament by the first president Kwame Nkrumah but has now fallen behind other countries with a representation of 11 % women in the last elections in 2012. The paper explores if the party structures works as a barrier or possibility for the promotion of female candidates for Parliament and how the female Parliamentarians actually has made it into politics in Ghana within the gendered party structures. Drawing on the body of literature on feminist institutionalism the paper explores the dynamics of power and change relating to the party structures and how the responses have been from the party structures on initiatives to promote more female candidates in Parliament.

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