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Women and Political Leadership in Africa: A demand In South Sudan transitional democracy

By Beny Gideon Mabor

April 22, 2013 - This policy brief tries to underline the importance of women in our society and in particular their role in the journey of nation building whether in the government or outside. Yet, there are many challenges facing them in their evolution to the surface of nation building specifically the prevailing exclusion or limited participation of women in politics and governance. The norms, customs and traditions of our society that have been largely recognized and became source of legislation vehemently disadvantaged women.

In this Paper, the author attempts to hold the Government at all levels to account in order to design inclusive techniques and putting forward proposals on how South Sudanese women can be fully supported, in order to flourish and function without sense of exclusion. It also calls on women including rural women to play a central role in the national development pursuits of the country and the building of a better South Sudan. For this ideal to be achieved, women’s participation in politics, governance and all walks of specializations needs to be promoted.

The research findings were result of numerous consultative seminars and workshops and finally the recent workshop organized by network of civil society orgainsation on the women participation in the constitutional making processing at Juba Civic Engagement Centre from 18-19 Aril 2013. This national consultative process attended by 17 organizations and supported by Justice Africa mark the launch of this opinion. Finally, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the current level of women’s political participation in South Sudan with allotted 25 % affirmative action, how practically it has been implemented or otherwise, and to highlight the main challenges facing women in accessing political structures, and to suggest strategies for overcoming these unfolding challenges.

1. Introduction

The Republic of South Sudan since independence on 9 July, 2011 is a youngest member state at some regional and international organizations including United Nations and African Union respectively. By such implication, the young republic still lack true democratic principles and system of governance that guarantee an equal participation of women in political leadership and other sphere of public life.
For record sake, there has been a list of 13 female leaders in Africa both Head of State and government, amongst them are former leaders and others are currently warming highest chairs of their countries. Congratulations to such women leaders who have resisted political turbulences and proved the contrary that women can do. Similarly, the aspiring women leaders in South Sudan at any institutional capacity should borrow a leaf from their counterpart in those African countries and beyond to make it a reality in South Sudan.

According to an edited opinion written by my senior colleague Mr. Dele Meiji Fatunla, a distinguished writer on African affairs and Editor for the Royal African Society online journal; he said “the continued dominance of political life in Africa by men is not good for men, it’s not good for women and it’s not good for the continent. I therefore add my voice that it’s not good for men and women in South Sudan and the region. The youngest state is surely owned by women and youth and their majority votes during self-determination referendum on 9 January, 2011 gave birth to the Republic of South Sudan.

According to 2008 Sudan fifth population and housing census, the women population is 3,973,190 and youth including young women represents 72% of total population. Certainly, we are confident that this situation of women domination in politics and governance must change too, in South Sudan and the political leadership under Salva-Administration must adhere to the principles of equal opportunity for all in the direct management of the affairs of South Sudan.

During a celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2013, in South Sudan, on the challenges facing them in the 21st century worldwide, the country’s ruling party Sudan Peoples, Liberation Movement SPLM organized a one day workshop in its party headquarters for recognition of women rights. The party Secretary General Mr. Pag’an Amum announces party plan to increase women participation quota to 35 % affirmative action at all levels of government in South Sudan. This is good news and the SPLM-led government must keep its promise in letter and spirit.

A month later, the network of civil society organizations hosted by the Voice for Change and South Sudan Law Society organized two days workshop on women participation in the constitutional making process from 18-19 April 2013 at Juba Civic Engagement Centre. The Workshop communiqué recommends many proposals to be included in the forthcoming permanent constitution. Chief amongst them includes increase to 50 % participation of women at all levels of government but not a language of an affirmative action.

The women-led civil rights group with some men including the author rejected and stresses that affirmative action is a provisional arrangement or delegation of powers by the appointing authority. It is not governed by a separate legislation to have effective force of law in its self and therefore, women are aware of the subsequent outcome of delegated powers. A case in point is the withdrawal of delegated executive competence to the Vice President Dr. Riak Machar, which has educated the public on implication of delegated powers.

At continental level, it is evident that African women have made remarkable progress in democratic intercourse and become part of governance. Today, women cling on the political leadership and occupy the presidency in Malawi and Liberia headed by H.E. Joyce Banda for the former and H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the latter. There are number of Vice Presidents and Deputy Prime Ministers in Africa such as Joyce Majuru of Zimbabwe; Dr. Aja Isatou Njie-saidy of Gambia; Fernando da Piedade Dias of Angola and Dr.Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma heading the African Union for the time since its establishment in 1963. At key institutional level, women are now the leaders of key ministries such as Hon. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Minister of Finance for Nigeria; Linah Moholo is the central governor of the Bank of Botswana as well as Parliamentary Speakers for Ghana and Uganda are women.

Generally, the African female leaders both current and former must be thanks for their valuable role in shaping the position of women in Africa as integral stakeholders in governance equally with men. In fact, there are unique leadership qualities in women leaders unlike men. A topical example is late Agathe Uwilingiyimana, former Prime Minister of Rwanda who allowed herself to be brutally murdered in 1994 Rwandan genocide, in order to save her children after her 15 guards were slaughtered during the genocide. May God rest her soul in peace!

2. Current Analysis of Women Participation In Governance

The women’s participation in politics and governance and access to decision-making can be crystal clear as the key indication of gender equality in a democratic society. The simple question may be what is actually meant by gender equality such proposers cause a lot of headache? And the simple answer too is that when both men and women are in the position to make or influence public decisions on the same footing without discrimination. Where are we in South Sudan to that effect? Is South Sudan gender-geared political entity?

Despite the said 35 % quota promised by the ruling party and the newly proposed equal share of 50% participation of women in decision making by civil society organizations; the legitimate question on the implementation of existing 25 % affirmative action for women representation at all level of government remain a big challenge. To what extent did the government and appointing authority in particular fulfils the 25 % affirmative action for women in South Sudan? In a detailed research data released by another colleague Mr. Augustino Ting Mayai, a Research Director at the Sudd Institute, entitled “SPLM politics of gender equality’, read together with my first hand research for the last two months, we concurrently found out a lot of gender disparities in the allocation of constitutional and civil services jobs.

In 2011, when the first post-independence government and the third reshuffle of the national government since 2005 was formed, only 5 women out of 29 ministers were appointed representing 17 % and marginally dropped to 14 % when Madam Awut Deng resigned and the ministerial post is not replaced to date. Out of 28 deputy ministers, 10 are women representing 34 %. The total representation in the ministries is 26.3 %. Therefore, I am of the opinion here that at least a fair representation has been done although it is strictly calculated not to exceed the minimum quota of affirmative action of 25 %. At the National Commission and Bureaus, the national government has 21 commissions and bureaus. The head of these institutions are political appointees and the data showed that only 2 % are women, while in the National Legislature, there are 382 law makers from the bicameral Assembly with 332 member of the National Legislative Assembly and 50 members of the Council of state respectively. In the lower chamber, there are 96 women representing 28 % while the upper house has 4 women representing 8 % respectively. Still, women fall below the allocated 25% in the National legislature, while undersecretaries represent 13 %. The institution at the State level are far beyond this constitutional obligation and State governors only represents 10 % and county commissioners at 2 .3% according the report of the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare in 2013.

In conclusion, I totally agree with our senior diplomat and political scientist Hon. Apuk Ayuel Mayen, in her policy brief published by the same Sudd institute, which is almost equal with my argument only on different angles. The learned Ambassador in her research titled “women in Peace making process in South Sudan” underline that “25 % allotted for women participation as a measure of redress is an attempt to rectify historical imbalance created by generational war that could not allow women to study and compete with men on equal footing. Unfortunately, this policy is misinterpreted to 25 % for women and they cannot compete again in the remaining 75 % allegedly calculated for men.

In other jurisdictions, despite challenges facing women in transitional democracies, nevertheless, the government of the day in some African countries managed the issue of gender sensitive a priority. Countries such Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya and Rwanda all rank highly for their level of women’s representation in parliament. The only country in the world with highest number of women in parliament is Rwanda. Therefore, Rwanda must be applauded for that decision. It is imperative for South Sudan women parliamentarians at all level of Assemblies to visit Rwanda and South Africa and dialogue with their counterparts on how they managed it to the peak of the August house.

During the liberation movement against Khartoum regimes, women tirelessly fought side by side with men to liberate South Sudan by proving food and shelters to the gallant fighting forces, producing and caring for children to join arm struggle and caring for wounded heroes and heroines. Women even formed their own battalion named as ‘Katiba Banat’, meaning women battalion. With these equal role manifested in the struggle; it is clear that the development of our country requires the full participation of women, who constitute large portion of population.

3. Policy Recommendations

After having read through the findings, the paper strongly believes the continue dialogue around gender sensitive issue will definitely yield good fruit in their favor. Nevertheless, I do agree that women in South Sudan as elsewhere in the world have diverse interests, but there is one thing that united them and that is the- women. Therefore, the following key policy recommendations need urgent implementation by the women and policy makers.

  • First, in order to change social attitudes towards women’s participation in public life, brought about by customs and traditions that degrade the level of women to preparation of food and caring for siblings under absolute whim of man; there is a great demand of public awareness to take place. This should take a long term approach, and include public awareness raising around gender, knowledge of democratic values and practices, the roles and responsibilities of voters’ as well how to hold elected officials accountable.
  • There is a need for women rights group to conduct research on statistical evidence about educated women in South Sudan, including their political colors and non-partisans women. It is imperative now before 2015 expected general elections to map out potential aspiring women at all levels of contestable offices. This exercise is significant for effective lobbying and policy change for aspiring women leaders to prove their alternative leadership, leading to the election and appointments into political leadership and other professional service.
  • Call on the donor community at all levels and other ambassadors of good will with financial capacity to fund civil society organizations and women group in particular to strengthening the capacity of such organizations mandated to address gender issues. Some NGOs in South Sudan so far have done good job and a lot is needed when funds prevail. The UN-women and other regional and international organizations on similar agenda need to organize women in the world youngest nation to fit uniform level of women participation in the world order.
  • Call on the national government to prepare a ‘national gender capacity development plan’ for civil servants, elected representatives, political parties, commissions and ministries. In practice, the same arrangements exist in Indonesia or pay a visit to that end and see applicable procedures. The women in Indonesia were facing similar exclusion in politics and governance more than South Sudanese women and now have raised their level of participation in national decision making process. Perhaps the government may be skeptical about why training women to compete men in government but human resource development is a primary role of every democratic state unless otherwise.
  • Call on the national government to immediately ratify CEDAW without any reservation and domesticate enabling legislation to ensure principles and objective of this legal instrument for the development of women in South Sudan. The principal law must procedurally ensure that CEDAW takes precedence over conflicting domestic laws.
  • Call on the national government to make provisions in the forthcoming permanent constitution, that vested the judiciary with competence to declare some customs and tradition invalid, null and void since the contradict to some provisions of the constitution and discriminate women not to come closer to the national decision making arena. This will be in line with the constitutional Bill of rights and international legal instruments South Sudan have acceded to or ratify such as CEDAW in the process of ratification. Unfortunately, the parallel existence of customary law and state law as independent legal system has weakened the justice sector in South Sudan.
  • Call on the national government to enact the family law on general principles and use South Sudan diverse cultures and traditions as exception to the general rule. The law will specifically define issues of marriage and marriageable age, inheritance, divorce, succession etc.. For example in the statutory court proceeding, the particular custom of an ethnic group can be the basis of a judgment but, if such custom of the party in question contradicts the state law and rule of natural justice, then the judge will have to declare such custom null and void and use general rule in the determination of case.

Beny Gideon Mabor is a Project Officer for Rule of Law and Human Rights, at South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). The organization is tasked with mission to monitor, document human rights violations in South Sudan and train general public on the respect and importance of human rights, fundamental freedoms of an individual, democracy and rule of law to creating responsible, justice and good governance oriented South Sudan. Prior to joining SSHURSA, the author has worked for South Sudan Ministry for Justice, and a writer. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. He can be reached at benygmabor@gmail.com