As the world marked International Women’s Day last week, the secretary general of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Boemo Sekgoma, called for an advanced framework for tracking and measuring key indicators to ensure the progress of women in political participation.
Sekgoma made the call when she delivered keynote remarks during a virtual international engagement meant to discuss ways of enhancing women’s political participation.
She noted that although “women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality, democracy and for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, more remains to be done to ensure their meaningful political participation.
While she acknowledged positive developments resulting from more than a century of women’s struggle against oppressive patriarchal social arrangements and practices, she also highlighted several barriers that continue to limit women’s political participation.
Sekgoma noted that such factors as the under-representation of women “across all branches of government”, the “‘imbalances of women’s presence” in senior “political decision-making positions”, their lack of influential power “to change the existing patriarchal structure” despite the presence of “highly visible roles in political leadership”, their nominal representation by “members of elite political families/dynasties” as well as “violence against women politicians”, among other things, continue to limit women’s political participation.
She also noted that “increased numerical representation” of women in leadership positions “does not automatically translate into increased influence for women”, as they may not have the room to speak or be listened to.
As an antidote to these challenges, the secretary general suggested that “understanding and measuring perceptions is particularly important for measuring changes in women’s participation and leadership.”
For her, “understanding how women’s voice translates into influence needs to begin from women’s own experiences”.
Sekgoma also noted that “it is important to appreciate ‘women’s political effectiveness’ as ‘the ability to use ‘voice’ to politicise issues of concern to women, to use electoral leverage to press demands on decision-makers to trigger better responsiveness from the public sector to their needs and better enforcement of constitutional commitments to women’s equal rights”.
In addition, she argued that “measuring progress requires us to capture complex qualitative and quantitative indicators that can tell us about the changing realities of women’s lives”.
She went on to propose a framework for tracking and measuring progress in addressing gaps in the political participation of women. The framework involves the following:
First, “putting in place model legislative frameworks to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex is key”.
Second, “measuring model laws that address women’s issues and the extent to which they have facilitated the review and amendment of existing national legislation (as well as the adoption of new legislation) is a key indicator of an enabling and supportive environment for women”.
Third, the framework also involves recognising, documenting and overcoming barriers to women’s ascension to key political positions.
She noted that barriers such as “women’s access to resources, like time, money and experience – and their levels of motivation, such as drive, ambition and interest in politics” shape the availability of women for public offices.
Fouthly, it involves applying “fast-track strategies” that increase “women’s political resources and ambitions, revising selectors’ attitudes towards female candidates, and changing public attitudes towards women in politics”.
Fifth, Sekgoma also suggested that “regional parliaments have the opportunity to sustain political momentum on topical issues that impact women – and these include Universal Health Coverage, ICPD25 and Gender Equality” by establishing “monitoring and accountability frameworks that map progress and inspire action”.
Lastly, she noted that “findings from thematic policy evaluations provide the opportunity for policy review and change” as well as for “issue positioning” and the “promotion of policy coherence, especially when international standards and regional frameworks are the subjects of adoption”.
For her, “indicators must not only measure if women are represented but also the extent to which they are able to be actively involved in and influence decision-making processes at all levels through their participation”.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) – a consortium of six civil society organisations from across Africa that seeks to enhance and support the inclusion of women in African politics – Women in Political Participation (WPP) and Sweden, convened the webinar.