The director for gender
issues at the United Nations Development Program says pre-and post-election
violence in Africa is making it harder to increase women participation in
politics. Uganda-born Winnie Byanyima told VOA there is a challenge in Africa to manage elections better and have
smooth political transitions.
“For democracy to take root in Africa, we have to
create and manage institutions in a transparent and democratic way. I don’t
think there is going to be a chance for women’s role in politics to increase
when elections degenerate into violence, when people become displaced and
families have to run away from their homes. This cannot be an environment where
we can increase the participation of women in politics. So there is a challenge
on the continent to manage elections better and, in general, to have smooth a
transition from group in power to another,” she said.
Byanyima said election-related violence in Africa
is discouraging not only to women but also to men.
“If your intention is to serve a community and nothing
beyond that, there is a strong disincentive to offer yourself to serve your
community if the prize is to be assaulted by mobs of armed people, to have your
home ransacked. The violence is a
disincentive not just to women but also to men. But for women whom we are still
at the stage of persuading to participate as candidates, at a stage where we
are trying to remove other barriers in their way, this disincentive of violence
becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Byanyima said.
The elections in Liberia in 2005 and in Sierra
Leone in 2007 were both managed by women and both were held without major
problems. Byanyima said elections in Africa need to be managed better.
“I wouldn’t say that women manage elections
better, but I think using the best possible people to run these institutions is
important, and sometimes the best people can be women, like the two cases you
have cited, South Africa too, the election commission is managed by a woman and
managed very competently. So definitely widening the role that women play in
election beyond just being candidates is important,” she said.
Byanyima said women worldwide still see the
election of Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first woman to be elected
president in Africa as their hope to raise women political participation.
“The success of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia
is of strategic importance for women in Africa and for women globally. She is
the first one; all the eyes are watching her. So African women everywhere are
working hard to ensure that she succeeds. I was recently at an event, and we at
UNDP supported that event, and it was an event of Liberian, African, and
American women coming together to raise money to support market women of
Liberia by building them better market. And these women are saying they are
doing this in order to lend support to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to deliver to
women’s constituency that has not seen benefit from the state for years and
years,” she said.
African women play leading roles in the economies
of their respective countries. Byanyima said while the current rising food and
fuel prices are hurting women, it also presents an opportunity for commercial
production of food in Africa.
But Byanyima said in order for that to happen,
land ownership in Africa must be renegotiated to support women.
“In order to organize for commercial production
of food, we need to sort out the issue of land ownership. The land tenure
system in Africa doesn’t provide that framework for commercial exploitation of
the land. And at the heart of that question is also women’s land rights because
in some countries where land is owned by the people and not in the hands of the
state the land is owned through ownership that does not give women ownership
rights,” Byanyima said.
She said African women, who are
main food producers, should make sure that they don’t come out of the current
rising food prices as losers but as strengthened actors in the economy.