The new director of the United Nations Development Program for Gender and Development says there is a need to deepen democracy in Africa if women are to hold on to the few gains they have made in politics.
Winnie Byanyima, who is the wife of Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye, was appointed to her new position late last year. She said gender equity is important to the work of the UNDP.
“It matters very much because as we learned from the Millennium Declaration, and as all the countries of the world affirmed, you cannot achieve development unless you also pursue equality between men and women. So equality of men and women is important in its own right. It’s a human rights for men and women to be equal in this world. But it’s also the means through which development can be achieved more quickly,” she said.
Byanyima said women worldwide have made progress in the area of their participation in politics and leadership. But she said more needed to be done.
“There are isolated success stories, but in general women are still excluded from political decision making. Globally, only six parliaments of the world constitute about 16 percent women,” she said.
Byanyima said some progress has also been made in Africa in terms of women’s participation in political and economic empowerment.
“On the side of political empowerment, there has been some progress in terms of women’s increasing numbers in political position, in government, in parliament, in local government. There has been some slight growth in numbers, in percentages. And some countries have even gone the twenty-five percent line, countries like South Africa, like Rwanda, Uganda, and Mozambique and others,” Byanyima said.
But she said the small increase in the numbers of women political participation should be related to the depth of democracy in the countries.
“You can have women in large numbers in democratic institutions, but then half of the democratic institutions are not functioning very well. So there is a need to deepen democracy so that the spaces that women are claiming become spaces where they actually claim and benefits for the majority of women,” Byanyima said.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia served as director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa and went on to be president of Liberia. But Byanyima brushed off any suggestion that she could also one day be president of Uganda.
“If you want to compare me with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, I will not complain. But as of now, let me do my job at the UNDP and let the future decide,” she said.