In Cameroon, thousands of women are holding events to mark International Women's Day and protesting their lack of political power in the country. The women, joined by rights groups, note all of Cameroon’s most powerful offices are held by men and there are only 11 female ministers, out of a 63-person Cabinet, and not even one female regional president or governor.
In Cameroon’s capital, hundreds of women gathered Monday for International Women’s Day sang that all across the world women are longing to be free.
Women no longer want to be in the shadows or forced to stay behind, they sing, but want to be side by side in true equality with men.
Cameroon Women's Peace Movement’s Mumah Bih Yvonne said their protest is part of events to mark Women’s Day. She said many Cameroonian women are more qualified and professional than men, yet few are in leadership.
"We have 63 ministries in Cameroon but only 11 of these 63 ministers are women," she said. "It is not like these women did not go to the same school like men, acquired the same certificates. But when it comes to appointments, it takes the political will because it is the head of state who appoints. A presidential decree was just signed appointing members to the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms. Out of the 15 [members] we have only three women."
Yvonne listed what she called a litany of grievances women have against the state of Cameroon.
She noted there is no female governor out of the 10 appointed by President Paul Biya and no female president elected in any of the country’s 10 regions.
Since independence in 1960, the highest-ranking woman in Cameroon’s military was a colonel, notes Yvonne, and there was only one.
The women gathering Monday defied government instructions not to march for Women’s Day because of COVID-19. But it appeared police made no immediate detentions.
Cameroon authorities said events were organized in towns and villages across the country.
Cameroon’s Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondou, said the government supports women’s rights but wants them to guard against the virus.
"All the efforts that are being made for the promotion of women should integrate the existence of the coronavirus," she said. "They [the women] want better representation in decision making, in the police, in territorial administration, in ministerial posts. They [women] are there. But we would like the number to increase. The men should not think that women want to come out and take their places. We [women] can share [positions with the men]."
Women make up 52 percent of Cameroon’s 25 million people, but all the top government positions are taken by men.
Ondou said within the past decade, the government has done a lot to improve women’s representation in decision making.
She noted a third of parliamentarians in the lower house are women, up from less than a fourth just six years ago. And a quarter of Cameroon’s senators are women, up from a fifth.
But University of Yaoundé lecturer in gender issues Rigobert Ahanda says more needs to be done to end discrimination against women.
He says Cameroon’s parliament should by law ban from elections any political party that does not have a quota of at least 30% for women. Ahanda says the government could also stop subsidies to political parties that ask women to get permission from their husbands before running for office. He says a national gender observatory could be created to make an inventory of qualified women to facilitate their appointment in every administration in Cameroon.
International Women's Day is celebrated every March 8 to bring attention to women’s contributions and still remaining inequities.
This year’s theme was “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum.”
The U.N.’s women-arranged forum is co-hosted by Mexico in late March and France in June and aims to set concrete goals to reach gender equality.