YAOUNDE - Civic groups, political parties and the government are pleading for the women of Cameroon to vote in next week's local and parliamentary elections, despite threats by separatist groups who have vowed to disrupt the polls.
Female candidates, and women who campaigned on behalf of others fear their efforts may amount to nothing if women do not come out to vote.
Representatives of NGOs and government ministries are joining political parties at rallies in Cameroon's capital in what they call a special campaign for women to perform their civic duties next Sunday.
Female candidate Alvine Yinda says she is impressed with the initiative because the absence of women at polling stations on election day would give men an unfair advantage.
She says female candidates of her Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement, CPDM, have decided to encourage all women who registered to make sure they come out en masse to vote on Feb. 9, 2020. She says they are working with all contesting political parties to make sure women take part in the decision-making process.
Mumah Bih Yvonne, national coordinator of the NGO Cameroon Women's Peace Movement, says their campaign is for women to support lists that have a majority of female candidates. She says these are the only ones they are sure can represent the views of women.
"We need to be there so that we impact the decisions that affect us like women. If we need a health center or women need to attend antenatal in a certain area, a woman is well placed to understand the plight of women. Women have a different way of looking at governance but if we are not there to influence policies, how do we get that level playing ground that we (women) are looking for."
Women historically underrepresented
The elections were called by Cameroonian President Paul Biya last November. Before then, delegations of women led by the NGO More Women in Politics visited towns and villages encouraging females to run for political office
Political parties agreed with the NGO and increased to 42 percent the number of female candidates in the race.
But traditionally, many women do not vote because they are restricted by their husbands and communities, who believe they should carry out only domestic chores or go to the farms. Some women fail to participate due to illiteracy.
This year, it is feared the number of female voters will further decrease because of the separatist conflict that has killed at least 3,000 people in Cameroon's Northwest and Southwest regions. There, armed groups fighting to separate the English-speaking regions from the French-speaking majority country have vowed the elections will not take place.
Most voters in the North- and Southwest have relocated to safer areas where the election commission says it has taken special measures to enable them to vote.
Within the past three days, the SDF and CPDM political parties said the separatists attacked four campaign teams in the towns of Mengwi, Batibo and Bafut and abducted at least 20 people, including 13 women whose whereabouts are still unknown.
Cameroon's minister of women's empowerment and the family, Marie Theres Abena Ondoua, says such acts of intimidation should not discourage women.
"It is important for them to go and decide, chose the best candidates and take into consideration the lists that have valuable women, women who can bring a plus to the development of this country," she said.
Ondoua said the government would protect all voters.
More than 40 percent of Cameroon's nearly nine million voters are female, and women in the central African country constitute about 52 percent of the population.
But just six percent of Cameroon's 380 mayors, 31 percent of the 180 lawmakers at the National Assembly and 21 percent of the senators are women.