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Governance in Heels

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“Female Candidates Face Violence and Abuse Ahead of Kenyan Elections”

This was one of the headlines that graced the pages of Huffington Post in July 2017 prior to the last Kenya general elections. It was a case of bullying women out of governance yet we see leaders of the world hold conferences with elaborate themes pointing towards the strengthening of women’s participation in governance. Is the world truly ready to accommodate women in governance, or is it a finely orchestrated ploy to make women mere spectators?

The Community of Democracies (CoD); a global intergovernmental coalition composed of the Governing Council Member States that support adherence to common democratic values and standards outlined in the Warsaw Declaration, in 2017, compiled several reports geared towards analyzing methods through which continents of the world can strengthen the participation of women in governance and other socio-economic activities. Excerpts from some of these reports will be reviewed in this article with a focus on developing nations.

AFRICA

The opening paragraph largely explains the African situation as regards women and their political ambitions. The African structure promotes male-dominated political party leadership which deters women. Gender stereotypes, religious factors, and sociocultural norms are barriers the African woman encounters.

Only a few women dare run for office because they feel they will not have the support of their family or community. Vocal women or female community leaders are often labeled as “troublemakers” in a society where men and elders have the right to speak or act, not women or youngsters.

Other women do not even trust the abilities of other women because of long-standing social and cultural beliefs. In the political scene, women are often marginalized and, as a consequence, they lose confidence in themselves.

ASIA

In 2017, Halimah Yacob became the President of Singapore after running unopposed in the country’s presidential election. This has been seen by many as an inroad for women who wish to be active in governance. Despite this edge, many countries in Asia still lack solid democratic structures, comprehensive electoral laws, and other instruments necessary for healthy democratic governance. Other barriers Asian women are faced with include gender stereotypes – The idea that women should be relegated to the household and family duties; cultural attitudes and gender bias against women in public life; great difficulties in being nominated as candidates; lack of resources and inadequate support from political parties for women candidates, compared to support for male candidates; fear of potential loss of income for the family; reluctance to expose themselves to increased public scrutiny as public figures; and a strong and prevailing cultural mindsets that holding political office is a man’s job.

MIDDLE EAST

About the most hit in this array of marginalization cases, would be the Middle Eastern women. Political Islam has, in many countries across the region, served to exclude women from the public and political spheres. Due to this reason, political parties have hesitated to recruit and nominate women as political candidates, even among those women who are already party members. Sectarianism has similarly contributed to weak levels of women’s political participation in Lebanon.

The security situation in many states across the MENA region has affected freedom of movement, especially for women who in turn lack public spaces for meeting and discussion.

In a patriarchal country like Afghanistan, women are limited by barriers such as restricted movement during elections. Afghanistan’s women still face high levels of discrimination due to traditional, socio-religious or tribal factors; rights to self-determination and active participation in the development of public life are still extremely limited. Few women are able to influence the political and economic development of their country or community in order to ensure that political measures are designed for the benefit of all. On the whole, most women still feel ashamed to be seen in socioeconomic and political meetings.

SOUTH AMERICA

According to the International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance (IDEA), gender-based inequities are clearly present in the organization and structures of political parties, as shown in studies conducted by International IDEA and the IADB. The studies conducted between 2009 and 2015 show that there remain gender gaps in the political parties which have not yet been closed and which persist over time. The pattern is constant: in terms of militancy, the presence of men and women is very similar, but in decision-making spaces and levels, women’s participation is decreasing. In other words, there is a “power pyramid” in which “the greater the power, the lower women’s presence”.

Year after year, women are told how to encourage other women to take up positions of governance and go a step further by supporting the cause, the few who have been able to break through the stereotype are asked to serve as mentors to others, these seem to be beside the point because without fair play all of these steps are meaningless as long as women who resolve to be supportive to candidates are harassed for doing so.

Strengthening women’s rights and addressing barriers to political participation are critical to achieving gender equality and female empowerment. This is why one of the pillars of UN Women’s work is advancing women’s political participation and good governance, to ensure that decision-making processes are participatory, responsive, equitable and inclusive.

The findings from these reports make the clamour to strengthen women’s participation in governance seem like a losing battle despite several obvious successes achieved in the last few years. Nevertheless, every woman must join in the advocacy and continuously push these issues to the fore.

In making a case as women, we must understand that attaining complete gender equality across the globe will be a tedious task. It may require a consistent push for several years, or it may be a case of “we win some, we lose some”. Whichever way it turns out in the near future, women must remember that they are indispensable parts of their society, country, and the world.

By Eruke Ojuederie

Ambassador Amina Mohamed is a committed international civil servant who has a distinguished career in both public and foreign service. She has served in strategic government positions and been elected to key international positions. Her work experience in over twenty-six years covers a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments. She rose through the ranks in Kenya’s diplomatic service to the highest level of Ambassador/Permanent Representative Kenya.

Mission to the UN at Geneva from 2000-2006. She served as Director, Europe and the Commonwealth and Director Diaspora from mid-2006-2007 and was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs in 2008. Since July 2011 she has served as United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) at Nairobi. She is an excellent strategist and visionary anticipating the management needs of every organization she has been involved with. With her profound knowledge of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and her strong managerial skills, Ambassador Amina Mohamed has all the required competencies to lead the WTO into the future.

Early/Personal Life

Amina Chawahir Jibril Mohamed was born on 5th October 1961 in Kakamega, Kenya, to an ethnic Somali family. She is the eighth of nine siblings. Her family belongs to the Dhulbahante Harti Darod clan and hails from the northern SSC region of Somalia. Mohamed spent her childhood in a modest household in Amalemba, Kakamega, where she passed much of her time reading Sherlock Holmes stories and other detective fiction. She later developed a taste for international affairs.

During her elementary education, she attended the Township Primary School in Kakamega and later Butere Girls and Highlands Academy. Her mother believed strongly in the importance of education, and would frequently drop by her classes to monitor her performance. Upon graduation, Mohamed moved to Ukraine on a scholarship to study at the University of Kiev. She completed the institution’s courses, earning a Master of Laws (LLM) in International Law. Mohamed later obtained a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) in International Relations from the University of Oxford. Through a Fellowship at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), she also followed several training courses on international law. In 2002, Amina married Khalid Ahmed, a fellow Somali to whom she credits a lot of her success. The couple has two children and also cares for four orphans.

An Impeccable African Diplomat

Ambassador Amina Mohamed has a great diplomatic career since 1986 and rising through the ranks to become Ambassador/Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission to the Republic of Kenya at Geneva in 2000. As the Permanent Representative, she represented Kenya in the UN system and the World Trade Organization (WTO) among other international organizations.

Her strong interpersonal skills in negotiations, developed during her career in the multilateral fora, enabled her to effectively articulate Kenya’s interests in the WTO. She participated in the drafting and interpretation of International Trade Treaties.

A Great Public Servant and Reformer

She was instrumental in restructuring, reforming and rationalizing Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Missions abroad. Ambassador Mohamed chaired the team that drafted Kenya’s foreign trade policy focusing on economic and commercial diplomacy. As Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, she supervised the drafting, negotiation, national referendum, and promulgation of the new Constitution of Kenya 2008-2010, including institutional reforms on elections, ethics and integrity, access to justice and the development of a national cohesion policy.

At United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Ambassador Mohamed spearheaded the implementation of UNEP’s Medium-Term Strategy and Program as well as on-going reforms. Most recently she has been actively engaged with intergovernmental processes in implementing the RIO+20 outcomes and support efforts to enhance the funding base of the organization.

Legal Practitioner of Awesome Repute

With her experience in the international engagements, she has provided legal advice during Kenya’s tenure in the Security Council, negotiations in the WTO, particularly in launching the Doha trade talks and contributed texts in Kenya’s constitution where foreign trade has been integrated with Foreign Affairs.

A visionary Team Leader

Ambassador Amina Mohamed throughout her career has demonstrated solid Leadership and proven negotiations skills. She chaired three key WTO bodies: The Dispute Settlement Body, the Trade Policy Review Body and the General Council during her tenure in Geneva during which important decisions and recommendations were made. Under her leadership as the General Council Chair, the accession of Saudi Arabia was concluded; she guided the negotiations and preparation for the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Conference where substantial progress was made on Doha Development Agenda; the LDC’s waiver on market access was successfully concluded and members agreed to amend the TRIPS agreement to legally allow WTO members without the capacity to produce pharmaceutical products to import and address public health concerns. At UNEP she has been instrumental in enhancing the capacity of the institution and seeking additional resources to initiate new goals and action plans.

Important Positions she has Held

Ambassador Amina Mohamed has served in lots of prominent positions which include;

  • February 2018 till date: Cabinet Secretary for Education (Kenya).
  • May 2013- February 2018: Cabinet Secretary for Foreign affairs (Kenya).
  • 2011-2013: United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director, UNEP.
  • 2008- 2011: Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs.
  • 2010-2011; President of the United Nations Conference on Transnational Crime, Vienna
  • 2006- 2007: Director, Europe and Commonwealth Countries and Director for Diaspora matters
  • Chairman the Task Force Sub – Committee on Strengthening and restructuring of the Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Affairs
  • 2000- 2006: Ambassador Permanent Representative, Kenya Mission to the UN and other International Organizations at Geneva.
  • Chairman, Coordinator and the Spokesperson for the African Group in the WTO, Human Right Commission.
  • Served as President of the Conference on Disarmament in 2002.
  • Chairman the International Organization for Migration in 2002.
  • Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body in 2003.
  • Chairman Dispute Settlement Body in 2004.
  • Chairman General Council in 2005.
  • Member of the Executive Boards and Committees of the WHO, UNHCR, WIPO, ILO, UNCTAD AND UNAIDS 2001-2005.
  • 1990-2000: Kenya’s Legal Advisor in various Missions abroad, including the 6th Committee of the UN
  • 1986-1990: Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Honors

Received honors include:

  • National Award of Chief of Burning Spear (CBS)
  • Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity (Cav. O.S.S.I.)
  • Life Member, Red Cross Society
  • Member of the Life and Peace Institute International Advisory Council, Sweden.
  • Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic.
  • Member of the Strathmore Law School Advisory Board, Kenya.
  • Honorary Doctorate from KCA University.
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (2017)
  • An elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH)

Ambassador Amina Mohamed has proven herself to a great representative of women both in national and international service. Her prowess has attracted praise from far and wide. Margret Kenyatta described her as a symbol of nationalism and patriotism.

BY EMEKPO CHARLES.

I find it really intriguing that there is a systematic campaign to get more women into global politics and leadership positions across the world by women but the question rattling my mind is how ready they are to handle what comes with leadership and global politics.

Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany and an eight-time winner of Forbes’ most powerful women once said “it seems to me that the fact that I am a woman is a bigger issue than the fact that I’m from the East. For me, it isn’t really important. I’ve only ever known myself as a woman.”  While she was on a state visit to the United Kingdom; expressing these concerns about women in global politics.

We could have seen an unprecedented shift in the dynamics of global leadership, if Secretary Clinton, the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party had won the US 2015 election and shattered the imagery glass ceiling. We would have had three strong global economies (Germany, United States & United Kingdom) controlled by women, it only leaves one to wonder if the world would have been less chaotic, following the intensity the world has witnessed since the emergence of President Trump, not to say that he has not achieved much, but the world has not been in such a chaotic stage in many years.

Following these global attentions on the need for greater participation by women in politics which is encouraging, and while organizations like the Council of Women World Leaders, a network for female prime ministers and presidents, set up by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former president of Iceland is actively campaigning to close the gender gap in global leadership, the possibility of a gender balance still looks slims and although there is a sign of hope, with the 2018 International Women’s March creating a huge impact on the importance of women’s involvement in leadership and the Me too Movement shading light on the plight of women as a prey in both the political and business spheres, as there seems to be a wakeup call within the gender corridors for more female participation in decision making across the life spectrum.

“You could certainly say that I’ve never underestimated myself, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious.”  Angela Merkel speaking to TIME magazine in an interview in 2010, while reiterating her commitment to women in global leadership. The ability of the female folks to pull off a surprise like the wave of populism across the west is something we will have to wait and see.

The challenge:

Statistics have shown that Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential race points to her party’s inability to influence the women’s vote. While she did garner majority of female voters—54%, according to exit polling—she lost some key constituencies, including white women, 53% of who cast their ballots for Trump.

But here is the challenge the commodious gap between male and female Clinton voters. According to the Associated Press, Clinton’s gender gap—the difference between the number of men who voted for her and the number of women who voted for her—hit 13 percentage points. That’s the single largest such gap since the exit poll surveys began in 1972.

 “There is nothing worse than sweeping a threat under the mat and just living from day to day.” This is a quote from Angela Merkel on tackling your challenges and very much applies to what women leadership is facing across the globe.

Women are faced with a cultural problem “The motherhood myth” being a mother and a politician at the same time. The fight between women with a family and women without a family is something that we women will have to change, if they ever stand a chance to achieve equality then Women’s solidarity must be something they will collective fight for, “but it’s hardly always there.”

SIMON UGWU

The role and contributions of women in the affairs of their nation, especially developing countries, for several years, have been neglected and relegated to the background. However, the tide is changing and the mountains are giving ground. Singapore is a good example of one of such countries where women are participating actively in the position of governance and leadership. It can be positively argued that it is not just a significant progress that has been made by women in the Singaporean politics but dominance has been ensured considering the fact that it is a developing country.

The Peak: Women in Singapore have served in lots of high positions but on the 13th of September 2017, they set a milestone in the politics of Singapore when Halima Binti Yacob became the first female president of the country. A feat she achieved without opposition. In a statement posited by Professor Tan,” this outcome should prompt more eligible women from all races to step forward and run, whether in an open or reserved election”

At the PAP (People’s Action Party) Women’s Wing 3rd Annual Conference on the 18th of April 2015, Grace Fu, the first female House leader, Community and Youth minister and full minister of a ministry, stated that “Women in Singapore have equal opportunities for education and support to pursue their career and family aspirations; they enjoy peace and security and have also contributed to all aspects of Singapore’s development.

Active participants: In 2009, Lim Hwee Hua became Singapore’s first female Cabinet minister. In January 2013, Halimah Yacob followed suit in January 2013 to become Singapore’s first female Speaker of Parliament.

One of the women that later became a strong pillar in the politics of the country even till date, Grace Fu was appointed as the Culture, Community and Youth Minister, making her the first female full minister to head a ministry. She also became the first woman to be appointed Leader of the House.

In her statement “With more women coming on board the political landscape, we hope to have a greater voice for women,” said Ms. Fu. “There are issues that women can probably relate to better, for example; when it comes to childcare issues, balancing family as well as career. Also, specific issues such as children’s education, somehow as a mother, women have a stronger voice or certain opinions that may be slightly different from the fathers.”

She also stated some undeniable challenges that female leaders face, especially in politics. According to her, being a woman in politics oftentimes unfairly attracts some challenges such as How does she look? How does she perform? I think sometimes women can’t deal with those public criticisms as well as the men. They will have to get over it, build up the resilience to criticism like that and just do their very best.

As at September 2015, there was up to 22 women in Parliament out of a total of 92 seats – making up nearly 24 percent of the House. Though this is lower than what the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by the Singapore Government in 1995, recommends. It says that women political representation should be at least 30 percent to form the ‘critical mass’ that will have a real impact on political style and content of decisions. But this 24% is certainly a sign of the good beginning of good things to come for Singaporean women.

Another emerging Amazon in Singapore, Associate Professor Paulin Straughan of the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore in addressing the role of women in politics stated “we have to be careful that we don’t come across as arguing for quota representation. Rather, it should come from skill, value-add perspective such as- Is a woman different from a man in the boardroom? Will a woman bring a different perspective into the political arena?”

Apart from policymaking, it is argued that possessing male-like attributes is key for female leaders to succeed. In the words of Yacob Halima “Whether they have attributes that are male-like is really not relevant. “If we assume that just because they possess those attributes, they will automatically be able to be better leaders, I think those are really quite simplistic.”

She added that when women are chosen for leadership positions, not just in politics but other types of leadership positions, it is important that they are chosen based on whether they can make the positive mark to the development of the countries politics and add value to the decision-making process for the general good of all.

Yacob Halima who was the first female speaker of the parliament believes she will not be the last female to attain that position. She further stated that “Willingness must be on the part of the women that are aspiring to reach greater heights in Singaporean politics to understand themselves and recognize that their voice matters. Also that their place at the table is important and that they can contribute by making policy-making more accommodating to the people

 

Even though it was tough being a woman in politics, Dr. Wong proved her worth, along with other pioneering women leaders like Chan Choy Siong, Dr. Dixie Tan, Yu-Foo Yee Shoon and Seet Ai Mee.

These women set the pace for other women to also strive to carve their name on the political legacies of the country.

In the Education sector, women in Singapore have defied the perception that women’s education is a waste of resources and time by producing a lot of educated ones who have attained high societal status in the country. In September 2015, the country appointed its first female chancellor in the educational sector. This was a big achievement for women in the country.

In expressing her delight, Dr. Aline Wong said her appointment as SIM University’s Chancellor came as a surprise. In an interview, she expressed happiness that yet another leadership avenue has been opened up for women. “Everywhere in the world, it is not that common yet for women to be in the leading positions in universities,” said Dr. Wong. “Over the last 50 years in Singapore, you can see we have made tremendous progress, not only in terms of educational opportunities, job opportunities but also in politics”.

Dr. Aline Wong was no stranger to the leadership role in the country. She became an active politician in 1984 and was subsequently elected Member of Parliament in four consecutive general elections.  She was also a senior minister of state before she retired in active politics in 2001.

According to her, politics in Singapore before the active role of women was sheer discrimination which was not so in some other countries of the world. She also stated that “Structural barriers have been removed for women. The society has been accepting women’s leadership roles in more and more domains.”

The economy of Singapore has equally enjoyed the contribution of women. Owing to the increase in the number of women in the Singaporean workforce as well as the good working environment, in 2005, Singapore had an influx of women from Japan who sought to work freely as women. This was as a result of the pace that was set in Singapore by their women.

 

It is no longer news that the advent of digitalization has brought about a rapid change in economic and socio-political activities of world nations. It is also a fact that there has been an intensive push among women to assume positions of leadership in different spheres of influence.

Shattering glass ceilings has not been an easy task; however, as women press for progress in the achievement of gender equality globally, the objective to not only have a quota system, but seize suitable leadership positions from which their voices can be heard has become paramount.

A study conducted by the World Economic Forum found women in 63 out of 142 nations had served as the head of state or government in the 50 years leading up to 2014.

As at February 2018, only a handful of women make the list of world leaders. Those women include

H.E. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany; H.E. Ana Brnabić , the Prime Minister of Serbia; H.E. Halimah Yacob, the President of Singapore; H.E. Mercedes Aráoz, the Prime Minister of Peru; H.E. Julie Payette, the Governor General of Canada; H.E. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand; H.E. KatrínJakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland; H.E. Dame Sandra Mason, the Governor-General of Barbados; H.E. Viorica Dăncilă, the Prime Minister of Romania; H.E. Paula-Mae Weekes, President-Elect, Trinidad and Tobago; H.E. Kersti Kaljulaid,  President of Estonia; H.E. Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; H.E. Hilda Heine, the President of Marshall Islands; Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor, Myanmar; H.E. Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan; H.E. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, the  President of Nepal; H.E. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the President of Croatia; H.E. Saara Kuugongelwa, the  Prime Minister of Namibia; H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the President of Malta; H.E. Dame Marguerite Pindling, the Governor-General of The Bahamas; H.E. Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile; H.E. Erna Solberg, the  Prime Minister of Norway; H.E. Dame Cécile La Grenade, the Governor-General of Grenada; H.E. Dalia Grybauskaitė, the President of Lithuania; H.E. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

According to UN Women reports Only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 percent in 1995. As of October 2017, 11 women were serving as Head of State and 12 serving as Head of Government. Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there won 63.8 percent of seats in the lower house.Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all.

This is a far cry from the 50% expectation of women who have constantly championed the crusade towards a better representation of women in governments.

In as much as women clamour for suitable positions, it is important to take into consideration the sad fact that a majority of the women who have held positions of power did so for less than four years. This begs the question: What quality of female leaders is being produced?

Getting positions for impact in world governments requires women to think like no ceiling exists and break through the bounds of sociocultural stereotypes. It also requires a lot of capacity building and self-development.

Just like the preparation needed for taking up a career, it is not enough to desire choice positions from which one can make a significant impact. Women should learn to train hard if they are to compete favorably in what is usually referred to as a man’s world.

Challenging oneself to be better with governance in view may involve receiving mentorship from the world’s finest leaders; learning from the best. It is true that many may not have access to mentors of their choice but that is where books and the social media come in.

Far gone are the days when people and in fact women rest on their oars and watch valuable opportunities pass them by.

How can women claim their prize?

For emerging economies, there is a lot to bedone as regards the representation of women in government. There is a need for a total overhaul of the system beginning from the grassroots to the top. Here are some of the steps towards achieving equal representation:

  • Proper education: education is the foundation upon which any action of women across developing regions can be fruitful. From childhood, confidence should be instilled into the girl-child. She should be taught the importance of morals and the tenets of leadership. She should be taught to believe in her strengths and explore them. In the same vein, attention should not be shifted from the male-child as he should be taught not to see the girl-child as a rival but the missing piece of an uncompleted task. Women should educate themselves on leadership and good governance qualities as much as possible. 
  • Create unique leadership value systems: it has been observed that people get bored and frustrated with bad and corrupt leadership systems. Women should strive to carve a niche for themselves where most or all of the vices in regular systems of government are ruled out. 
  • Public service: As much as possible, women should undertake community service activities, philanthropic and humanitarian activities where their impact and goodwill will be felt. By constantly serving people it becomes a lifestyle and as such when called to serve in a higher position it becomes an easy task.
  • Join women action groups that work: More women should be involved in action group activities where positive energy is channeled towards noble causes
  • Put sentiments aside: One of the reasons why people see women as unfit to rule is because they tend to be more emotional than logical. It is okay for women to be emotional beings but just like in the boardroom, serious state maters require more of logical reasoning.
  • Women need to believe in themselves: in recent times, a number of women groups have come up with slogans such as “sister support sister” and so on. It is very important that women join forces to support other women. Those currently in leadership positions are to provide mentorship and lead aspiring women to the top. Mothers are to encourage daughters as older women are to encourage the younger generation of women. This way, women will thrive in all spheres of influence

There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. A new report from WomenRising2030, says male-dominated companies risk losing out on significant economic opportunities linked to sustainability and better performance.It is time to take full advantage of the opportunities before us and become in reality the women we only see in our dreams.

By: Eruke Ojuederie

 

By Joshua K. Ogbonna.

Politics has never been a strong point for women in particular regions or countries, but with democracy taking the center stage in most elective processes across the globe, a lot of women are coming into the picture and this was at its peak in 2017. The global movement for gender equity is meant to bring about social change leading to increased political participation by women. Legislating equality does not instantly guarantee a society’s acceptance of it. In Africa, Asia, and the Middle-east the focus of the women folk has largely been relegated to household upkeep but that narrative is being corrected by countries promulgating several women’s bill of rights and the active involvement in the political process – seeking elective positions and being voted for.

According to a Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky” and that has become internationally adopted to affirm women’s equal contribution to society and the struggle for their rights to equity in health, education, economic opportunities, and political participation. The recent prosperity in East Asia has narrowed the gender gaps, women’s political participation but this has not totally reflected in the pace of economic development. Although human development is a necessary factor that results in women’s political empowerment, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Of great importance are customary practice,  healthy socioeconomic conditions, conducive political systems, and gender-friendly political cultures enable women’s political participation and leadership. These factors combine to have different effects in particular national and local contexts, creating significant variation across East Asia.

Notably, in Mongolia, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, New Caledonia, and the nonindependent territories of French Polynesia, gender quotas and reservations have significantly improved women’s political representation at national and local levels. The repressive cultures in the past in these countries have given way to the parity principle which avoids the use of quotas and reservations to limit women’s representation rather than to achieve equal representation. For gender quotas to be successfully adopted, women’s movements must be consolidated and supported by the governments of the countries, political bias must be treated properly because it is the major hindrance to proper political participation.

In a research paper presented  at the African Studies Association, at its annual meeting held in Philadelphia, PA, Aili Mari Tripp, a Professor of Political Science, Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison opined that “Gender and politics in Africa is an emerging field of study which poses many new and exciting possibilities for new scholarly agendas. There is still a lot we don’t know, including the role of traditional authorities, women in local politics, women, and decentralization, and the constraints and possibilities for women in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian/semi-democratic regimes. We need more historical work. But perhaps above all, we don’t have a good sense yet of what difference women in power make, particularly in authoritarian and hybrid regimes. We have seen increases in woman-friendly legislation in countries like Uganda being advanced by the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. At the same time, the disappointing persistence of nepotism and patronage politics and corruption in a female-headed country like Liberia shows just how intransigent old habits can be. The increase of women in politics signifies that norms have changed and are changing, and it represents a step toward greater equality.  If women are not represented politically, their voices will not be heard and their interests are less likely to be advanced.

Nevertheless, women enter institutions with long histories and established ways of doing things. Although some women will challenge the status quo and will see themselves as advocates for women’s rights, many become absorbed into these same institutions and behave much like the male legislators, ministers, and presidents that came before them. It is these processes that we need to better understand.”

Africa has taken the lead, far more than Asia and Europe which use to be a stronger ground for female parliamentarian and politicians. African countries have some of the world’s highest rates of representation.The admirable reforms of president Paul Kagame in Rwanda has earned Rwanda the world’s highest ratio of women in parliament. In the 2003 election, 48 percent of parliamentary seats went to women. In the next election — 64 percent. Today Rwandan politics is cited as a model of gender inclusiveness.  In Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa, more than 40% of parliamentary seats are held by women, while in Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, and Uganda over 35% of seats are occupied by women. On the other hand, Women in the U.S. Congress 2017, In 2017, 105 (78D, 27R) women hold seats in the United States Congress, comprising 19.6% of the 535 members; 21 women (21%) serve in the United States Senate, and 84 women (19.3%) serve in the United States House of Representatives.

The parliamentary patterns are evident in other areas as well. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first elected woman president in Africa in 2005, Joyce Banda was also the president of Malawi very recently and President Ameenah Gurib- Fakim of Mauritius. There have been nine female prime ministers in Africa since 1993, including Luisa Diongo in Mozambique, who served for six years. Since 1975 there have been 12 female vice presidents like Wandira Speciosa Kazibwe in Uganda, also countries like Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Gambia and Djibouti, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Burundi have had female vice presidents. There are female speakers of the house in one-fifth of African parliaments, which is higher than the world average of 14%. Women are taking over key ministerial positions in defense, finance, and foreign affairs, which is a break from the past when women primarily held ministerial positions in the so-called ‘softer’ ministries of education, community development, sports, and youth.  Today, South Africa has had a female defense minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, while Kemi Adeosun serves as Nigeria’s finance minister succeeding Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Esther Nenadi Usman.

Women are similarly visible in regional bodies, holding 50% of the African Union parliamentary seats. Gertrude Mongella served as the first president of the Pan African Parliament and in July 2012, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma took over the leadership of the African Union Commission. Even at the local level, women make up almost 60 percent of local government positions in Lesotho and Seychelles, 43 percent of the members of local councils or municipal assemblies in Namibia, and over one-third of local government seats in Mauritania, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. More women than men vote in countries like Botswana, Cape Verde, Lesotho, South Africa and Senegal, although overall rates for men seem to be about 5% more in countries surveyed by Afrobarometer.

These patterns are evident in the judiciary as well with the advancement of women judges at all levels.  African women judges are even making it into the international arena with Fatou Bensouda from Gambia holding the post of chief prosecutor in the International Criminal Court since 2012. Interestedly, all but one of the current five African judges on the ICC are women.

These global sweeping changes must be embraced can be explained by the following interconnected features: 1) the economic stability of the concerned region; 2) the development of pro-gender equality groups, particularly the giveaway the military and most dictatorial societies to more opened administrations, along with the emergence of autonomous women’s movements that accompanied this opening; 3) pressures from global bodies like the UN agencies, regional organizations, donors and other external actors that influenced the state.

The reforms going on in Saudi Arabia are quite difficult to neglect. These reforms are in line with a wide-ranging plan announced by 32-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bring social and economic change to the oil-dependent kingdom, known as Vision 2030.

The promotion of gender-based rights has hit a snag in Africa and the middle East where religion and widely held traditional beliefs have dominated a lot of decision-making and policy-formulating processes. There have been accusations of female activists, clerics, and academics as dissidents funded by the Western countries.

In September, a royal decree said that women would be allowed to drive for the first time from June 2018 was pronounced. Prince Mohammed has said that “moderate Islam” was key to his plans to revolutionise the country. In a high-level business conference in Riyadh, Salman said “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world, we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.”

In a cascade of barrier-breaking moments, the ban on women from stadium activities was also lifted, with Saudi Arabian women granted access to attend a rally to celebrate the 87th annual National Day of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 23.

Of particular concern in the upliftment of the driving ban are the several “Guardianship Laws” that have given men a total control over the female folks. Under these laws, women cannot travel abroad, work or undertake some medical procedures without the consent of their male “guardian,” often a father, a husband or even more preposterous, a son. While the implementation of these guardianship laws has been lax in recent years, little has been done to stop Saudi men from limiting the movements of their wives or daughters.

Although many Saudis are largely conservative, these new laws will basically give a boost to other expected laws. The Saudi byelaw stipulates voting(during elections) to be by “all citizens” but in the upcoming provincial elections( the first in the Kingdom’s history), the women would not be allowed to cast their ballots. It is expected that this sweeping reforms will open up other necessary frontiers.