Half of the world’s population is made up of women, but their representation in decision-making bodies at the local, national, and international level leaves much to be desired. Macoura Dao Coulibaly, Mayor of Foumbolo, Côte d’Ivoire, on strengthening women in local government.
Women’s integration into the continent’s development processes is at the heart of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 through “The Africa We Want”. Female leadership and women’s voices have to play a crucial role and be actively included in all spheres of life, both private and public. After all, they too have legitimacy as political and economic players. Their full participation is therefore essential to the achievement of sustainable, equitable and inclusive communities. But why are women’s voices still not sufficiently represented, especially in local government?
Legislation and Regulations not Adapted to the Presence of Women in Local Governments
The persistent commitment of all African countries to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women is visible through the adjustments of their legal texts (legislative and regulatory). Nevertheless, the representation of women remains low in positions of power and at local administrations, such as local executives. Almost all African countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and more than half of them have ratified the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, an important step in this commitment.
Although most countries’ constitutions provide for an extensive and evolved rate of participation of women in political life, practically, few electoral laws align with this provision. Confronted with multiple obstacles in their desire to participate in political life, women are often condemned by discriminatory laws and institutions that still reduce their access to decision-making positions today.
Persistence of Discrimination and Prejudice
Women continue to face the harmful effects of discrimination and injustice on a daily basis.
According to studies carried out by the OECD, in the world, political parties do not have more than 10 per cent of women in positions of responsibility, even though they constitute between 40 and 50 per cent of their total members! This testifies to the “use” of women by political parties to promote their campaigns and programmes without giving them decision-making positions on an equal footing with men.
Macoura Coulibaly Dao with the UCLG delegation, meeting the UN Secretary General © UCLG Africa
Poverty and Lack of Access to Education
Inequalities and poverty persist as other factors that hinder effective participation that would meet the aspirations of women and their potential to build a safe and better world for all and contribute to the development of their communities. In addition to the lack of financial means, women have a harder time establishing contacts and benefiting from the resources they need to become effective leaders. Similarly, the lack of access to formal and/or informal education, and the lack of real opportunities for training and capacity building add, in most African societies, to the challenges that women face in their quest for economic, cultural, intellectual or personal self-emancipation.
How Can Women be Encouraged to Run for Local Government Offices?
We need to devise different strategies to strengthen women in the execution of their mandate as local elected officials. Among the aspired actions, women need to benefit from capacity strengthening campaigns to better know how to claim their rights for equitable representation in political parties and parliamentary chambers. This could be through training and capacity-building workshops. Consolidated networking activities could also be very instrumental for women to learn through experience sharing and peer learning.
Locally elected women in Africa, through networking, benefit from continental and international platforms to get their voices heard, and their concerns brought to tables of discussions and decisions in the bodies of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa) and within the Women’s Commission of the world organization of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). At the national level, we should promote political dialogue to strengthen the institutional and legal frameworks conducive to the effective and equitable participation of women in local public governance, for instance through quotas.
My First Actions as Mayor of Foumbolo
As Mayor of the Commune of Foumbolo, my top priority is to ensure the fair and sustainable development of Foumbolo. I gave support to local women traders and/or promoters in their grouping into cooperatives and organised capacity-building workshops in addition to supporting these women to promote and market their products.
As REFELA (Network of Locally Elected Women of Africa) Côte d’Ivoire President, we organised the official launch and implementation of the “Côte d’Ivoire Cities Without Street Children Campaign” on November 30, 2021, under the patronage of the First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, Mrs Dominique Ouattara. Under my cap as President of REFELA network, the permanent Commission for Gender Equality of the UCLG Africa set up an action plan despite the outbreak of the COVID -19 Pandemic and its challenging situation. We have launched and are implementing at the local level:
the Campaign of “African Cities Without Street Children”, launched under the effective presidency of Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco, whose capital Rabat is a pilot city in 2018, in the Africities 8 Summit;
the Campaign of “African Cities with zero tolerance for violence against women and girls”; and
the Campaign of “African Cities in favour of the economic empowerment of women”.
In the same vein, instruments have been adopted by the REFELA Secretariat to support the Network members in the implementation of their local and continental programs and actions aiming to install and promote gender equality:
guides and communication tools for implementation process and activities;
the Africa-Europe Pact on Gender Equality, signed between UCLG Africa, UCLG and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR); and
the “Local and Regional Governments’ Charter for Gender Equality in Africa”, to be officially launched at the ninth Africities Summit in May 2022.
All should just remember: women’s emancipation and empowerment are elementary to our societies’ development and to our communities’ welfare. It is not a trend, but rather a duty.