Intersectionality is a concept that is integral to the promotion of women’s rights. It emphasizes the need to consider multiple facets of discrimination and disempowerment faced by women and encourages policy- and decision-makers to consider each facet in their work. The lack of equal participation and representation is damaging both to the effectiveness of policies aimed to empower women, but also to the strength of the cause as a whole. Representation matters, as we have learned, and it is vital for young girls and women to see other women in these roles.
For these reasons, promoting the participation of women in decision making and leadership was an important aim of many of the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment projects. The objective was to increase the presence and visibility of women in leadership and decision-making processes at all levels of democratic governance and other spheres of leadership in Africa. The projects were undertaken in accordance with the aspirations set out by the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), with emphasis on Articles 7 and 8 of the Convention.
These projects, amongst others, implemented community based awareness programmes that brought together women to identify key strategies, interventions and policies to help them ascend to leadership positions in the future. Further initiatives included engaging with constitution review mechanisms to entrench women’s human rights and lobbying to secure legislation and policy directives that would safeguard women attaining a fair representation in decision making structures.
The development of leadership skills among rural women is an important priority and was amongst others achieved by involving women’s organisations, community structures, faith based organisations, youth organisations and other women’s civil sector organisations. Young women from communities attended workshops that addressed subjects such as leadership skills, time management, public speaking and business communication skills. Women were provided with study materials that they could later use to assist the development of other women within their communities. Other interventions included capacity training and change monitoring workshops for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs); a conference on gender issues for women leaders; convening a lawmakers’ forum and a seminar for traditional and religious leaders on the role of women leaders in governance; developing a database of women political leaders; formation of the Network of African Business Women (NABW); convening 2 annual NABW conferences; implementing the portal of women entrepreneurs. The impact analysis of projects indicated a marked increase in the involvement of women in governance issues at family, community, organisational and state level.
Key lessons learned from projects:
- Sensitise women to better understand their leadership and decision-making roles;
- Effective advocacy is very important for changing negative perceptions about women’s participation in decision-making and leadership;
- Provide leadership and decision-making training for women
- Adopt laws and/or policies that require equitable representation of women on decision-making bodies
- Strength the political leadership and participation of rural women
Sensitise women to better understand their leadership and decision-making roles
If women are effectively sensitised, they will better understand their leadership and decision-making roles, and this will ensure that they participate more effectively in politics and governance. This was the key lesson learned during the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association’s (CRUDAN) project to increase the involvement of women leaders in governance across Nigeria. It was further argued that when women’s awareness is raised on gender policies and human rights in general, it strengthens their resolve to pursue their rights in all spheres of life. In the Republic of Mali, it was found that political advancement of rural women requires a change in behaviour with regard to women’s own sense of identity and the negative view they have on their status, heads of families, community leaders and political parties. In this regard, it is also important to provide women with adequate and accessible role models and examples of women leaders.
Effective advocacy is very important for changing negative perceptions about women’s participation in decision-making and leadership
A number of projects highlighted the importance of effective advocacy to ensure that women are accepted in decision-making and leadership positions. These efforts are further reinforced if traditional and religious leaders support such advocacy, if Community Based Organisations (CBOs) are involved, and if there is good collaboration between the public and private spheres. Building awareness on gender issues further changes the negative perceptions about women’s involvement in politics. An interesting observation that was made in Nigeria was that women tend to be more proactive and participative when men advocate for their participation in decision-making and leadership. The project to entrench women human rights in the Kenyan constitution found that there was a need for more dialogue forums, especially at the community level, and information education materials to promote the role of women in leadership and decision-making processes.
Provide leadership and decision-making training for women
Adequate training should be provided to assist women to take up leadership and decision-making roles and thereby broaden the pool of candidates for such positions. Such training should further incorporate modules that will equip women leaders with the skills to develop strategies and action plans in the political arena. In the Republic of Mali, the project to strengthen the capacity of women to participate in local governance highlighted the importance of decentralised training at village level to ensure that a wider range and number of women benefit from such interventions. A further observation was that literacy is a necessary foundation to ensure that women effectively participate and benefit from any intervention provided.
Adopt laws and/or policies that require equitable representation of women on decision-making bodies
Adopting laws and/or policies that require equitable representation of women on decision-making bodies is a powerful means of empowering women. Political parties should further adopt measures, including internal quotas, to ensure that women are proportionately represented in local offices and on electoral rolls. In Cameroon, the Federation of Cameroonian Civil Society Organisations found that the adoption of a law reserving a number of seats for women on decision-making bodies greatly helped in motivating women to accept nomination.
Strengthen the political leadership of rural women
The project undertaken by the Action Research Group for Economic and Social Promotion in the Republic of Mali showed that it is important to strengthen the political leadership of rural women to ensure country-wide gender equality. This can be achieved by establishing a central core of women leaders with common interests and then set up a federated organisation of the women leaders at national level. It is further crucial to change attitudes and the behavior of political parties to ensure that they effectively address gender equality.