Welcome Address By Aisha Abdullahi @AishaLAbdullahi at the 4th High Level Meeting #DGTrends #WomenInPolitics

4th High Level Dialogue

Womens Equal Participation and Leadership in Political Parties in Africa


Welcome Statement


Kigali, Rwanda

7 December 2015

Your Excellency President Paul Kagame, Our Gracious Host

Your Excellency, the Chair of the African Union Permanent Representative Committee, Amb. Albert Chimindi

Members of the PRC Bureau,

Excellencys, Heads of the African Governance Architecture Platform

Colleagues from the African Union Commission, AU organs and RECs


I am honoured on behalf of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Dlamini Zuma to welcome you to the 4th High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Elections and Governance in partnership with the Government of Rwanda. With a deep sense of gratitude and humility I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency President Paul Kagame and the people of the Republic of Rwanda for graciously hosting us in this clean and breathtakingly beautiful land of a thousand.

The High Level Dialogue on Democracy on Democracy, Human Rights and Democracy is an annual platform that allows AU Member States, various AU Organs, Regional Economic Communities, varied national actors including civil society organisations to pause and take stock of trends, challenges and prospects on these three critical areas of focus. It takes place under the umbrella of the African Governance Architecture a platform for dialogue between the various stakeholders with the mandate to promote good governance and strengthen democracy in Africa. The choice of the theme for this year’s dialogue is very deliberate. As my colleague and Chair of the of the Permanent Representatives’ Committee has rightly stated, 2015 is the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 as declared by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Malabo in June last year. The focus this year on participation of women in political parties is therefore not only a follow up to this Declaration but also feeds into the broader aspiration of an equitable and equal Africa from a gender perspective by the year 2063.

Permit me, your excellency, to clarify that this High Level Dialogue, is not a mere talk shop. Far from it. To the contrary, we aim to depart Kigali having charted a way forward for the Continent on the subject of participation of women in political parties in Africa. The broad objective of this dialogue is to provide a frank, open and inclusive space for African Governance Architecture Platform Members, Member States and non- state actors to reflect and account on the impact of their work towards consolidating democracy and strengthening good governance in Africa. We therefore target three concrete goals from this High Level Dialogue and these are:

  1. Renewed commitment of Member States to ratify, domesticate and implement AU Shared Values Instruments that promote gender equality, particularly the Maputo Protocol;
  2. Enhanced synergy, cooperation and collaboration among AGA Platform Members in promoting gender equality and leadership of women in political parties;
  3. Lastly, but most importantly, to critically study and understand Rwanda’s success story on women empowerment and participation with the aim of replicating the lessons in other AU Member States in regard to participation of women in political parties.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa has long been held as the poster child of everything that can go wrong in leadership and governance. On the subject of participation of women in the political sphere, the same half-truths have been peddled. I would like to share some interesting statistics about women and politics in Africa. As at the start of the year 2014, 64% of legislative seats in Rwanda were held by women. In Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa, women held more than 40% of parliamentary seats. In Mozambique, Angola, Uganda and Tanzania 35% of seats were occupied by women. By comparison, in the same period, in the United States, women held 18% of seats in the House of Representatives and 20% in the Senate. There were female speakers of the house in one fifth of African Parliaments, which is higher than the world average of 14%. Your Excellency, from these statistics, Rwanda dwarfs everybody else, including Nordic countries that for a long time enjoyed the highest rates of women representation. Your excellency, you famously stated that there are small countries but there are no small peoples. Rwanda is truly the world’s superpower on gender parity and deserves a round of applause!

Africa’s progress thus far constructs three narratives.

First, it tells us that we are committed to the obligations arising from the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, popularly referred to as the Maputo Protocol. Article 9 of this Protocol which require States Parties to ‘take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in political life of their countries.

Second, this progress demonstrates that we, as Africans, are increasingly aware of the essential role of women as drivers and critical enablers of effective political governance. We are mindful of the need to deconstruct stereotypical firewalls propelled by culture and traditions which render women participation on the political arena a mirage.

The third narrative is one of exigency. 2020 marks the end of African Women’s Decade and yet in some parts of our continent, the idea of women’s equal participation and leadership in the political governance space is a distant thought. The ideal of a united Africa urges us to be resolute in our efforts to bring make gendered empowerment a priority for all.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

States in practice adopt different legislative, executive and administrative mechanisms to increase the level of participation of women in political spaces. A common mechanism is the use of quotas and the most common, particularly in parliamentary representation, are political quotas, legislative quotas and reserved seats. These measures are meant to correct some of the obstacles, especially institutional and systemic barriers that still prevent women’s equal access to politics.

However, quotas on their own have proven not to be enough. They must be coupled with an enabling environment for women to participate. And we must go further. Those women who gain access to leadership in the political sphere must be empowered to actively participate and influence decision-making. I wish to further problematize the idea of participation of women in a broader sense. Women’s participation and attendant challenges in Africa are not limited to participation in political parties. Even as we train our focus on political parties, we must not lose the bigger picture. Representation of women remains far from ideal in civil society organisations, public boards, local councils, trade unions, professional or industry associations, companies, community-based organizations and other organizations concerned with public and political life. Even as we focus on the battle at hand in the next two days, which is political parties we must not lose sight of the war that must be won and which, is full and meaningful participation in all private and public spheres.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To achieve this goal, we must understand the barriers to women’s equal participation and leadership in politics.

First, cultural, ethnic and religious misperceptions imbued by patriarchy stand as a key barrier to women’s equal participation and leadership on the political landscape of our continent. I particularly use the word ‘misperceptions’ because the concept of humanity in Africa is central to our cultural and religious beliefs. Our very existence is interconnected. Political, economic or social suppression on any basis, including gender, must therefore not exist. It is our duty as Africans to correct the misconception that our cultural and religious values are incompatible with creating equal opportunities for women in political and leadership spaces.

Men, who have enjoyed the biases of patriarchy, are often uncomfortable when discriminatory cultural practices are questioned. I am not necessarily saying that men should go to the kitchen, although some of the best cooks are men! Rather, I urge that we all teach our sons that the sky does not fall when a woman steps out of the kitchen into public office. The discourse should always be about what individuals can do to the best of their ability and not to limit their potential by the boxes in which stereotypes place them.

It is often said that women are their own worst enemies and that this explains the dismal performance of women in politics. Studies have proven that this narrative of women not supporting each other or obstructing fellow women from attaining success, also known as the Queen Bee Syndrome, is not the reality. The real enemy of women is denial of equal opportunity, debilitating and discriminatory social constructions.


Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For obvious reasons, the subject of women’s participation in all areas is close to my heart! I could speak on the subject until the cows come home! Let me conclude by urging all of us to take the bull by the horn and critically and genuinely pursue ideas and strategies of enhancing the participation of women in political spaces. Of necessity, this will involve transforming as individuals, reviewing our values as a society and reorienting our institutions towards a better deal for the women in Africa. As Alvin Toffler succinctly put it, the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

I thank you.

Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union Commission


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