Keynote Speaker, Her Excellency Margit Hellwig-Bötte, the German Ambassador to Botswana and SADC;
Chairperson of the SADC PF Regional Women’s Caucus, Hon. Regina Esparon;
Chairperson of the SADC PF Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Women Advance and Youth Development, Hon. Josepha Raymond Shally;
Honourable Members of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and Parliamentarians from various SADC National Parliaments;
Regional Director, UN Women East and Southern Africa, Dr Maxime Houinato, represented by Maureen Shonge, Policy Specialist Women’s Political Participation;
Representatives of the SADC Secretariat led by Ms. Keleaboga Dambuza;
Mr Munetsi Madakufamba, Executive Director Southern African Research and Documentation Centre;
Executive Director for Women in Law in Southern Africa, Ms Fadzai Traquino;
Representatives of Media Organisations;
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations;
Distinguished staff of the SADC PF and SADC National Parliaments
Ladies and Gentleman
I extend my warm welcome this morning.
I can’t help but reflect on the last 40 years as they have been particularly significant in advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment, positive masculinity, and elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women and girls.
I remain nostalgic of the fiery dissent that laid the foundations of our work and characterized women in politics in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
And here we are in the 21st century, 28 years after Cairo, 27 years after Beijing and 20 years after Maputo - laden with variants of the same old sufferings that we have always fought against. The ‘12 Critical Areas of Concern’ that were flagged at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing are intact, only this time, they have grown prickly wings and barbed talons.
As we remember the battles women have endured from the 1900’s to Beijing, let us take a moment to appreciate that Women's political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality, democracy and for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Advancing women’s political participation is crucial for delivering on all SDGs. Women’s equal and meaningful participation at all levels of decision-making is specifically articulated in Target 5.5 and Target 16.7. These targets call upon states to
“Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” and to “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
Many more targets that seek to secure and protect women’s health and wellbeing are embedded in the entire spectrum of SDG deliverables and other development frameworks.
Sadly, the realization of progressive provisions has been elusive. Women’s Full Political Participation has been challenged by:
- “Paucity” of women leaders across all branches of government
- “Imbalances” of women’s presence across multiple apex political decision-making positions
- “Token” presence in which women may be too few to change the existing patriarchal structure
- “Illusion” of women’s in highly visible roles in political leadership yet absent in power
- “Reserved” seat quotas that create the impression of inclusion within patriarchal structures with - “Exclusive” members of elite political families/ dynasties being beneficiaries of nominations
- Violence against women politicians that is pervasive limiting women’s entry to formal politics
- The distinct difference between “women’s political leadership”, “feminist political leadership” and “women’s political effectiveness.”
It is important to note that “women’s political effectiveness” as “the ability to use ‘voice’ to politicize issues of concern to women, to use electoral leverage to press demands on decision makers, to trigger better responsiveness from the public sector to their needs, and better enforcement of constitutional commitments to women’s equal rights.” Certainly, a minority of women leaders can be said to have this level of effectiveness.
Here we are enduring Wings of Pandemics and condoning Talons of Injustice. Our ambers are low yet we must fan fiery dissent against every storm, against systemic exclusion and against disempowering patriarchal structures.
I beseech you on this beautiful Sunday morning to arise.
Arise, because women remain underrepresented in leadership. Arise because 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunities.
Arise because Women make up just 26 per cent of parliamentarians in Sub-Saharan Africa. Arise so we can energise and get to the 50% mark.
Arise because Africa continues to have the highest cases of Maternal death, child deaths, HIV’AIDS and Malaria.
Arise because we need to firm up our commitment and act for the Africa we want.
Arise because under-representation of women in decision-making processes is a systemic issue which undermines society at its very core. Under-representation of women leads to policies which are one-sided, gender-biased, or discriminatory, and this in turn leads to a deepening of the gender divide between men and women. Gender-bias makes weak policies to empower women, and thus women are not encouraged to officiate in political positions. It is thus a turning wheel whereby women are kept behind the veil of progress in a most systemic manner.
Gender and Power are intrinsically linked, and inclusion presents the opportunity for all women in politics to perpetuate dignity. We must reject exclusion in all its forms and tendencies as it diminishes our prospects for tackling Gender & Social Inequities and Inequalities.
We have the opportunity to make a difference - We can advance Inclusive Policy & Legal Frameworks, address population needs along the life cycle and across the spectrum of powerlessness; We can lead the way in Strengthening Organizational Cultures, We can share opportunities and utilize the between the power we wield to arrest vulnerabilities populations often face , We can step up the creation, allocation, activation and deployment of resources within our mandate to respond to the challenges faced my other women folk like us
Today we choose wisdom, we choose to be understanding big truths in a deeper way. And we choose to stand together with arms linked, we choose to fix each other’s crown and we choose to contest exclusion in every realm with grace.
Let me emphasizee that this regional dialogue on women participation in political spheres comes at the right time, especially when several challenges threaten the SADC region, both socially and economically. I believe this is the first regional dialogue of this nature after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I thank all those who are participating today to ensure that this event meets its desired objectives.
In SADC, women representation in Parliament struggles to reach an overall average of 30%, whilst the objective is to attain 50% parity. In some countries, women representation in Parliament is as low as below 20%.
As I conclude, today, as we gather, I wish that the audience takes stock of the commanding reality and learn from past lessons on how to improve women representation, that is what has worked and what has not.
There is a need for more.
There is a need for the regional or international norms contained in treaties to finally take shape at national level, and to be enacted by Parliament. In truth, treaties, covenants and protocols which are not domesticated are no more than paper promises, if the ensuing thrust for domestication is absent. This is in line with Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which provide that the doctrine of “Pacta Sunt Servanda” should prevail, that is countries should consider treaties as binding and implement them in good faith. Thus apart from treaty signature and ratification, concrete action must be pursued for domestication.
I am confident that this regional policy dialogue will bring fresh momentum and a wind of change to women advancement in matters of representation, and I encourage all partners to work together accordingly to reach the coveted objective of a world with 50% gender parity at all decision-making levels.
And finally remember this…Measuring numbers is not enough. It has been widely argued that the number of women in representative politics is not the best indicator of women’s actual political participation. Increased numerical representation does not automatically translate into increased influence for women: having a seat at the table does not guarantee that a woman will have the opportunity to speak, or that she will be listened to. Understanding and measuring perceptions is particularly important for measuring changes in women’s participation and leadership. Understanding how women’s voice translates into influence needs to begin from women’s own experiences.
Women Belong in all Places
Where Decisions are Being Made
~Ruth Bader Ginsburg
With these words, I thank you all for your kind attention.
Ms Boemo Sekgoma,
6th November 2022
 The burning issues were Women and Poverty, Education and Training of Women, Women and Health, Violence against Women, Women and Armed Conflict, Women and the Economy, Women in Power and Decision-making, Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of Women, Human Rights of Women, Women and the Media, Women and the Environment, The Girl-child.
 Kanter (1977)
 Goetz (2003, 29)
 Some may contend that women who are political leaders do not necessarily support the women’s movement or feminist causes. While this may be true, we make no assumption that women holding formal leadership positions will advance the interests of women more than men.