A SADC REGION-WIDE STUDY ON CHALLENGES AFFECTING WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN THE SADC REGION - Report Submitted to SADC Parliamentary Forum By Shalestone Elections and Governance Consultants February 2023

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2.1 Context of Women Participation in the SADC Region. 7

2.2 SADC Protocols and Performance. 8

2.3 SADC PF Initiatives to Promoting Women's Participation. 9


3.1 Qualitative Data. 10

3.2 Sampling. 11

3.2 Limitations. 12


4.1 Overview.. 13

4.2 Barriers to Women's Participation and Representation. 14

4.2.1 Socio-Cultural and Religious Barriers. 14 Patriarchal Culture in the SADC Region. 15

4.2.1 2 Culture and the Nomination and Election of Women. 16 Women's Political Participation, Representation and Family Responsibilities. 17 Backlash to Women's Political Participation. 17

4.2.2 Institutional Barriers. 19 Electoral Systems. 19 Legislation. 22 Political Parties. 28

4.2.3 Economic Barriers. 31 Money and the Electoral Cycle. 32

4.2.4 Psychological and Motivational Barriers. 34


6. REFERENCES.. Error! Bookmark not defined.


8. ENDNOTES.. 40




ANC             African National Congress

ACDEG        African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance

ACHPR         African Charter on Human and People's Rights

BPFA            Beijing Platform for Action

CANGO        Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations

CEDAW        Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

CSOs           Civil Society Organisations

DRC             Democratic Republic of Congo

FPTP            First Past the Post

GEWA          Gender Equality and Women Advancement

ICCPR          International Convention of Civil and Political Rights

IDEA             International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

ILO               International Labour Organisation

IPU               Inter-Parliamentary Union

LDS              Linyon Demokratik Seselwa

MPs              Members of Parliament

MPLA           People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola

NA                National Assembly

PR                Proportional Representation

RECs            Regional Economic Communities

RWPC          Regional Women's Parliamentary Caucus

SADC           Southern Africa Development Community

SADC PF      SADC Parliamentary Forum

SGDs           Sustainable Development Goals

UDHR           Universal Declaration of Human Rights

UN               United Nations

UNDP           United Nations Development Programme

INITA            National Union for the Total Independence of Angola

VAWE          Violence Against Women in Elections

VAWP          Violence Against Women in Politics



The study shows that the Southern African region has experienced increased women's political representation over time, shifting from a regional average of 18 to 28 per cent. However, the representation pattern is skewed across the member states that make up the region. The region hosts some of the best performers in women's political representation, notably South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique. At the same time, it regrettably also represents some of the worst global performers, including Botswana, Eswatini, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The progression experienced in the region has, however, been steady and slow, with some member states often regressing. The study concludes that:

  • Despite the improvement in women's political representation in some countries, there is no gainsaying that this achievement is not always assured, nor is the path necessarily linear. Therefore, safeguarding the gains and sustaining the momentum through robust strategies to eradicate all barriers to women's participation remains critical.
  • The barriers to women's participation are not disparate but intricately intertwined. Therefore, an attempt to address only one set of factors without a more systemic approach is unlikely to yield the desired result of greater women's political representation.

The study offers the following specific recommendations.

  • On Legislation:
  • The study recommends levelling the political playing field through instituting comprehensive Legislation addressing the identified barriers to women's political participation. Measures must also be put in place to ensure the implementation of the Legislation. This Legislation must, however, be accompanied by high levels of political will to ensure full implementation of this Legislation is ed was also highlighted.
  • The is a need for SADC PF to lobby governments and national parliaments to institute gender-sensitive electoral laws that recognise the economic constraints of women. Among these would be ensuring minimal nomination fees, stricter laws of campaigning to bar canvassing and enforcing the laws that ban the use of money in vote buying. Such initiatives must for part of the existing provisions of the SADC Model Law on Elections.
  • SADC PF must use its strategic lobbying and convening powers to encourage member parliaments to consider electoral systems reforms to enable women's participation. For example, SADC PF must sensitise member parliaments on the benefits of gender quotas for substantive representation using criteria such as the case of the ANC in South Africa. 
  • On international, continental, and regional instruments:
  • Considering the poor implementation of international, continental, and regional instruments, SADC PF must consider developing a Model Law akin to the SADC Model Laws on Elections and Child Marriages as a guiding framework for domesticating the international conventions signed by the SADC Member States.
  • SADC PF must lobby the SADC Member States which have not yet signed or

ratified the SADC Protocol on gender and development to sign and ratify it as a priority.

  • SADC PF to consider initiating an election cycle-based country reporting mechanism for the SADC Gender and Development Protocol. The tool could take the form of the CEDAW and BFA reporting committees, which report progress reports, conduct country assessment visits, and offer recommendations.



Article 6 (c) of the Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) Constitution enjoins the institution to promote the principles of gender equality through collective responsibility within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. In line with this constitutional prescript and Mission, the SADC PF's Strategic plan (2019-2023) sets one of its goals: "To lobby and advocate equal and equitable representation of Women and youth in political and decision-making positions."  According to this goal, SADC PF has commissioned a SADC-wide study to establish the challenges affecting women's political participation in the SADC Region.

The study responds to a worrying stagnation in women's political representation in leadership and elective positions across the SADC countries. The regional average remains below the aspired parity, at only 23.2 per cent in 2018, despite various initiatives meant to improve the situation, including developing progressive normative frameworks, conventions, protocols, and strategies at the international, continental, and regional levels.

Therefore, the study's objective was to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the challenges at hand regarding women's political participation. It assessed, identified, and documented the situation concerning women's participation in decision-making structures in the SADC region. The study is informed by an overarching theoretical framework that looks into structures (social, economic, cultural, and political), institutions and actors, all within the framework of a human rights approach.

The study findings will serve as a base for SADC PF's strategic thinking regarding what to do to redress the situation. In addition, the results will inform the development of an advocacy strategy for stakeholders in the SADC Member States, particularly policymakers, legislative drafters, legislators, and political parties. The study will also assist SADC PF in the development of a strategy to collaborate with other institutions specialising in women and political governance issues. In addition, the study will inform SADC PF's long-term gender-responsive election observation.

This report has four parts. Following this introduction is the contextual background dealing with the context of women's participation in the SADC Region, an assessment of the SADC protocols regarding women's involvement and their impact, and the SADC PF gender-promoting initiatives. The third part of the report deals with the study methodology. The fourth part provides the research findings, and the fifth offers conclusions and recommendations.




2.1 Context of Women Participation in the SADC Region

There is a consensus in the literature that gender equality is a major driver of sustainable human development. The 2021 Africa Gender Barometer is explicit in asserting gender equality as intrinsic to democracy and good governance. Women's equal participation in society's social, economic, and political spheres represents the areas through which the achievement of gender equality manifest. Key amongst these is women's political participation. Participation denotes equal access to and women's representation in political decision-making[i]. Equality and political participation assume the freedom to speak out, assemble and associate; the ability to participate in the conduct of public affairs; the opportunity to register as a candidate, to the campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government[ii]. In addition, it denotes access to political leadership and decision-making across national parliaments, local governments, political party leadership, speakers of parliament and executive institutions of power, amongst others.

The equity and efficiency perspectives capture the argument for women's political representation. The equity argument posits that women's political participation is a human rights issue. Given that the essence of democracy is a fair representation of all interest groups in society, it stands that women have a right to a fair share in decision-making in proportion to their numbers as a distinct societal group[iii]. The efficacy argument emphasises qualitative and substantive aspects and highlights how women's interests, perspectives, and experiences enrich governance. In this regard, Mala Htun posits that 'Women leaders better represent the interests of women citizens, and will introduce women's perspectives into policymaking and implementation, as well as expand women's opportunities in society at large[iv].

Hence the advocates of women's inclusion have argued that simply having women in Parliament is not enough. There needs to be a critical mass of women before their presence can yield substantive benefits (Barnes and Buchard 2012)[v]. Thenjiwe Mtintso et al. also believe that access and numbers (often provided through formal and symbolic representation measures) are a prerequisite for, but do not guarantee, transformation. They argue that once women have entered political decision-making, they must remove the barriers to their effective participation to effect change.

A look at Africa and its sub-regions reveals that women's political representation in the last decade has slightly improved, with some sub-regions doing better than others and others lagging[vi]. Women's representation in Parliament stands at 24 per cent overall, placing Africa just slightly below the global average of about 30 per cent. Despite the improvements over time, the general pattern noted by the African Gender Barometer[vii] is that women are still glaringly absent from top decision-making positions. Women's representation in a cabinet in Africa stands at 22 per cent, and women constitute a mere 12 per cent of the top six party functionaries in ruling and opposition parties. Furthermore, a meagre 7 per cent of women occupy top political executive positions (presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, and deputy prime ministers) across the continent.

In the SADC region, the efforts towards ensuring women's political representation are nominal and yet to reach the halfway mark towards achieving gender parity.

The region is falling behind in compliance with some global, regional, and national laws that endow women with rights to equal political participation and representation. As a result, several barriers to women's participation and gender representation, whether formal, symbolic, or descriptive, remain intact. Although formal and descriptive representation is crucial measures for inclusivity and can contribute towards substantive representation, deliberate efforts for substantive inclusion require greater attention.

There are several barriers impacting gender representation. Within these barriers are more long-term structural causes of women's exclusion from political decision-making and more immediate barriers. Socio-cultural, religious, institutional, political, violence, economic, psychological, or motivational obstacles are often not experienced equally across various regions and countries. Women are not a homogenous group, and their experiences in political participation may differ or be more pronounced under the sub-group the women may represent. For example, there are differences between young women, women with disabilities and women from minority ethnic or religious groups.

2.2 SADC Protocols and Performance

The SADC adopted the Declaration on Gender in 1997 and Developed the Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008 to promote women's political participation. While the Declaration sought to increase women's participation in government to 30 per cent by 2005, the protocol placed a higher benchmark to ensure that women hold at least 50 per cent of decision-making positions in public and private sectors. Specifically, Article 12 of the Protocol requires all State Parties to achieve the 50 per cent threshold by 2015. In addition, article 13 requires State Parties to "use special legislative measures to enable women to have equal opportunities with men to participate in all electoral processes, including the administration of elections". Out of the 14 SADC Member States that signed the protocol, 11 have also ratified it.

Despite the above initiatives, the SADC Region has mixed results. On the one hand, it has experienced some increase over time, from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. This increase is thanks to some of the best women's political representation performers, notably South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique. On the other hand, the region regrettably also represents some of the worst global performers, including Botswana, Eswatini, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Worst performing countries have not achieved the desired 30 per cent gender balance and the targets for gender parity (50–50). Most parliaments in the region remain male-dominated, and women Members of Parliament (MPs) are under-represented in decision-making structures. Table 1 below presents the regional performance in numbers.


Table 1: Women in Parliament Representation in the SADC Region, as of May 2022


International Ranking

Regional Ranking

Lower/Single House women representation percent

Upper Chamber women representation percent

South Africa











































































Sources: Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), May 2022 and International IDEA, 2022, Gender Quotas Database

The table shows that women's current political representation in leadership and political decision-making in the SADC region remains poor despite the progressive Legislation the region has enacted to urge governments in the aspired direction. As shown in section of this report below, almost all the SADC member states have signed and ratified most international and regional protocols on gender, including the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

2.3 SADC PF Initiatives to Promoting Women's Participation

The SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) is the leading inter-parliamentary organisation in the SADC region. It aims to promote inter-parliamentary cooperation and diplomacy for the region's benefit. Under its Strategic Plan (2019-2023), the SADC-PF pledges to act as the flag-bearer of democratisation and socio-economic development through parliamentary initiatives. It also aims to rise to the emerging challenges facing the Southern Africa region, including gender inequality and violation of human rights. In this regard, the Strategic Plan enjoins the Forum "To lobby and advocate equal and equitable representation of Women and youth in political and decision-making positions. Article 6(c) of the SADC PF Constitution, which enjoins the institution to promote gender equality through collective responsibility within the SADC region, bolsters this commitment.

Over the last decade, SADC PF has implemented several initiatives to advance democratisation in the SADC region and perpetuate the democratic drive through the promotion of good governance and accountability through targeted parliamentary action. In addition, it has developed and implemented strategic interventions aimed at lobbying and advocating women's empowerment, gender equality and equal representation of women in political and decision-making positions in SADC Member States through policy development. Top among the policies is the policy on Gender Equality and Women Advancement (GEWA) to help the SADC member states implement regional measures for gender equality and the mainstreaming of gender. The GEWA seeks to translate the Member States' commitments into concrete, practical interventions.

SADC PF has also established the Regional Women's Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC). The RWPC is an organ of the Plenary Assembly, which serves as a platform for women parliamentarians to mobilise on women's agenda, including gender equality, effective women representation in Parliament and political parties and knowledge sharing by women parliamentarians at national and regional levels. The Forum has also established the Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Women Advancement and Youth Development, which monitors gender mainstreaming across the region, including in national Parliaments.


Based on the study's objectives and mindful of the existing literature on the region, the study adopted a qualitative method for data gathering and analysis. 


3.1 Qualitative Data

The qualitative method is key in explaining the nature of the women's experiences in political participation, notably the barriers encountered by women and any interrelationships across the various themes and the SADC countries. The study used a concurrent triangulation approach with simultaneous quantitative and qualitative data collection. This approach ensured the validation of the findings under each methodological approach through the evidence they produced. Data collection tools were:

  • Desk study for primary and secondary sources: to establish the trends in women's political participation and representation from the inception of the regional protocols, factors affecting their participation and representation in politics and decision-making positions, and their leadership levels.
  • Key informant interviews: to obtain the views of relevant stakeholders on experiences and challenges to women's political participation. The key informants were relevant governmental and non-governmental entities at national and regional levels, political parties, and National Women Parliamentary Caucuses.
  • Focus group discussions (FGDs): to collect the views of relevant stakeholders on experiences and challenges to women's political participation. These stakeholders included women who are represented in decision-making structures at different levels within their parties and are current or former members of legislative assemblies.
  • Case studies: to get nuanced views of select relevant stakeholders on personal experiences and challenges to women's political participation (personal and party level). The case studies targeted women currently active in various political decision-making levels and those who are no longer active.
3.2 Sampling

The study used the purposive sampling method for cost-effectiveness and efficiency in data collection. In addition, this approach expedited data collection, given the limited time. Interviewees were established civil society organisations and women politicians within the SADC countries. The civil society organisations interviewed were women whose focus was on women's issues.  The respondents represented the ruling and opposition parties. Other respondents were either present or retired politicians. Some are ordinary party members, and others are parliamentarians and senators—the others are members of the women's parliamentary caucus. The average number of years in politics of the respondents was 25 years. The majority of the respondents were in the 46 -60 age group.

The study sampled 6 out of the 15 SADC Member States. The criteria for selecting these countries included:

  • the numerical presence of women in Parliament, governments with the existence of favourable clauses within political parties to encourage women's political participation,
  • the type of electoral system and the legal framework in place within the country to promote women's representation.

Based on this criterion, the study organised the countries into two high-performing countries, two average-performing countries and two low-performing countries regarding women's political participation. High-performing countries have at least 40 per cent of women in Parliament in at least one House. The average performing countries range between 30 per cent and 39 per cent, while the poor performing countries are below 30 per cent. These countries are as follows:

  • High performers: Namibia and Mozambique are: Second and third top performers, and Mozambique also represent the Lusophone countries.
  • Average performers: Tanzania and Madagascar- Tanzania is also the only SADC country led by a female President. On the other hand, Madagascar is an island state, a francophone, and a post-conflict state.
  • Poor performers: Botswana and Eswatini: Botswana and Eswatini have a robust chieftaincy system. Eswatini also exercises a unique Tinkhundla (non-political party-based) political system, which provides a comparative perspective with the rest of the SADC countries.

In addition to the above countries and the secondary data, which yielded information from all 15 SADC countries, respondents from the other SADC countries took part in the interviews at the SADC PF regional policy dialogue organised in Johannesburg on 6 and 7 November 2022. The theme of the policy dialogue was "Challenges that Women Face in Political Participation and Representation in the SADC Region". The interviewed countries include:

  • The DRC
  • Malawi
  • Zambia
  • Seychelles
  • South Africa.


3.2 Limitations

In as much as Shalestone strived to realise the set objectives of the study efficiently and effectively, several factors impacted the conduct of this study. Among these, the following limitations rank high because of their direct impact on the quality of this product.

  • Time constraints

The study faced severe time constraints because of the delay in the inception of the project and the limited time between data collection and validation of the report. Moreover, the limited time and non-responsiveness of targeted respondents did not allow for the quantitative assessment envisaged in the inception report.

  • Budget Constraints


The study had no budget provision for field work data collection. The lack of budget posed challenges to delivering a project of such regional importance and significance to SADC PF's strategic plan. To mitigate the problem, the Shalestone picky backed on its institutional missions in the region to do in-country interviews often at a huge logistical challenge as the targeted respondents were often unavailable.

The unavailability of respondents also contributed to substantial time delays because it meant work only happened when the Shalestone had the opportunity for regional travel. SADC PF mitigated this limitation by inviting Shalestone to the Regional Policy Dialogue in Johannesburg in November 2022. The regional dialogue enabled interviews for most participants, but this was not a smooth exercise because it disrupted the policy dialogue programme.

  • Lack of Cooperation and availability of the required respondents


The lack of cooperation had a detrimental effect on the initially proposed methodology for the study. Most members of the Regional Women's Parliamentary Caucus did not avail themselves of interviews even after the intervention of the SADC PF Secretariat. Only a few took the time to respond to the questionnaire emailed to them.

4.1 Overview

This study found general trends and factors impacting women's political participation and electoral processes. In addition, it noted some excellent practices from some of the SADC Member States that offer the possibility for benchmarking to their counterparts. The study has also identified several barriers to women's participation. These barriers include long-term structural causes of women's exclusion from political decision-making. There are also short-term factors that fall into various but strongly intertwined categories, notably barriers related to the socio-cultural and religious environment, institutional, economic, psychological, and motivational factors and those that relate to the existence and prevalence of political violence.


4.2 Barriers to Women's Participation and Representation

The barriers to women's representation emanate from the socio-cultural, religious environment, and institutional barriers. The institutional barriers include the legal and electoral systems, the role played by political parties, economic factors, motivational and psychological barriers, and political violence, notably violence against women in politics (VAWP) and violence against women in elections (VAWE). The following sections describe these barriers.

4.2.1 Socio-Cultural and Religious Barriers

As widely acknowledged in many studies, politics remains a male domain that many women have found unwelcoming and hostile. A patriarchal culture that fundamentally dictates the roles acceptable for men and women and defines the value of each gender is at the heart of this. Culture regard informs how social, political, and economic institutions are structured and governed, how they function, and ultimately the outcomes emanating from these. In the absence of measures that decisively disrupt the hold that a firmly entrenched patriarchal culture and its traditions have on women's political participation, women will continue to lag in political representation.

Societies in which traditional or patriarchal values remain intense frown on women entering politics. This study found that the barriers emanating from the socio-cultural and religious environment are the most pervasive hindrance towards greater women's representation at political decision-making levels across the sampled member states. The study established that women face barriers to actively participating in politics and accessing leadership positions due to cultural customs and traditions. As a result, women are sometimes reluctant to engage in politics or stand for leadership positions. As shown in Table 1 in an earlier section, lower levels of women in some countries run for political leadership roles compared to men.

According to some respondents, "under the patriarchal culture, society discourages the women from engaging in politics, and the women who dare participate are more likely to be negatively stereotyped by men and women in society". In addition, some respondents revealed that their countries have deeply entrenched patriarchy, with negative stereotypes attached to the participation of women. For example, a female politician from Malawi stated:

"It is challenging for a woman to join politics because most women depend on their husbands for financial support, and most men would not want to spend their money on their woman to do politics. In addition, most people think women politicians are of loose morals, so it is hard to get any support when you want to contest a political position".

Respondents from Eswatini shared the experiences encountered by women across different ages. In one instance, a young woman who was disqualified from participating in the elections as a candidate because she was unmarried. In another case, a widow was barred from contesting elections because she was supposedly “culturally expected to observe the mourning period” before attending to public duties. Another respondent said that:

During the campaign period some community members   insisted that as a woman, I am culturally expected to kneel down while addressing the community. I complained to the Electoral and Boundaries Commission official that kneeling down was very uncomfortable and it denied me an equal opportunity with the male counterparts who were allowed to speak while standing. With a backup from other community members, I was allowed to speak while standing”.

The respondents from Madagascar also shared similar challenges where men do not want women to lead, especially in public spaces. One respondent indicated that patriarchy is so entrenched that in some cases me even vote on behalf of their wives, especially in the context of rife child marriages.  Consequently, women hardly ever aspire to want to take part in public spaces and especially in the political sphere. The respondent said she was only able to succeed to enter into the political space due to her having been active in civil society. She however pointed out how all political parties worked against her to de-campaign her and when she won the election there was a spiritual ritual that was undertaken by the elders who claimed they wanted to appease the Gods because her decision was an abomination.

The cultural negativity around women's participation in politics and leadership positions permeates the democratic and governance institutions in most SADC countries. It leads to a toxic political environment that paralyses these institutions' ability to adhere to inclusivity and ideals. Therefore, these institutions entrench and reinforce further marginalisation of women in accessing political leadership roles.

The respondents also gave mixed responses regarding the role of religion in their political endeavours. In some in countries like Malawi and Tanzania the respondents claimed that religion is at times abused to discouraging women’s political participation. On the other hand, the Zambia and Eswatini respondents reported positively about the role of their churches in endorsing them as election candidates. As a respondent from Eswatini remarked, who talks about religion as an enabler rather than a hinderance.

“I had the support of my church and that of other church leaders within the constituency. During the campaign period my pastor endorsed my name and encouraged church members to vote for me as a church member.” Patriarchal Culture in the SADC Region


The study noted that, like in other sub-regions in Africa, most SADC countries are mainly patriarchal. A strong power dynamic assumed through patriarchy essentially privileges men over women. Patriarchy is a socially constructed system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and property control. It assumes male dominance and female subservience, making it difficult for women to publicly compete against men for political leadership roles considered to be the male preserve. In addition, the traditional roles and division of labour between men and women in the region are still highly gendered, with women's gender identity still predominantly conceived as domestic, hence confining them to private rather than public space.

As noted in the preceding section, patriarchy replicated itself through governance institutions, and shapes the public psyche to repel attempts for women's access to participation. There is a prevailing association of masculinity with leadership and femininity with weakness and followership. For example, the Africa Gender Barometer[viii] reveals the commonly held perception in Botswana that men are naturally born leaders and that women cannot lead. The Setswana adage ('ga di nke ke etelelwa ke manamagadi pele, di ka wela selomo-Banna ke baeteledipele ka tholego'), literally translated to mean "A female cannot lead the span of oxen. Otherwise, they will fall into a ditch" captured this perception. Similarly, in Madagascar the century-old cultural and social norms confine Malagasy women to secondary roles, particularly in the public sphere. This perception stems from believing that men should lead and talk in public.[ix] 

The study noted that notwithstanding the above, some SADC Member States, notably Namibia and South Africa, have embraced special measures for gender inclusivity. They have configured their governance institutions to give women access not only to participate in politics but also to occupy senior leadership roles in government and other vital institutions. Others like Eswatini have put in place innovative initiatives like the "vote for a woman" campaigns, albeit with little or no results in the voting patterns. 

4.2.1 2 Culture and the Nomination and Election of Women

The study found that culture is weaponised to force women out of the running for political leadership positions hence the low levels of women nominated for elective positions. For example, the respondents from Tanzania pointed out that the families and the entire community expect a woman to drop out of an election race if she is up against a male relative. The respondents hold a similar sentiment from Madagascar, who pointed out that some communities do not allow women to vote despite women constituting a large demographic than men. The prevalence of such instances where women's right to vote is taken away in the name of culture is the testimony of the complex space women must navigate in Madagascar and elsewhere in the SADC region where women must obtain permission to vote from men.

The respondents indicated that the ripple effect of the cultural beliefs and stereotypes that portray women as weak and incapable of leadership is that the political parties also use these excuses to exclude women in candidate nominations. The respondents added rather than mitigating the impact of the cultural stereotypes, the male political party leaders perpetuate them and find lame excuses for excluding women. For example, a common reason by most party leaders is that "women constitute the majority of the party membership, but they do not support and vote for other women, hence the low representation of women". 

The Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations in Eswatini (CANGO) Director disputed that women do not support other women. He explained that it is not the duty of women only to vote for other women but for society as a whole to see the value in doing so. He pointed out that cultural beliefs and patriarchal socialisation influence the community, including women, to vote for men over women. In such a deep-rooted system, the women are accountable to the cultural norms. Therefore, they may find it difficult to also conceive of other women as capable of occupying political leadership roles. He suggested that voters sensitisation must deepen the conversations that embrace equal importance and leadership capabilities for men and women. Women's Political Participation, Representation and Family Responsibilities

The respondents cited the caregiving role of women based on cultural norms as one of the significant barriers to women's participation, representation and standing for political leadership elections. They indicated that the expectation of women as primary care givers in the home confines them to family-oriented responsibilities, and they cannot afford to be away from home for long. The respondents also indicated that they had difficulty getting moral and financial support from their partners for political activity. Neither do they get firm commitments to taking care of the children when the women go about their political activities. With limited or no partner support, the family structure condemns women to look after the children. As a result, women face constraints in leaving the children to attend to political activities.

This finding on family responsibility as a constraint to women's active political careers affirms the 2008 Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) survey[x] results in which more than half of the women parliamentarians surveyed cited difficulties in balancing family and political commitments as barriers to their participation in politics. This barrier also affects women who are single parents and younger women because the cultural expectations and stereotypes do not distinguish between married, single, or young mothers. Instead, they get the same treatment. Backlash to Women's Political Participation

The study found that when women venture into politics in defiance of cultural norms and beliefs, they often face intense backlash and hostility, discouraging them from furthering their political ambitions. The hostility manifests in political violence, insults, intimidation, and the withdrawal of family and community moral and social support. In some cases, defying cultural norms to enter politics has resulted in the breakdown of marriages. According to the respondents, this was prevalent in Tanzania, Eswatini, Madagascar and the DRC. Consequently, women yield to the pressure to leave politics to protect their marriage. However, in socio-cultural contexts where the value of women gets intricately tied to their marital status and reproductive roles, they have little room for choice.

The price to pay for engaging in politics extends beyond entry into politics to sustain a political career. The women interviewed in this regard also reported continuing to experience prejudicial treatment once they overcame the entrance and nomination barriers. As a result, they pointed out that they must work extra hard to prove their political worth. In recounting her political journey in politics, a seasoned politician from the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) party in Seychelles highlighted how the electorate often has a negative attitude towards women. Despite her 24 years of experience, she lamented that the voters do not regard her and other women as natural leaders, hence the need for women to perform over and leave no doubt in their leadership capabilities.

The quotations below capture some respondents' sentiments on cultural barriers to women's political participation and representation.

"There is a thinking that women are supposed to be seen but not heard. These negative sentiments worsen when women want to be heard and campaign for public office. The backlash is the subsequent mounting of unfair competition that can include violence". Seychelles

"If truth be told, society would rather have men in leadership than women". Zambia

"A woman is valued for being quiet and staying at home. Being active politically requires a woman to move out of her comfort zone, or at least to extend beyond what is customarily expected of her. This can attract backlash from one's family and society at large. Consequently, women representatives are often undervalued and perceived as ineffective, lacking the power to make decisions and as tokenistic representatives". Malawi

"A case in point is denying participation rights to women based on tradition cultural norms is their being in mourning or that they are inappropriately dressed like wearing trousers hence their disqualification" Eswatini.

"There is a general belief that men are leaders and women are supporters. Strong socio-cultural beliefs are at the back of resistance to women's political participation, and these beliefs have also impacted the lack of progress in advancing advocacy reforms to ensure increased women's political representation". Tanzania

"Unfortunately, patriarchy conspires to blinker women into thinking that they have to fight each other for the limited space that men 'allow' them to occupy, instead of fighting for the bigger and equal space that belongs to them as women equally as men". Zimbabwe

"Men have the advantage of cultural goodwill, and they were automatically assumed to be better candidates by being men, while as women, we are pushed to the back". Botswana

"A taunt that is often said to the women politicians particularly the younger ones when vying for leadership positions in the party is we can't nominate you because what if you get pregnant – it means you will not be able to spend time doing the responsibilities and that will cost the party" Tanzania.

4.2.2 Institutional Barriers

The study found that among the institutional barriers, the electoral systems and the legal framework are some key factors hindering women's political participation, prospects for nomination by their parties, and appointment to political leadership positions. Electoral Systems

An electoral system can be instrumental in ensuring gender representation, and depending on their engineering, some electoral systems can be highly exclusive, while others may enable broader inclusivity. The significance of electoral systems in political representation lies in their ability to influence the nomination and election of minorities and marginalised sections of society. Electoral systems have a significant impact on access to political representation. Electoral systems are also instrumental in shaping inclusivity within political parties through the candidate lists depending on the type of electoral system adopted because different electoral systems yield different outcomes. It depends on:

  • whether the system is proportional or majoritarian,
  • number of elected candidates in Wards, districts, provinces, or constituencies,
  • the requisite threshold for representation,
  • whether voters can choose between candidates as well as parties.
  • special mechanisms include reserved seats, quotas or mandated multi-ethnic or gender-sensitive 'slates'.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)[xi], "changing a country's electoral system often represents a far more realistic goal to work towards than dramatically changing the culture's view of women. This study found that half of the member states in the SADC region employ a first-past-the-post electoral system (see figure 1). In addition, a quarter of each member state uses the mixed and the proportional representation systems, respectively.

Figure1: Electoral systems in the SADC Region


(a) Proportional Representation System (PR): The PR system is more amenable to greater women's political representation. The study noted that the top three member states that have realised higher women's representation, namely South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique, all employ a PR system. In local government, the highest proportion of women is in countries with the PR and constitutional or legislated quotas of 49 per cent, as is the case with Namibia. As noted in table 1, the countries using the PR evidence the most progress towards achieving the 50 per cent women's representation benchmark as set through the revised SADC Gender and Development Protocol of 2015.

(b) First-Past-the-Post System (FPTP): The FPTP system is highly competitive and zero -sum in nature. Consequently, the system perpetuates the gender gap, especially in countries where patriarchy and marginalisation of minorities based on culture and religion exist. Moreover, the countries using the FPTP perform poorly in gender representation even if they have some nominal quotas because they hardly implement them due to limited political will.

(c) Hybrid System: The hybrid electoral systems combine the PR and FPTP systems to maximise prospects for inclusivity regarding broad pollical representation and gender. In most cases, the countries using these hybrid systems fare better regarding women's representation than those using the FPTP system.

(d) Quota Systems: Quotas play a decisive role in increasing women's political representation in decision-making. Where quotas are both legislated and voluntary evidence shows that they significantly advance women’s participation, and over time this will transcend the descriptive participation and lead to substantive representation. The case of Angola is incisive in this regard. The country hovered below the 30 per cent in the 2017 election cycle, and it has moved to 34 per cent gender representation after the 2022 elections. The law encourages the promotion of equal opportunities and equity between men and women, as well as a gender representation of not less than 30 per cent in their governing bodies at all levels’ (Article 20 (2-m) of Law 22/10 on Political Parties). Some parties including the governing party, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the main opposition, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) have instituted quotas in line with this legal provision.

For example, Tanzania previously had low women's representation. However, this has changed after the introduction of gender Quotas. The current Head of State is credited for affirming the need for gender quotas and appointing women into decision-making roles. For instance, she has appointed seven female ministers out of 23 in strategic ministries like foreign affairs, education, security, foreign affairs, and health. She has also designated 5 deputy ministers and 5 out of 26 women Regional Commissioners. Figure 2 below shows Tanzania's performance on women's representation before the introduction of a quota system and their performance after the introduction of quotas.

Figure 2: Gender Quotas and Women's Representation in Tanzania

Despite the above improvement, the respondents from civil society organisations (CSOs) in Tanzania argued that the quotas are not substantively empowering women but benefit the political parties with additional legislative seats. In Tanzania, 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament are reserved for women. The seats are allocated to the political parties in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats each party has secured through an election. Thus, the reserved seats are not tied to any constituency and were introduced only to appease the women's movement in the country. The respondents suggested that, as a result, the women occupying the reserved seats do not have the same status as the Constituency MPs. Therefore, they do not benefit from the party funding funds and are stigmatised as "token MPs". The country is yet to resume the constitutional reform process that started in 2011 but was suspended during President Magufuli's era. This reform included amendments to the Constitution to strengthen the gender quota system.

The study found that gender quotas cannot work where there is a lack of political will. For example, Botswana has not signed any progressive gender-related protocols at the regional and continental levels. Interviewed female politicians in Botswana cited this as a significant reason for the country's poor showing on the gender equality rankings. They said that out of the six specially elected additional MPs, only 4 are women. The respondents from Eswatini also indicated that Eswatini has a constitutionally mandated gender quota through which ten senators are to be elected by the House of Assembly, out of which half are female. In total, the King must appoint 20 Senators; again, half are women. However, they indicated that the King often treats these constitutional provisions as discretionary and implements them inconsistently usually when rewarding his staunch supporters.

The Botswana and Eswatini experiences sharply contrast with Zimbabwe, which used to hover between 9 to 18 per cent of women's representation before the introduction of the quotas to achieve the SADC target of 30 per cent. It has since made remarkable strides as one of the top performers in terms of higher percentages of women's inclusion in elected positions in the region. For example, women's representation increased from 16 per cent and 25 per cent in the National Assembly (NA) and Senate during the Seventh Parliament to 35 per cent in the National Assembly and 48 per cent in the Eighth Parliament.

However, respondents from civil society and some women politicians pointed out that the increase in percentages has not necessarily translated into real women empowerment in Zimbabwe's politics. They pointed out that while the quotas provided an opportunity for women including the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) component of the electoral system became less accessible to women. For example, 34 women obtained parliament seats through the FPTP in 2008. Yet only 26 women received parliament seats in 2013. The reduction was linked to the quota system because political parties were reluctant to nominate women for FPTP, arguing they had seats reserved through the quota system. This was a similar experience for women politicians in Tanzania, and Lesotho where political parties often refer aspirant women to contest elections via the women's quotas rather than the constituency seats. Legislation

Legislation, including constitutional reforms, is instrumental in ensuring women's fair and equitable access to political spheres— as voters, candidates, and elected officials. An enabling legislative framework fundamentally represents the opportunity for a country to engineer the institutional mechanisms/arrangements that can enable for greater women's political participation. The Legislation that ensures the upholding of human rights also assures their requests to participate in public affairs and exercise their political rights on an equal basis. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gives impetus to protecting human rights. It paves the way for specific Legislation that addresses women's equality, including their political participation and representation. The study found that the SADC member states are signatories to the various international and regional normative frameworks. They also have national Legislation regarding women's equality and political representation.

(a) International and Regional Normative Frameworks

Following the guidance of the UDHR, the need for equal political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making as an internationally recognised goal was popularised mainly through the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA). This was preceded by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. Through Article 7 of CEDAW, states were enjoined to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, ensure that women, on equal terms with men the right. The CEDAW was incisive regarding the responsibilities of states to ensure substantive equality, to end all forms of discrimination against women and to create an environment where there is no discrimination against women and girls.

The African region has developed the 2003 African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) on Women's Rights in Africa (Maputo Protocol). The ACHPR contextualises CEDAW in Africa, amongst the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights recognitions for African women. Article 9.1 of the protocol is incisive in influencing the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to: "take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, an enabling national legislation and other measures to ensure that women participate without any discrimination in all elections".

The SADC region also has sub-regional frameworks guiding member states on gender. These include the 1997 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, revised in 2015. The modified protocol has consolidated key provisions on gender equality and women's empowerment from continental and international frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Beijing Plus 20 Report, the Maputo Protocol, the ACDEG, ACHPR. The revised protocol calls for a 50/50 gender parity representation target in all the SADC Member States. It requires the state parties to ensure equal and effective representation of women in decision-making positions in the political, public, and private sectors, including through extraordinary measures. It also urges Member States to adopt specific legislative efforts and other strategies to enable women to have equal opportunities with men to participate in all electoral processes and for states to employ such special measures like quotas.

The 2004 SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections also present an opportunity to add impetus to Gender mainstreaming in electoral administration. They provide an opportunity to evaluate Member States Performance, inter alia, the representation and participation of women and men in elections and governance institutions. The SADC Principles and Guidelines also integrate relevant provisions of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (2008) into the Guidelines for assessing performance.

This study found that the SADC member states are signatories to the UDHR and CEDAW. The Member States have also signed other international frameworks that explicitly focus on women's political participation. These include the 1966 International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the 2003 UN General Assembly Resolution on Women's political participation, and the 2011 UN General Assembly Resolution on women's political participation. However, some Member States have not domesticated these frameworks into their national laws, policies, and practices.

The respondents highlighted this as a significant cause for concern because women are yet to benefit from these frameworks. Botswana tops the list of countries that have been very slow in signing and ratifying the international and regional protocols, including the Maputo protocol and the 2007 African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). An overview of the SADC member states' performance in ratification and domestication of the key International, Regional and Sub-regional protocols appears in annexure 1 of this report.

(b) Domestic Legal Framework

The study found that all the SADC Member States have equality clauses in their constitutions. Some have made progress towards domesticating regional and international instruments through constitutional and electoral reforms, political party laws, and gender equity laws. However, most respondents regard the constitutional and electoral reforms as inadequate in ensuring women's equal political participation. Unless they specifically address gender quotas, election funding for women, nominations and elections of women from primaries, violence against women in politics and elections, and minimum educational standards. The following paragraphs briefly describe the developments in some of the countries interviewed during the SADC PF regional policy workshop in Johannesburg.


The study noted that the Botswana Constitutional and legal frameworks are generally in line with international, continental, and regional norms. They protect fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and inclusive political participation. Botswana is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979). However, there is a glaring gap in the legal framework regarding affirmative action and inclusivity of marginalised groups such as women, youth and people living with a disability.

The Respondents from Botswana lamented what they labelled "inadequacies of the national legislation". For example, the MP from Botswana pointed out that the Botswana Constitution is written in gender-neutral terms, with no mention of a woman in any of its clauses. They also questioned the traditional leadership system which they described as marginalising women. They pointed out that the House of Chiefs is exclusively male. hereditary for males. where which is male based.  



The respondents from the DRC pointed out that the country's electoral regulations have been revised to make the inclusion of women in political party lists compulsory. Political parties that fall short of this requirement are banned from contesting elections. The respondents noted that although this is a progressive provision, it is a mere regulation with no legal effect as the electoral law would. Therefore, political party leaders just compromise in nominating women; when they do, they do not consider quality but quantity. 



The respondents from Eswatini acknowledged the legal framework for providing for women's participation. The Constitution makes specific provisions for the inclusion of women, both elected and appointed. Section 95 (2) (a) provides for at least half the appointees in the House of Assembly being female, and 8 of 20 in the House of Senate. However, they noted that this is not fully utilised and executed. In addition, the respondents noted that provisions for women's participation in the parliamentary elections are not extended to the other levels of elections, such as the Local government elections, indvuna yenkhundla (constituency headman) and bucopho (constituency development officers) elected at the level of Chiefdoms).  



Respondents from Madagascar noted that while the constitution has an equality clause, this is not implemented. They pointed out that there were attempts to introduce a gender parity law since 2012 but these fell through. In 2014, the Ministry of Justice, with the support of the Electoral Cycle Support Project in Madagascar (PACEM), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the National Council of Women of Madagascar (CNFM), drafted the law on the proportional representation of men and women in decision-making positions. Despite the advocacy by a network of women’s rights activities, this initiative was not followed through and according to the respondents there will be a re-submission of the law to the legislature.




According to respondents from civil society in Malawi, Legislation that the Constitution and the Gender equality law support women's political participation. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on factors such as gender, and the Gender Equality Act stipulates 60–40 gender representation in public office. Furthermore, in recognition of the higher poverty levels amongst women in Malawi, they are only required to pay half the men's nomination fee when contesting for political positions. However, there are not specific provisions in the Legislation for empowerment through quotas. In addition, they lamented the lack of enforcement and penalties lack. They said the same problem exists in political parties whose institutional frameworks and the constitutions provide for inclusivity but cannot enforce it.



Mozambique's Constitutional and legal system enshrines a PR electoral system, but with no special measures such as the zebra list found in Namibia and South Africa. To move the country towards a 50/50 gender parity in political representation, there are attempts to reform the electoral system. One of the proposed reforms is introducing the zebra list approach for parliamentary, provincial, and municipal candidate lists, in which nomination lists must present 50 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men in alternating positions. The other proposal is for the inclusion of women in electoral management bodies in equal numbers as men (with mandatory alternation for the part of EMB chair).


The respondents from Namibia were the most satisfied with their legal framework, which they applauded as being adequate, clear, explicit, and enabling in its advancement of women's political participation and representation. Like most constitutions of SADC member states, the Namibian Constitution (1992, Article 10) provides for formal equality before the law for men and women and outlaws discrimination based on (among other things) sex. The Constitution has, however gone further to qualify Article 10 equality with Article 23(2), which empowers Parliament to enact Legislation that leads to the "advancement of persons within Namibia who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices, or for the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational imbalances in the Namibian society.

Namibia also has in place the 1992 Local Authority Act, which mandates that 50 per cent of candidates on lists submitted by political parties for local government elections, which are conducted on a proportional representation basis, be women.  Furthermore, Namibia considers through its Constitution all international, regional, and sub-regional instruments that it has ratified as binding without other domestication processes. The automatic domestication of provisions in international agreements adds a layer of protection and promotion of women's political participation.


The respondents from Tanzania indicated that the country has embarked on a constitutional reform process that considers the various protocols. However, their view is that the legal framework regarding women's political participation is weak. They cited ambiguity in the existing laws that are phrased in gender-blind terms. They further noted that the Political Parties Act, amended in 2019, has a specific section on gender and social inclusion. However, it is generic and silent on how it would be operationalised. For example, the respondents indicated that the Act does not specify the threshold for women's participation.

Furthermore, there are no set sanctions for political parties for defying the law. Similarly, the respondents cited limitations of the National Election Act, saying it does not address the problem of violence against women in elections. According to the respondents, the parties must sign the Code of Conduct in every election. However, violence against women continues unabated, and there is little recourse for women.


Respondents from Zimbabwe acknowledged the constitutional provision for the full equal participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society and also through a gender quota system for the 60 additional reserved seats for women in the Lower House of Assembly until 2033. In addition, the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) has sections 17, 56 and 80 that explicitly lay out provisions for gender balance. However, the respondents lamented the slow implementation of these provisions. In addition, the respondents indicated that there had not been a progressive movement beyond the Constitution's:

  • Section 120 (1) and (2) zebra list quota of the 60 Senate seats
  • Section 124 (1) (b) 60 women's only quota of National Assembly seats
  • Section 268(2)(b) zebra list of the elected 10 Provincial Council

One of the politicians indicated that if the country complied with the spirit and the letter of the law, it would have achieved the 50/50 gender parity stated in section 17 of the Constitution. She recounted the time when she joined the liberation struggle in the 1970s, saying that men and women underwent the same training regardless of gender. Yet women are still fighting for equal recognition to date. Political Parties

Political parties remain the most conventional vehicle for recruiting and fielding candidates for political office. Hence the women seeking to participate in politics and run for political office join political parties with the hope that they will serve their ambitions. However, as intimated in the earlier section of this report, most women's hopes are dashed by a combination of barriers, including the patriarchy in political parties. The top leadership in political parties is predominantly male. They are the ones who preside over the nomination of candidates through the party primary elections and have veto powers to overturn the outcomes if such outcomes do not support their political ambitions. The Respondents indicated that these leaders also control the allocation of financial resources for campaigns and determine the appointments in different spheres of governance.

The Respondents also pointed out that the party leaders influence the political environment in which election campaigns occur. Therefore, they control the space and can make it receptive or hostile to women's participation. In addition, these leaders are the ones who make a call on priority issues, including whether women's concerns become part of the political party agenda and warrant serious consideration.

The study found that political parties in the SADC region vary significantly in the extent to which they seek to promote women's political participation. However, the general trend in the region is that political parties, particularly those within a context that practices the FPTP electoral system, are not as likely to promote women's political participation as those from PR and hybrid systems. There are, however, various qualifying factors to this, notably the ability of the parties to adopt party policies and programmes that promote women's political participation.

The South African governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), is an example of a party with an effective gender equality policy. The party constitution requires a 50/50 representation for the national and provincial party lists. The representation of women, including their position in the party's candidate lists, is not the discretion of party leadership, but a policy position. In cases where parties have no inbuild mandatory policy requirement, such as in Mozambique, the parties do include women in the party lists. When political parties decide to include women in the lists, the ranking of such lists often places women at the bottom. This limits their opportunities for joining the legislatures if the party performs poorly at the polls. Political Violence

Political violence is one of the significant barriers to women's participation and representation in politics. It creates an unsafe environment for aspiring candidates to contest freely. In many countries in the SADC region and African Continent, politics is often marred by violence, persecution, intimidation and torture and accounts for the loss of life, property, injury and even displacements and involves a wide range of actions aimed at inflicting physical, psychological, and symbolic damage to individuals and property to influence specific political outcomes.

Perpetrators use political violence against men and women alike. Still, violence against women in politics (VAWP) is highly gendered, as it is explicitly targeted at women to dissuade them from political participation and representation. According to the 2015 Afrobarometer survey, women feel "a sense of vulnerability to political intimidation and violence, " which is a solid deterrent to their participation in elections.[xii] This phenomenon is often called violence against women in elections (VAWE). The following sections look at the VAWP and VAWE, respectively.


(a)  Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWP)

Some members of society regard the growing presence of women in politics as being at odds with women's traditional gender roles, which threatens conventional power relations and the status quo. Women's participation and contestation of political offices is perceived as limiting the chances of winning by some male candidates. The study found that VAWP is widely experienced in all SADC member states, especially in contexts where the political competition is high between political parties and among candidates. Some Respondents shared their experiences of the increased violence against women political aspirants. They suggested a link between this type of violence and the increased number of women contestants. The more women stand up to contest political positions. The more violence is to dissuade them. There are various types of VAWP noted across the SADC member states. These include physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence. These are discussed in seriatim below.

  • Psychological violence

Psychological violence includes threats and acts of intimidation, insults, sexist remarks, hate speech, berating of women based on things like their love life, marital status, physical appearance and character assassination. The Respondents shared experiences where they became subjects of personal attacks and abuse. As a result, most reported suffering from anxiety, depression, apathy, emotional exhaustion, and reduced interest in political life. In addition, the study noted that these women experienced psychological violence at the hands of male and female members of society, political colleagues, members of their families, as well as the media through character assassination and cyber bullying.

The Respondents indicated that where women perpetrate psychological violence against other women, they usually collaborate with men in exchange for political favours. Other Respondents reported abuse at the hands of ordinary citizens who label them prostitutes and accuse them of sleeping with male politicians for party and government positions. The Respondents attributed the public's lack of confidence in female political leaders to the belittling, name-calling, and insults against women. One Respondent from Botswana pointed out that psychological violence is worse for single and divorced women. She argued that:

" Being single or divorced – the thinking is if you failed in your marriage, how can you lead a whole community? An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends to be a leader when she failed to have a home". 

Another MP from Botswana stated that women politicians "suffer from being ignored, diminished, ridiculed, humiliated, judged harshly, and degraded, and these dents one's confidence and the motivation to stay in politics".

An MP from Malawi confirmed the prevalence of harassment and psychological intimidation of women in politics. She stated that society often questions the women actively participating in politics' moral standing. The tendency to examine the moral character of an aspirant female politician is widespread. A female respondent from Eswatini recited her experience where a male contestant she was up against during the 2018 elections used his campaign Agents to assassinate her character until she dropped out of the race. 

The study found that psychological violence also manifests though social media platforms. According to Respondents from civil society organisations (CSOs) in Tanzania and Malawi "Harassment, bullying, and spreading false information with trolling, image-based abuse impersonation through false accounts that impersonate the women, rape and death threats are experienced by women and perpetrated through social media". Women are sometimes forced to drop out of an election race due to the pressure of constant negative publicity on social media, which spills over to their families and place of employment.


(ii) Sexual violence

The study also found that sexual violence was a prevalent type of VAWP experienced by women in politics in the region. This violence manifests in comments and jokes of a sexual nature, physical, sexual assault, that takes place in Parliament, during political meetings, and on social media, within the parties and constituencies. It can also manifest in extreme forms, such as rape by influential political figures or vigilantes hired by powerful politicians to inflict pain on political activists as a weapon to punish and silence them for dissent.

Respondents pointed out that sexual violence was primarily targeted at younger and unmarried women by men of different ages. Older women also get victimised but for various reasons. For example, one Respondent from Zimbabwe indicated that the more senior female politician become victims of sexual violence when it is meant to force them out of political positions to make room for younger women who are regarded as softer targets for sexual exploitation. She lamented that most coutries in the region have not yet signed nor ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019. Only Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa had signed the Convention by end of 2022. Consequently,  sexual violence connotations are not necessarily regarded as sexual harassment, so perpetrators get away easily in most cases.

(b) Violence Against Women in Election (VAWE)

Violence against women negatively impacts their participation in electoral processes. The study found that the violence meted out against women in the election period is also widespread in most countries in the SADC region. Respondents reported that political opponent’s resort to violence in the context of fiercely contested elections. A violent political context prevents women from standing as candidates for political office. Violence against women in elections (VAWE) manifests in the same way as in the VAMP. However, the violence becomes more accentuated during elections as opposed to the period in-between the elections. The VAWE gained dominance with psychological violence during the election campaign, election, and post-election period, especially after the announcement of results.

4.2.3 Economic Barriers

The study has found that money's role in politics is a critical barrier to women's participation in politics and their ability to compete for leadership positions. In addition, respondents highlighted the following socio-economic constraints:

  • Limited financial resources negatively impact their access and participation in the electoral cycle.
  • A continued lack of economic independence prevents them from committing to political ventures.
  • Unequal access to finance and resources creates an uneven political playing field that prevents them from accessing the political sphere.
  • Lower economic status makes it difficult for the electorate to notice their potential to influence change and to deliver services.
  • Lack of the necessary social capital and networks to unlock financial resources to enable their sustainable participation in politics. Money and the Electoral Cycle

The role of money as a barrier to women's political participation is prevalent across all the SADC member states. It determines women's participation and representation in politics, which was confirmed by most of the respondents to this study. They claimed that women cannot effectively compete politically without adequate financial resources around the electoral cycle.  

In countries where women's socio-economic status is deficient, notably Eswatini, Madagascar, Malawi, and Tanzania, respondents were more vocal in expressing the challenges brought about by the lack of financial resources. For example, citing the role of lower socio-economic status, women in Malawi highlighted the disparities in education against women that ultimately results in economic inequality in favour of men and how this ultimately disadvantages women in politics. Similarly, respondents from Tanzania stated that the women's secondary position in society and at home means they are likely not to own any assets or property, including land, in their rights. Therefore, they cannot sell or use as security for a loan any property to get the funding they need for political campaigns and other costs.  

Almost all the interviewed women spoke of the pressure of partaking in the electoral cycle processes, especially the nominations, primaries, and election campaigns. The ones who win elections are also under more constant pressure than their male counterparts to deliver on election promises. One of the former female candidates from Eswatini stated that "with money, one can initiate various activities to assure voter support". However, she pointed out that women do not have the financial resources required to compete with their more financially resourced male counterparts. 

The study found that, generally, women do not have access to funding. Their only funding sources to support their political careers are mostly limited to their spouses and family. As indicated, this is compounded by the fact that most women do not own assets to use as collateral for their campaigns. One Malawian MP from the People's Party shared her experience, saying:

"I initially had no money to compete with the male candidates. I had my small car, which wasn't enough because I also needed election campaign materials to compete with the men. I was lucky to have the support of my husband and my father-in-law, who ensured I had the necessary resources to win my seat". 

Some respondents did not have spousal and family support. They indicated that in some cases, the lack of financial resources by women often leaves some of them vulnerable to sexual abuse by male politicians who do not hesitate to demand sexual favours in return for the support rendered to women political aspirants. The respondents also indicated that even though some political parties carry most of the campaign costs, the women still require their own funds for campaigning because they always have to work almost two times harder than their male colleagues. The money enables women to procure transport for potential voters to rallies, feed them, print t-shirts and fliers, and pay campaign teams. This was affirmed by the MP from the African National Congress (ANC), who said:

"Getting the branches to endorse and vote for me in the primaries to get into the National Executive Committee (NEC) was very difficult and drained my financial resources. The competition was stiff, and I required a lot of money for campaign materials, logistics and payments for the campaign team".

The above women's experiences are in contrast to the experiences of most male politicians who have a more robust economic muscle, enabling them to contest any election they like. They use the money to procure election campaign materials and assert influence through patronage. A Malawian MP who has been in active politics for over 18 years recounted how cash and other handouts tilt scales in favour of men during campaigns. She asserted that: 

In some of our political parties in Malawi, delegates to the party congress are given money to favour the male candidates to the detriment of women who do not get elected despite their academic qualifications and expertise just because they can't afford to disburse patronage.

Another respondent from Malawi shared similar experiences where cash handouts to political party branches or delegates during the party primary elections eliminate females' competition. She narrated her incident where she downgraded from contesting for an MP seat to a local councillor seat due to limited financial resources.

"It was very challenging because my male competitors had a lot of money and they were using it to campaign when I had none. Politics is a game for the rich. Even the voters take you to be rich and expect you to dish out money during campaigns…this is why I decided to vie for the councillor seat, whose campaign costs were not as high as the MP seat campaigns". Nomination Fees

Money is essential to participating in politics and electoral processes, from launching a political career to qualifying for nomination as a candidate and delivering on the mandate once elected. Unfortunately, most women cannot pay the requisite candidate nomination fees, which automatically excludes them from contesting the elections. Only Angola, Eswatini, and Mozambique do not require political office aspirants to pay nomination fees among the sampled countries. The Respondents from the other countries reported that they must pay fees for each category of elections, namely, Presidential, National Assembly or Local Government. 

Respondents complained that these fees were too high and prohibitive. A case in point is in Zimbabwe, where a presidential candidate must pay US$20,000 for the forthcoming 2023 Harmonised Elections, up from US$1,000 levied in the 2018 Harmonised elections. An MP candidate is required to pay US$1,000 for the 2023 elections, an increase from US$50 charged in the 2018 elections. The Proportional list of candidates are not spared from the fees where. They each paid S$200 for the 2013 elections compared to US$100 for the 2018 elections.

Consulted literature shows that an exception to the nomination fees is found in Zambia, where although the women still pay nomination fees, these are slightly reduced. For example, while the fees for participating in the Presidential elections in 2021 were 95,000 Kwachas, women only needed to pay 75 000 Kwachas. Also, women paid less for contesting the National Assembly seat, costing them 13,500 Kwachas compared to the 15 000 Kwachas the men paid for[xiii].


4.2.4 Psychological and Motivational Barriers

The psychological and motivational barriers to women's political participation are personal to the individual would-be participants. These include interest, ambition, self-esteem and knowledge, and resources such as time, networks, civic and political skills, education, and economic resources for women to aspire to be in politics. Put differently, the psychological and motivational factors speak to the supply side, where a candidate has the will or is internally motivated to want to engage in politics. This includes having a consistent attitude and determination before and after the elections.  However, it is also shaped by socialisation, and the prevailing social and institutional structures, which either enhance or limit their access to education and economic opportunities. 

This study found that women in the SADC Region are often constrained psychologically when they are confronted with choosing between the private and the public domain due to the internalisation of the gender norms into which they are socialised. Furthermore, respondents affirmed a trend where psychological factors such as lack of self-belief, fear of failing, and fear of victimisation affect women's motivation to partake in politics.

The study also found out that even in situations where women have high illiteracy rates as in Malawi, psychological factors affect women's confidence to venture into politics. On the other hand, educated have greater exposure and knowledge of social, economic, and political issues and, therefore, the confidence to participate in politics. Most Respondents indicated that they are active in politics because of a sense of self-worth and the belief that they can provide political leadership. They reported being ambitious, self-driven and highly motivated. A Respondent, who is a veteran politician from Seychelles, said:

"My willpower to succeed in politics has motivated me. I have never focused on problems but paid attention to whatever would lead to my success. As a result, I have staying power, and the challenges did not make me consider quitting. When you join politics, you must have the willpower to succeed and understand that it is not an even terrain, especially for women. You must work hard and prove your worth to the constituency. It is through this that I have been able to be elected for several terms".

Similar sentiments were expressed by a Malawian MP who pointed out that:

"For a long time in my country women's participation in politics and contestation of political positions is regarded as taboo. For those who persevered, we have ensured insults and get associated with all things negative, such as prostitution. Even my mother used to discourage me from joining politics until I became a Minister. So, I am still here to ensure we carve a better path for girls and many women looking at us for inspiration. We will stay on to fight for our rightful place and deliver on our tasks accordingly. We do not want handouts but equal opportunities on the playing field. I am highly focused and motivated and never conform to anything unless it borders on sin and morality. That resolve has cemented me, so I don't easily follow the crowd. My modalities may change, but my goals hardly do.



The study affirms the ongoing observations and concerns regarding the minimal improvement in women's participation in politics and electoral processes in most SADC Countries. The study has established through desktop research and interviews that the SADC Member States generally have constitutional and legal frameworks that provide for inclusivity. These countries also prescribe, at least in writing, many of the international, regional, and sub-regional frameworks and protocols for gender equality. The main problem is that they are yet to overcome the cultural, structural, and institutional challenges that inhibit their performance from operationalising these domestic and international instruments for women's participation.

Overall, the study makes the following key findings regarding the participation of women in politics and electoral processes:

  • Constitutions of member states, while they all have equality clauses, there is often an inconsistency in the codification of these constitutions into required laws and policies.
  • Gender equality progressive Constitutions and electoral laws are often poorly implemented.
  • Accountability for and tracking of implementation of commitments mostly remains a significant challenge.
  • Some member states fail to domesticate gender equality provisions they have signed up to from international, regional, and sub-regional frameworks to inform Electoral laws.
  • Absence of legislated gender quotas or misuse of gender quotas.
  • Absence of Legislation or measures to enforce gender equitable practices in political parties.
  • The shortcomings of a legislative process in overhauling a masculinised political environment.

Given the strategic importance of the participation of women in politics and development within the context of tackling the emerging democratic recession that has the potential to affect the attainment of the SDGs, the African Union Agenda 23 and the overall SADC developmental agenda, the study concludes that:

 (a) Despite the improvement in women's political representation in some countries, there is no gainsaying that this achievement is not always assured, nor is the path necessarily linear. Therefore, safeguarding the gains and sustaining the momentum through robust strategies to eradicate all barriers to women's participation remains critical.

  • The barriers to women's participation are not disparate but intricately intertwined. Therefore, an attempt to address only one set of factors without a more systemic approach is implausible to yield the desired result of greater women's political representation.

The study offers the following specific recommendations.

On Legislation:

  • The study recommends levelling the political playing field by instituting comprehensive Legislation that addresses the identified barriers to women's political participation. Measures must also be put in place to ensure the implementation of the Legislation. This Legislation must be accompanied by high levels of political will to provide this full implementation of the Legislation.
  • The is a need for SADC PF to lobby governments and national parliaments to institute gender-sensitive electoral laws that recognise the economic constraints of women. Among these would be ensuring minimal nomination fees, stricter laws of campaigning to bar canvassing and enforcing the laws that ban the use of money in vote buying. Such initiatives must form part of the existing provisions of the SADC Model Law on Elections.
  • SADC PF must use its strategic lobbying and convening powers to encourage member parliaments to consider electoral systems reforms to enable women's participation. For example, SADC PF must sensitise member parliaments on the benefits of gender quotas for substantive representation using criteria such as the case of the ANC in South Africa. 

On international, continental, and regional instruments:

  • Considering the poor implementation of international, continental, and regional instruments, SADC PF must consider developing a Model Law akin to the SADC Model Laws on Elections and Child Marriages as a guiding framework for domesticating the international conventions signed by the SADC Member States.
  • SADC PF must lobby the SADC Member States which have not yet signed or

ratified the SADC Protocol on gender and development to sign and ratify it as a priority.

  • SADC PF to consider initiating an election cycle-based country reporting mechanism for the SADC Gender and Development Protocol. The tool could take the form of the CEDAW and BFA reporting committees, which report progress reports, conduct country assessment visits, and offer recommendations.



Table 2: Electoral Systems and Gender quotas in the SADC Region



System description

Temporary Special Measure

Type of Quota

South Africa

Proportional Representation

Closed list -zebra list


Voluntary party quota


Proportional Representation

Closed List


Voluntary party quota


Proportional Representation

Open Party list


Voluntary party quota





Voluntary party quotas and legislated quotas for the single/lower house and the sub-national level


Proportional Representation

Closed Party list


Voluntary party quotas and legislated quotas. The two main parties, observed by MPLA and UNITA have instituted the voluntary quotas





Constitutional 30% women’s quota



Closed list-zebra according to law for the PR component of the elections


Legislated quotas stipulated in electoral amendment act of 2011.


First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency







Extra seats for parties allocated proportionally with parties having the leeway to choose members for those seats.


First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency




First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency


Voluntary party quota observed by the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) legislated quotas at local level



Single member constituency

Not at parliamentary level

Local government level


First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency




First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency




First-Past-the Post



Constitutional quotas: 10 senators elected by the House of Assembly with at least half to be female” and 20 senators appointed by the King “at least eight of whom shall be female” (Constitution 2005)


First-Past-the Post

Single member constituency


30% voluntary party quotas

6 specially elected additional members of parliament some of which can be women -currently 4.






[i] Women’s equal representation is to be understood in four ways: formal, symbolic, descriptive, and substantive. Formal representative is established by law and emphasizes on numbers. Descriptive representation focuses on the numerical presence of certain groups, Symbolic representation refers to feelings of being fairly or effectively represented and substantive representation examines the degree to which policies and decisions advanced by the representatives serve the needs and interests of the represented.

[ii] United Nations Women’s Watch

[iii] According to The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), ‘The concept of democracy will only assume true and dynamic significance when political policies and national legislation are decided upon jointly by men and women with equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population’ (IPU 1994).

[iv] Htun 1998, p.15, cited in Tinker 2004, p.534

[v] Barnes and Buchard, 2012, Engendering Politics: The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Women’s Political Representation in Sub-Saharan Africa

[vi] The African gender barometer of 2021 reports Women's representation in the lower houses of parliament to have risen from 9% in 2000 to 25% in 2020, representing a sixteen-percentage point increase. The most marked increase is reported in the post-conflict Horn of Africa countries (from 8% to 33%) and in East Africa (due largely to the Rwanda outlier effect) from 10% to 32%.

[vii] International IDEA, 2021

[viii] Africa Gender Barometer, 2021. Women’s Political Participation

[ix] Gender Links 2020 Policy brief on Madagascar.

[x] Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2008. Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments. Reports and Documents no. 54 (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union)

[xi] IDEA, 2013

[xii] https://www.afrobarometer.org/publication/people-and-corruption-africa-survey-2015-global-corruption-barometer/

[xiii] Election Commission of Zambia, 2021



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The Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) was established in 1997 in accordance with Article 9 (2) of the SADC Treaty as an autonomous institution of SADC It is a regional inter-parliamentary body composed of Thirteen (14) parliaments representing over 3500 parliamentarians in the SADC region. Read More

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