23. Pan-African Perspectives – Governance and Gender: Politics, Power and Patriarchy

E-mail of panel organiser: gertrudefester@gmail.com

In this panel with rather diverse inputs, participants will focus on evaluating and assessing governance in Africa with specific reference to citizenship, marginalised groups and the role of culture and religion. Case studies from Rwanda, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be highlighted and used as starting points for assessing trends of governance in Africa in general. The role of women as decision-makers and to what extent this results in policy changes will be surveyed. The hiatus between policies and implementation will be critiqued. In conclusion strategies with a focus on inter-generational feminist approaches will be explored and examined to what extent these could contribute to positive developmental challenges in Africa.


1. Inter-generational Perspective- The reality of women and governance: Reflections on women's active participation in leadership transformation

Author: Grace Ruvimba Chirenje (African Christian and Theological School, Zimbabwe)


There has much talk about women’s actively participating in good democratic governance systems with a particular bias towards equal representation of women in the political sphere. However, despite many steps that have been made in equal representation by women in politics, there still remains a wide gap.  The challenges confronting women and their participation and under which circumstanced will they actually turn the fortunes of women will be explored. The presentation will highlight sliced realities at various levels from a Pan African Perspective but with specific reference to Zimbabwe. This presentation will seek to share women's lived realities as political players. This will include women’s sharing their experiences as political activists, politicians and academics. This panel will be represented by a cross section of ages (73 to 32) so as to enable a multigenerational dialogue towards attempting to understand, through reflective means, the role of women leaders in governance. Examples will also be drawn from written texts, lived realities and experiences so as to make it more robust and give it depth and meaning.




Advancing the argument that autocratic regimes were best placed to mobilise and organise resources to ensure development and national unity, politicians generalized the practice of this form of government in African countries starting in the second half of the 60s. Unfortunately, these regimes did not permit the anticipated results to be obtained, Sub-Saharan Africa was characterised, at the end of the 80s, by the population’s deteriorating living conditions and unstable political environment. These regimes therefore lost their credibility and their legitimacy internally as well asexternally.Movements to liberalise political life, which in most countries have accelerated their activities, made it possible to obtain results that varied from one country to another:- Countries at war have either an unremitting dictator or an impediment to the democratic process; - Countries where the chief of the executive branch is ever present and all powerful, with frequent human rights violations, is considered a “democratorship becoming more democratic.
While Africans seek enhanced democracy, they also are aiming at improving their living conditions. If, a priori, it seems difficult to establish a link between the type of political regime and economic performances, it has been proven that the consolidation of democracy requires sound economic performances. More than the type of regime, it would be the country’s practice of governance that would explain the difference in economic performances. Good governance could guarantee better economic performances. Good governance implies the existence of appropriate institutional, human and material capacities as well as strong actors (public administration, executive, legislative and judicial powers and civil society). Currently, these conditions are far from being met in many Sub-Saharan African countries. Under these circumstances, consolidation of the practice of good governance in African countries requires strengthening the institutional and human capacities of the various.

3. Misbehaving States and Behaving Citizens? Questions of Governance in African States

Author: Marie Minnaar McDonald (University of Western Cape, South Africa)


The notion of ‘governance’ is an open-ended term in international scholarship and is used to describe various normative accounts of how societal or public institutions like ‘states’ ought to ‘behave’ or conduct their affairs, managing and or distributing resources; being inclusive and allowing for greater networks, participation, accountability and responsiveness. Several ideas abound. There are those who believe societies are in crisis and others who suggest they are in transition, undergoing changes.  However how these ideas are implemented in designing research and documenting studies are open to question. These different strands of thought call for new lenses to critically review the social, economic and political conditions for social solidarity and new learnings of differentiating forms of citizenship. One of the key assumptions of this position paper is that the concepts of ‘governance’,  ‘states’ and ‘citizenship’ are deeply gendered. And as argued by feminists (Preece, 2002; Lister, 2010) that the way men and women learn what is valued in terms of active citizenship and citizen’s participation in decision making, impacts on their identity as citizens, their perceived entitlements  and roles played as members of a given society that remains open to be challenged.
South African feminist perspectives joined some of the mainstream social science discourses on the implications of this transition much later.  Similar to these they, too, adopted different disciplinary angles to research and discuss social and cultural issues associated with the transition; but failed to provide a comprehensive historical (feminist) review of debates on the period); neglecting an analysis and critical appraisal of the role of the so-called ‘developmental state’. Some perspectives did however begin to engage with mainstream interpretations on the basis of the role that gender played accessing rights of citizenship. The shift to discussions of notions of citizenship was viewed a positive move to encapsulate an overarching conceptual framework (on citizenship), offering new possibilities and opportunities for more critical feminist scholarship to emerge. This dire need to assess and study gender inequalities and emerging social relations, apart from political identities of women and gender in a contemporary changing democracy, became strongly influenced by international feminist views. Hassim (2005a), for example, argued that the early transitional focus on citizenship influenced women’s further political strategies for greater inclusion and political participation (Hassim, 2005b). The nature of how the transition to democracy evolved was further perceived as impacting strongly on further demands for greater equality, representation and access to power in policies and decision–making at all levels of society by different social, political and economic strata. For example the Bill of Human Rights became a vehicle to socially mobilise for citizenship rights mutually agreed to by all stakeholders irrespective of race, gender, or ethnicity and ability (Minnaar-Mcdonald, 2013). The transition was said to have opened up spaces for feminists and other vulnerable groups (poor women, disabled people, gay and lesbian groups) to articulate a broader agenda in striving for greater equality, justice and proper access to citizenship.
It is within this larger feminist standpoint agenda, of interrogating the transition through a gendered lens that this paper is located. By focusing on practices of ‘governance’ (here understood as policies and structures / processes through which political power is exercise through a range of government and non-government bodies) that are deeply gendered (e.g. gendered social development and business oriented entrepreneurship projects for poor men and women in the period following 1994), the discussion will contribute to contemporary debates on gender transformation, empowerment and women’s economic citizenship in the post-apartheid, post-conflict context of  ‘democratizing’ implementation practices. By drawing empirical evidence and with reference to pro-poor policies that aimed to reduce social inequalities, the discussion will further seek to clarify the dynamics of the SA transitional context and role of the developmental state using an alternative care perspective. Gender and social development policies that emphasized partnerships will be singled out for critical feminist explorations of how women (and other vulnerable social groups) are currently positioned and affected due to ‘misbehaving’ state practices.

4. Strategic Alliances, Inequality and Power

Author: Elaine Salo (University of Delaware)


I would like to address the issue of alliance building between women and other vulnerable gendered groupings on the continent. I address the issue of intersectional identities as salient practical categories of analysis that require us to address issues of inequality and power between groups on the margins. I argue that unless we address these issues of inequality and recognise our complex collaborations with power and our need to work through them we cannot realise the goal of solidarity in the struggle for gender justice. I draw upon my own experiences working in support of men's health in the MSM sector and with the needs of poor women and girls in South Africa as a case to anchor my argument.

5. Intersectionalities, Consciousness and Rematriation.

Author: Bernedette Muthien (Constitutional Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities in South Africa)


The Indigenous concept of Rematriation refers to reclaiming of ancestral remains, spirituality, culture, knowledge and resources, instead of the more Patriarchally associated Repatriation. It simply means back to Mother Earth, a return to our origins, to life and co-creation, rather than Patriarchal destruction and colonisation, a reclamation of germination. As a restorative imperative, it is most relevant to feminists in general, since we, like Native peoples, need to reclaim our Feminist ancestry, our feminist spirituality, our feminist culture/s, knowledge and control over natural and other resources. We need to chart paths, strategic interventions, dreams and realities that are not mere alternatives to HeteroPatriarchalCapitalisms, but entirely reconfigure our cosmos, Rematriate our societies. I will show the relevance and contribution of indigenous knowledge and foster social transformation based on indigenous ways of knowing. I hope this session will contribute to this restorative and transformative imperative.

6. Gender Disparity and the Relative Inclusiveness of Women in Nigerian Politics: a Geopolitical Perspective (1999-2011)

Authors: Damilola Taiye Agbalajobi (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria) and Solomon Akinboye (University of Lagos, Nigeria)


The participation, desire and desirability of women in Nigerian politics have generated heated debates over the years and still continue to divide opinions across different platforms. Women have been tagged, labelled and categorised as the weaker sex in general social constructs due mostly to social values, norms and beliefs, which have neglected their meaningful contributions and have placed them in a subordinate position to men in the nation’s political system. Although theoretically, the political enfranchisement of women in Nigeria politics seems to have maintained a level of gender equity, since there are no known constitutional barriers to women’s participation in Nigeria political space, it is different in practice. Exactly what prospects and problems do women encounter in their quest to participate in politics in Nigeria? This study aims to evaluate women’s participation in Nigerian politics from the local geopolitical perspective by highlighting those factors stimulating or hampering such participation of women in Nigerian politics, in order to determine the possibility of these factors being functions of local geopolitical influences. Much of the literature on women participation have focused on the general factors affecting women participation and specifically noting the idea/notion that the society perceives that women’s space is in the private and not the public. Many of these literatures also see religion and culture as major factor affecting women’s participation in politics. While in agreement with existing literature this research goes further to investigate peculiar locational influences on women’s participation in politics, by comparing the level of women participation in the geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

7. Gender, politics and governance in a plural context: The case of Mauritius

Author: Ramola Ramtohul (University of Mauritius)


Broadly speaking, governance pertains to decision-making by a range of stakeholders, including formal political representatives and those in positions of authority as well as the ‘ordinary’ citizens of a country. Although some progress has been made, governance in Africa remains male dominated. Yet, governance needs to be more gender sensitive for effective and efficient development to occur. This paper analyses the gender dimension of pluralism and ethnic politics in Mauritius, arguing that communalism marginalises women’s political presence and participation in the governance process. Mauritius is an island nation, set in the Indian Ocean, with a population of 1.2 million. Mauritius has a plural society and the Mauritian population is presently composed of four ethnic groups and four major religious groups . Mauritius is one of Africa’s cited developmental democracies and has been a model to the developing world in terms of sustained democracy and political stability, high literacy rates, economic growth and progress. In absolute terms, Mauritius thus appears to be a successful and almost an exemplary democratic development state. However, the Mauritian democratic development state is fundamentally flawed in the sense that despite the political system catering for representation on ethnic grounds, the gender dimension has remained grossly marginalised since independence. Mauritian women’s presence in politics has remained marginal despite the prevalence of consolidated democratic governance and a distinct improvement in the status of women in Mauritius since independence. Drawing from data gathered from semi-structured interviews conducted with women politicians and independent women activists, the paper argues that the high focus attributed to ethnic and communal representation by the Mauritian political and electoral system marginalises women. Competition for electoral tickets is intense, and in Mauritius, political candidates are often sponsored by religious and socio-cultural associations which are male dominated and sponsor male candidates. Moreover, the ethnic lobby is much stronger than the women’s lobby in the Mauritian political system as political parties strive to maintain popularity among all ethnic groups. Women have also been left out of the main political debates dealing with electoral and constitutional reform. Hence, the paper argues that the salience of the communal dimension in Mauritian politics, where political parties seek to please and represent all communities, marginalises women’s political representation and their participation in the governance process. 

8. Assessing 20 years of freedom of Rwanda and South Africa (1994-2014): National Gender Machinery and the attainment of Feminist Citizenship.

Author: Gertrude Fester (Rwandan Association of University Women, Rwanda)


It is an irony of history that in April 1994, while South Africans were celebrating the first democratic elections in its history, Rwandans were experiencing the shortest, most intense genocide the world has known. From 7 April to 4 July nearly one million people were brutally massacred in what is now officially known as the ‘Genocide against the Tutsis’.  Subsequently both countries confronted enormous challenges. Rwanda was devastated, infrastructure was destroyed and the country was left with a deep emotional and traumatised populace. But Rwandans were not only victims; they were committed to rebuild their country from the ashes. South Africans emerged from nearly 400 years of colonialism through which indigenous people had been deliberately impoverished and land taken away (1913 Native Land Act). Forty-six years of apartheid contributed directly to creating one of the most unequal societies in the world. Both Rwanda and South Africa were steeped in poverty and unemployment. Following April 1994, and in the case of Rwanda, July 1994, both countries embarked on vigorous democratisation and transitional justice programmes.  Both have impressive human rights based constitutions. Another striking similarity is the commitment to promoting women’s empowerment and gender equity. There are remarkable national gender machinery and specific women-friendly policies. Rwanda has the most women in government in the world (64%) and since 1994; South Africa’s representation has always been in the top four globally.

But what does all this mean for the quality of women's lives? Have family, community and workplace gender relations altered at all?  What have been the implications for intimate relations, gender based violence and hierarchical sexual division of labour? Has the feminist project of comprehensive citizenship been attained in these two countries with their legacy of patriarchy and unequal hierarchical gender relations? These and related questions will be addressed in this presentation.  Strategies for overcoming challenges and best practices globally will also be explored.

9. Rwandan Women’s Political Leadership on Democracy and Development

Author: Shirley Kaye Randell AO (SRIA Rwanda Ltd)


This paper investigates the impact of women’s political leadership on democracy and development in Rwanda from 2003 to 2013. The purpose of the paper is to determine whether women’s increased participation in high-level decision-making has played a role in political stability, economic growth and development for the country. The paper evaluates the overt and covert impact of women’s leadership on democratic and development processes as evident in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), poverty reduction, life expectancy, and other development indices. It presents a business case for investing in women’s political and economic leadership, given the evident social and economic dividends that this has brought to Rwanda. Lessons learned and implications for other countries are canvassed, including the knowledge, competencies and skills needed to attain leadership positions, and the political, educational and institutional strategies necessary to retain them.

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