Best Medicine for Ailing Africa
Posted on Oct 23, 2006
Still, Geisler agrees that African women deserve a place in democracy and governance. “After joining Africa’s colonial-era movements to struggle for freedom for their countries and themselves, they were marginalized after independence. Many went into nonprofit or civil society, or ended up just singing and dancing at airports as part of arrival ceremonies for male politicians. But now, with voter dissatisfaction rising, they are increasingly moving into politics,” she explains.
Anne Marie Goetz, writing in “Political Cleaners: How Women Are the New Anti-Corruption Force. Does the Evidence Wash?” (2003), also questions “the notion that more women in government will result in lower levels of corruption.” Goetz comments that the earlier papers that point to women as the fairer sex “fail to acknowledge the very real ways in which gender relations may limit the opportunities for corruption, particularly when corruption functions through all-male networks and in forums from which women are socially excluded.”
The presence of women in government could, however, ensure that the most important things are placed on the front burner. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda of the Kenya office of UNIFEM, the United Nations’ women development agency, says, “Because of their nurturing responsibilities,” women tend to value “education, health, water, food—things having to do with social security. Those are priorities before making the borders secure and the defense ministry well-resourced.”
Besides, women have a vested interest in stamping out corruption. Transparency International says corruption has a disproportionately negative effect on women. “While women are less involved in corruption themselves, they are even more disadvantaged from the consequences of a corrupt system.
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Roslyn Hees, senior advisor to Transparency International, stresses: “A corrupt legal system reinforces existing gender discrimination in many countries. Women’s civil rights are grossly unfair with regard to marriage/divorce, family law, child custody, financial independence and inheritance and property rights.
“In many countries, those who win cases tend to be involved with corrupt prosecutors and judges. Women simply do not have the means to compete in this way. Corrupt judicial procedures and the prevalence of ‘old boys networks’ makes it in many cases impossible for women to win legal battles in a transparent and open way.”
Sirleaf herself believes that women bring transparency to governance. “There has been no woman’s name associated with major corruption. In fact, all the prominent role-model women have had integrity as one of their key attributes,” she once said when asked whether a female president would indeed rid Liberia of official corruption.
Rwanda, with 49 percent, has the world’s highest number of women in parliament. Of the 50 legislatures with the most female members, 11 are in Africa. South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have female vice presidents. Five members of Sudan’s new cabinet are women.
A word has been coined to describe this emerging form of government, “Femocracy,” a democracy headed by women—mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and grandmothers like Mama Ellen.
Sirleaf is not unaware of either her place in history or the heavy load of expectations on her shoulders. “We know expectations are going to be high. The Liberian people have voted for their confidence in my ability to deliver ... very quickly,” she told Reuters news agency after she was elected.
She has continually promised to “bring motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency.” She said at her inauguration, “We know that your vote was a vote for change, a vote for peace, security ... and we have heard you loudly.” Her vow to wage a war on Liberia’s “major public enemy,” corruption, was applauded by the large crowd that witnessed the ceremony.
Sirleaf is on course to deliver on her promises. Everyone in Liberia seems to agree with her stance that nothing can be done unless corruption is stamped out. Recently, the lower house of the Liberian parliament ratified both the African Union and the U.N. international conventions against corruption. Both instruments are expected to create environments that will enable the civil society and the media to hold governments to the highest levels of transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.
“All the men have failed Liberia; let’s try a woman this time,” Sirleaf says.
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