São Tomé and Príncipe: tangible gains for women in politics
“More women for more development” is one of the inspiring mottos used by women’s organizations in São Tomé and Príncipe in their battle for more space in the country’s politics.
The dream of many women came true on July 28 when the National Assembly of São Tomé and Príncipe approved a long-debated law on political parity that provides for a minimum of 40% of seats in elected bodies reserved for women, as well as than in ministerial posts. reserved for women. Currently, women hold 12% of seats in the National Assembly and 20% in Cabinet positions, but thanks to a strong advocacy campaign led by women parliamentarians, civil society, women lawyers and former women politicians , that will soon change. A cross-party alliance to advance equal rights for women has been successful and sees the country join a few other countries in Africa that are at the forefront of women’s equality.
The UN has been instrumental in empowering women’s groups and building a coalition of agents of change, including government, parliamentarians, political parties, civil society leaders and the media . The advocacy succeeded in putting into practice the country’s strong adherence to the values of gender equality and equity.
As Resident Coordinator, I brought the expertise of our colleagues from UN Women based in Senegal, in addition to the United Nations Development Program and the UN Department of Political Affairs. I believe I have linked the expertise of the UN at the global, regional and national levels with the highest political level of the country for this great step towards gender equality.
It was inspiring to meet the women leaders of the country to encourage them and reiterate our support. Recently, in a meeting with them, I said ‘faremos o caminho caminhando’ which translates to ‘we will follow the path’. Indeed, the approval of the parity law is an important step on the way to achieving gender equality.
2022 promises to be the year of change for the women of São Tomé and Príncipe. During a recent course on women in politics – organized by the UN with the support of UNOCA and in partnership with a local university – one of the 30 women participants, a grassroots member of one of the political parties, said :
Now we can’t go back. Within my party, I will say loud and clear that I am a candidate, because I have lost my greatest fear… the glass ceiling, as I learned here.
In my meetings with all the leaderships of the political parties, I always ensure that women are present and I find out about the actions of the political parties to place women in eligible positions on the lists of candidates. The next legislative elections to be held in September will see a sharp increase in the number of women candidates.
With the help of the United Nations, the manual on “the political participation of women” was launched on July 8 and a first copy was offered to the President of the National Assembly and to all leaders of political parties. The manual was written by former Prime Minister Maria das Neves and former Justice Minister Ilza Amado Vaz, with personal insights and anecdotes. I enjoyed the lively discussion in the forum organized before the vote in Parliament, and I agree with the authors who said that “the political representation of women is not only a question of demographic justice; it is a requirement for the development of the country.
The President of the National Assembly receives the manual on “The political participation of women” from one of its authors.
The women’s campaign had already started in December last year, with a joint statement which was the starting point for the advocacy campaign, with all sovereign bodies, media and political parties, articles, talks -media shows and a series of visible events and trainings to build women’s capacities and give impetus to the law on parity.
The website mulheresstp.com shows that women are ready and motivated to have a say in the country’s political arena, contradicting the oft-heard criticism that there are not enough suitable women to get involved in politics.
The website mulheresstp.com
The battle for gender equality is not only led by women. Alongside the women, important male voices expressed their support, such as the President of the Republic and the President of the National Assembly.
The journey towards gender equality does not stop there, but with the adoption of the law on parity – unanimously by the 55 deputies – a strong political signal has been given to put into practice the political participation of women and gender equality.
By: Eric Overvest
Eric Overvest is United Nations Resident Coordinator for São Tomé and Príncipe.
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