Cameroon Activists Push Gender Parity for Senate Elections

VOA | MAROUA, CAMEROON — Activists in Cameroon are urging more women candidates to enter races for Senate seats before a January 28 deadline. Only 26 members of Cameroon’s 100-member senate are women, a number advocates want to see doubled. But patriarchal beliefs and a lack of political support are preventing more women from contesting the March election.

Female activists have been visiting political party leaders in northern Cameroon to push for greater representation for women in Cameroon’s upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, announced last week that senate elections will be held March 12 with a registration deadline of January 28.

The announcement prompted activists to push for more women candidates.

Aissa Doumara Ngatansou is with the Association for the Fight Against Violence on Women and Girls.

She says only 2 of the 10 former senate members from Cameroon’s Far North region, where Maroua is located, are women. Ngatansou says she is visiting political parties that will contest the elections to tell them activists want gender parity among their candidates – half women and half men. She says it’s delightful that many women who were quiet in the past now want to take part in politics.

Cameroonian women have long raised complaints of low participation in politics ahead of elections.

Activists say patriarchal attitudes still prevail in many parts of Cameroon, where women are expected to get their husband’s permission before running for office.

Funding campaigns is also a challenge, as many women candidates cannot afford the $1,650 deposit required to run for the Senate.

Justine Diffo is coordinator of the group More Women in Politics.

She says women’s associations, wealthy donors, and political parties should assist women candidates with such campaign fees.

Diffo says it is the wish of Cameroonian women to see political leaders including President Paul Biya respect promises they made on several occasions to give equal chances (in politics) to men and women. She says the March 12 Senate elections provide an opportunity for Cameroon to prove to the world that parity is not just a slogan.
Political leaders have not responded to calls by rights groups for political parties to pay the deposit for women candidates.

The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party said in a press release it is examining issues raised by women activists and will do all it takes to have more women run for the Senate.

The CPDM says four out of every ten candidates for the elections are expected to be women.

Marie Theres Abena Ondoua is Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family.

Speaking on Cameroon’s state broadcaster CRTV Tuesday, she says government training for women who register as candidates has made progress in gender parity.

Ondoua says from just one female lawmaker 30 years ago, Cameroon today counts 61 in the National Assembly out of 180 members. She says 30 years ago, Cameroon had fewer than three female mayors but today there are 39 out of 360 in the country. Ondoua says Cameroon is determined to assist women who are hard working to gain political positions.
About 15,000 councilors in 60 divisions across Cameroon make up the electoral college that will vote for 70 of the senator seats.

The remaining 30 are directly appointed by President Biya.

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