As we all know the international political world has changed dramatically since the beginning of the year. Frequently after my speeches, classes or university forums, students (particularly young women) often ask me how they can get involved. I’m struck by their enthusiasm, dedication and energy. While we are overwhelmed with television, blogs and tweets about international protests and revolutions many people want to know how to have an impact. Between now and the end of 2011, we will witness several historic elections. Here are the ones I will be watching closely:
The first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections will occur in September 2011 and the presidential election in November 2011. These upcoming elections are critical to how the country shapes its future, and will give us clues about the emerging political landscape and to the level of involvement and influence women will have as candidates and voters.
Clearly, it was disappointing that there were no women included in the 63 person group drafting the package of constitutional amendments which were passed on March 19, 2011 with 77% of the vote. The amendments, which established presidential term limits among other things, also contained a provision which some believe limits the presidency to only men. In addition, the amendments contained no reference to equality for women, but did not alter the quota for women’s participation in Parliament’s lower chamber, currently set as 64 of 444 seats. Egyptian women’s political representation is low, with only 18 women in the 264-member Consultative Council, Parliament’s upper chamber. Women’s membership and representation in political parties is weak, and representation on municipal councils is less than 3%. For more information see, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/03/28/egypt-ensure-women-equal-role-elections-reform.
On July 24, 2011, Tunisians will elect a constituent assembly that will draft a new Constitution. Tunisia rocked the world earlier this year as its popular uprising brought down President Ben Ali. Tunisia has again taken the lead by passing a law that there be an equal number of men and women candidates on the lists for Constituent Assembly, and that women and men appear alternatively on the lists. This latter requirement is critical to maximizing the number of women who will actually get elected. Women have played a visible role in Tunisian society, representing 26% of the working population, 50% of students, 29% of magistrates and 24% of the Tunisian diplomatic corps. The previous parliament, dissolved after the fall of Ben Ali regime, had the most women in the region. This Constituent Assembly will frame how Tunisian will govern itself into the future and how women will fare in that future. For an interview with Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation of Human Rights regarding Tunisia, see http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2094.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman elected president of an African country is seeking another term inLiberia’s second national elections since the end of the country’s civil war in 2003. The presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for Oct. 11, 2011. Although President Johnson-Sirleaf enjoys widespread international support and acclaim, she faces mixed reviews at home, particularly with regard to the pace of progress. Former football star George Weah, Johnson Sirleaf’s main opponent in the 2005 election, intends to run again, as well as other opponents. This election will reflect the staying power of Africa’s first elected woman president. For more information, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/08/ellen-johnson-sirleaf-100-women.
Paul Biya has been the President of Cameroon since 1982. He is being challenged this fall by Kah Walla, a dynamic woman who previously served as a citycouncil member in Douala, Cameroon. Ms. Walla is an entrepreneur and is internationally recognized for her expertise in management, her understanding of development issues and her leadership in public life. She was recognized by the World Bank as one of seven women entrepreneurs in Africa working on business environment reform and by Vital Voices for her leadership in public life. Her firm, STRATEGIES!, works for multinational firms as well as development organizations. For more information, see www.kahwalla.com.
The US election isn’t until 2012 but the campaigns are already underway. Given the sharp polarization of the two parties over issues critical to women both in the US and globally, this is an election that is important to follow.