On the 2015 International Day of Democracy, LSE’s Nyaguthii Maina examines the role civil society and women can play in politics.
Today, 15 September 2015, little or not so little fifteen year old Muteteli from Rwanda aspires to one day be Member of Parliament. She aspires to represent constituents from her region, help young children grow up to be the best they could possibly be; to live to their full potential. Young Muteteli aspires to assist farmers to produce more food for internal use and export, teachers be well qualified, hospitals to have well run facilities and to overall harness the energies and innovation of the promising Rwandan youth.
“I will one day be Member of Parliament, I will make good decisions and I will make Rwanda proud,” she muses amidst a smile. Are her dreams valid? Very much so.
If one asks Muteteli whether she is aware of what a civil society organization is, she will quickly respond with a resounding yes. “They are the people who hold my Member of Parliament representative accountable and raise issues on what needs to be done more of.” If one probes further on whether she would want a civil society during her parliamentary tenure, the answer is also a resounding yes. “Just as my mother holds me to account on my wrongs, I too want people to tell me where I should focus my energies.”
Ban Ki moon rightly put it when he stated that civil society is the oxygen of democracy. It acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth and plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable; helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups; that being the women and youth.
Article 29 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance stipulates that, ‘State Parties shall recognize the crucial role of women in development and strengthening of democracy.’
What does this mean?
In the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, “No one benefits if women are held back; we have to change mind sets, not just laws. In Rwanda, more women than ever before are serving in positions of responsibility and leadership in government and in the work place. These role models, in turn, shape the expectations and the missions of the next generations”.
Democracy and its ideals as defined by the United Nations is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. This means that there is rule of law whereby constitutions are upheld, term limits are respected, civil society groups can exercise their freedoms whilst holding government to account, elections are free and fair and the institutions within the state are free to deliver on public services equitably without interference from bureaucratic red tape and corruption.
The theme of the 2015 International Day of Democracy is on creating spaces for civil society and a study by Civicus indicates a nexus between democracy, civil society engagement and women’s leadership.
Beginning with its leadership, it is reported Rwanda claimed the world’s highest percentage of women in parliament in 2003 and today, its women hold 64% of the country’s legislative seats. Rwanda is arguably run efficiently and effectively with a fast rising private sector and civil society which is steered by pragmatic sound policies and legislation from its political institutions. The study indicates that Rwandan civil society’s greatest strengths is its relatively positive values; that its civil society, to a great extent, nurtures and upholds positive values such as anti-corruption practices, gender equity, poverty eradication, tolerance and democracy promotion. This is a country that survived genocide in the 90’s and more or less built its economy from scratch.
The African Union came to the succinct realization that women hold the mantle in promoting democracy and good governance and as such, during its 24th Heads of State Summit in January 2015, ended with a strong call for women’s empowerment in Africa as a step towards achieving the goals of Agenda 2063, its blueprint development strategy for the next 50 years.
It cannot be overemphasized how crucial the role of civil society and more so women’s participation in democracy building is. Ban Ki moon also rightly put it when he stated as follows:
“Women hold up more than half the sky and represent much of the world’s unrealized potential. They are the educators. They raise the children. They hold families together and increasingly drive economies. They are natural leaders. We need their full engagement… in government, business and civil society.”
The post was first published on Musings of a People.
Nyaguthii Maina is a Masters student and PfAL Scholar at LSE.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.