December 6, 2023

Telling Our Stories : EALA Women’s Caucus Brings its Own Seat to the Table

A well-known adage states that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is committed to supporting women in political leadership, bringing their seats to the table and meaningfully engaging in political and decision-making processes. This is especially important for women and structurally excluded persons, who have historically been underrepresented in decision-making processes. The EALA Women’s Caucus recognizes this disparity and is determined to elevate the voices of women in the East African Community in partnership with partners and stakeholders to establish an equitable and inclusive society for all. Since the hunter will always be the hero until the lion tells the tale, Akina Mama wa Afrika seeks to regularly share primers drawing from our rich and diverse experiences. 

Since 2015, AMwA has collaborated with the EALA Women’s Caucus, having supported the development of the organization’s inaugural Strategic Plan (2015 – 2020). Building on this relationship, between 2021 and 2022, AMwA collaborated with the EALA Women’s Caucus to develop it’s 2022–2027 Strategic Plan, which included wide consultations with women’s rights organizations, the African Union (AU), and policy and political leaders throughout the East African Community (EAC) Community.

The Treaty for the creation of the East African Community (EAC) places gender mainstreaming and respect for women’s rights at the forefront of the EAC integration process in Articles 5, 3 (e), 6 (d), 121, and 122. The Treaty highlights and reinforces the role of women in socio-economic development as essential to the cooperation and development of the partner states, in addition to requiring the partner states to recognize gender equality and social justice and to increase the role of women in cultural, social, political, economic, and technological advancement. As a result, the women representatives of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) established the EALA Women’s Caucus (the Caucus) to promote gender equality and the political, social, and economic autonomy of women as guaranteed by the EAC Treaty.

Despite making up more than 60% of the EAC population, women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making processes and have limited access to technology for communication, education, and finance than men do. Though their influence is still limited, women’s political representation in the region has increased over the past few decades. It is laudable that the current Head of State of the United Republic of Tanzania, President Samia Suluhu, is a woman and that four of the seven speakers of the parliaments of the EAC partner states are women. 

With women occupying over 50% of cabinet roles and 61% of the parliamentary seats, Rwanda has one of the greatest percentages of female political leadership in the world. Analogously, women hold 46% of local government posts, 34% of parliamentary seats, and 43% of cabinet positions in Uganda. Despite these advancements, there is a huge need to ensure women’s significant participation and engagement in these political and decision-making arenas.  

Currently, Kenya has 10 women in the 22-member cabinet and 7 women governors out of the 47 counties; yet, men hold 75% of the parliamentary seats. The underlying structural obstacles that keep women from having equal representation and influence in decision-making processes must be comprehensively addressed. Gender inequality continues to persist in both the public and private spheres, impeding women’s full involvement and contribution to society. Furthermore, the majority of the nations in the region are not free, according to Civicus Monitor. For example, Burundi‘s civic space is classified as closed, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda civic spaces are classified as repressed, and Kenya‘s civic space is obstructed.

Out of the 63 members of the current Assembly, which includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a recent accession to the bloc, 26 of EALA members are women. In the 4th EALA Assembly, 22 out of 54 elected members were women, compared to 10 out of 27 elected members in the 1st Assembly in 2001. The underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions is concerning because it impedes women’s meaningful involvement in the EAC’s mission and the full fulfillment of gender equality. However, through collective effort, the Women’s Caucus is taking important steps towards creating a more inclusive EAC, for example:

In November 2022, with support from Akina Mama wa Afrika, EALA Women’s Caucus finalized and launched its 2022 – 2027 Strategic Plan in Arusha, Tanzania. The Strategic Plan maps out pathways, which will help the caucus to develop flagship programs, policies, and laws that will advance gender justice and equality in  EAC. It outlines five strategic objectives which include:

  1. Gender governance: to advance women’s equal participation and leadership in politics
  2. To promote women’s role in peace and security
  3. To promote an inclusive, equitable and Gender-Responsive EAC Common Market
  4. To promote enabling policy and legislative environment for women in labor, employment and migration
  5. To promote women’s equal status and Gender-Responsive and socially inclusive EAC Regional Integration

Similarly, in April 2023, AMwA and EALA Women’s Caucus co-hosted a reflection and learning space in Bujumbura, Burundi on Advancing Gender Responsive Governance in EALA and the EAC. The aim was to enhance the capacity of the Women’s Caucus in gender-responsive governance. Following the induction session, three members of the caucus from Tanzania, South Sudan, and Uganda respectively, pledged to forward a private member’s bill on climate justice. The caucus has since then taken increased interest in the policy and advocacy efforts on climate justice in order to provide gender responsive and transformative policy options for African women and the East African Community (EAC). 

In addition, AMwA and the EALA Women’s Caucus are exploring ways to advance gender-responsive budgeting both inside EALA and across its member states. In order to assist the implementation of policies and initiatives that advance gender equality, AMwA and EALA organized a Gender Responsive Budgeting induction session, and during the 2023/2024 EALA Budget Plenary, the Women’s Caucus proposed significant increase in the budget allocation toward gender-responsive initiatives at EALA. 

The EALA Women’s Caucus aims to establish systems for tracking and assessing gender-responsive budgeting, guaranteeing responsibility and openness in their execution in accordance with the main clauses of the EAC Treaty, namely paragraphs 5, 3 (e), 6 (d), 121, and 122. Women’s rights and robust gender mainstreaming approaches are essential elements of the EAC integration process, as stated in these provisions of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community (EAC).

Given that the EALA Women’s Caucus has clearly identified its bid to strengthen women’s meaningful engagement in the EAC regional agenda and bolster gender-responsive policy-making and in the work and functioning of the assembly and member states, there is an urgent need to bolster the EALA Women’s Caucus legitimacy and capacity to collectively redress patriarchy, violence against women and girls and all intersecting systems and structures of oppression against women’s political, economic and social autonomy in the region through gender-responsive and transformative law-making and policy alternatives. 

Otherwise, an inclination toward a “soft nature” impedes the creation of gender-responsive agendas and laws. If this is combined with a lackluster collective and intersectional effort and a shrinking civic and democratic space in the region, women face losing their political, social, and economic autonomy entirely. 

Fig 1.2 Hon. Fatuma Ndangiza, Secretary of the EALA  Women’s Caucus

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