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Occasional Paper Gender Policy 13: Gendered Spaces in Party Politics in Southern Africa: Progress and Regress since Beijing 1995

12 Apr 2006



Have the institutions and processes of accountable governance, re-established in the 1990s in most Southern African states, taken sufficient root to fulfil their commitments to enhancing citizens’ quality of life? This paper takes stock, focusing on political parties both as possible instruments and as sites of negotiated power, against a historical background where they have also been instruments of coercion and exclusion. The process of enhancing women’s status, argues the author, is inseparable from the process of rebuilding democratic institutions and practices. Thus this review includes an examination of women’s representation in decision-making bodies.

According to Selolwane, the outcome of institution building depends on the character, form and content of the struggles, and of the people or groups involved. So, she asks, how have the history of the Southern African countries and the struggles waged there defined, and how do they continue to shape, the types of institutions, political power-sharing and women’s representation? And how have women’s struggles for political space contributed to the democratization process and the rebuilding of political parties in Southern Africa?

She divides the Southern African countries into groups that share certain historical similarities, but present differing obstacles that had to be overcome by women in the process of building political institutions and negotiating political power. The groups are:
those countries that have maintained multiparty politics from the 1960s (Botswana and Mauritius);
those countries that replaced multiparty systems with single-party politics soon after independence and only reinstated them in the 1990s (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, the Seychelles, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia);
those countries that were the last to extend universal suffrage to all racial groups (Namibia and South Africa);and
those countries that have regressed either right from independence or since, and have not yet embraced peaceful multiparty political systems (Angola, Swaziland, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe).

Onalenna Selolwane is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Botswana.

Order from UNRISD; 36 pages, 2006, $12 for readers in industrialized countries, $6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.