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Nearly 600,000 people were elegible to vote on Sunday's in the first round of the presidential elections, which featured a crowded field of nine candidates including former president Kumba Yala, who was overthrown in a 2003 coup.

The vote followed the death of president Bacai Sanha. in January and came just two years after the late president's election in an emergency ballot after Joao Bernando Vieira, his predecessor and the country's dominant political figure, was gunned down inside his home[i]. The first presidential run-off election failed to produce an outright winner; preliminary results show that Carlos Gomes jr captured the majority of the votes[ii].

Status of Women

The Constitution and legislation of Guinea-Bissau prohibit all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or religion. In practice, the government is not in a position to enforce the principle of non-discrimination, and violence and discrimination against women remain serious problems. Traditionally, women do most of the agricultural work, but in certain ethnic groups, they do not have access to land or property[iii].

Inclusive Governance?

On March 9th, representatives of seven out of the nine presidential candidates signed the Political Declaration prepared by the Women Political Platform, in which the candidates interalia agreed to push for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights through the implementation of the National Policy on Gender Equality and Equity, decentralization of the administration through municipal elections with women candidates, as well as to strengthen capacity building of women and enable access to credit.

This initiative led by the Women’s Political Platform is  part of a set of actions undertaken to enhance women’s participation during the upcoming presidential elections to be held in Guinea Bissau on March 18th . It should be noted that Guinea-Bissau‘s current acting Prime Minister, Ms Adiato Djalo Nandigna, who is also the first female to hold this position in the country’s history, was recently appointed by her predecessor (and now presidential candidate) on February 10th to serve as interim during this process.

Unfortunately no women candidates[iv] partook in the presidential race. Instead the competition involved nine male candidates.

Conclusion

Foreign observers said Sunday's election appeared to be free and fair and the United Nations mission in the country praised the authorities for holding a peaceful poll. However we need to ask ourselves how free and fair are elections that do not justly represent women or equally support women candidates and address the challenges of women voters.

Political Representation of Women

Date of Elections

Peoples National Assembly

Number of Women Candidates

Quota

2008

10/100 seats or 10%

N/A

None

2012

0

None


* Data of representation of women in the Peoples National Assembly will be modified as Guinea Bissau also has scheduled parliamentary/legislative elections scheduled later in the year.

 

UPDATE, May 15, 2012:

The second round of the  2012 presidential elections scheduled for 29th April have been postponed for an estimated twelve - twenty four months as a result of a military coup. Guinnea-Bissau is no stranger to coups with know democratically elected leader ever having completed a term in office since independence was seized by the military from Portugal in 1974.
 
Of the nine presidential candidates zero were females. In a country in which military coups are common place, women’s increased political participation and the investment in such initiatives will come up against great pressure from the potential of a coup and subsequent reordering of the democratic landscape.
 
The situation on the ground is increasingly difficult for the citizens, as they are having to deal with the instability that the military coup has brought. Women have been long marginalised from the political sphere, presumably partly due to the militarised and violent nature of political life. Further the narcotics that transit Guinnea-Bissau have added an extra layer of illegality and corruption, all of which culminates in a public sphere that is hostile and counter to women’s participation.  



 

[i] Guinea-Bissau counts presidential poll votes, Aljazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/03/201231844554576763.html . Accessed March 19, 2012.

[ii] Election Guide: http://www.electionguide.org/country-news.php?ID=92, Accessed on March 19, 2012.

[iii] OECD, Social Institute and Gender Index:http://genderindex.org/country/guinea-bissau

[iv] Election Guide:http://www.electionguide.org/country.php?ID=92. Accessed March 19, 2012.

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