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Cameroon’s first-ever Upper House of Parliament, the Senate (Sénat) elections are taking place on Sunday April 14th 2013. 70 seats are up for election, the majority expected to be won by the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement/ Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (CPDM/ RDPC). The remaining 30 seats will be appointed by President Paul Biya.[i]

After independence, French Cameroon merged with neighboring British Cameroon to create a federation in 1961 and a unified state in 1972. The country has historically had a highly centralized political system with a powerful executive branch and a unicameral parliament. Officially, Cameroon switched to a bicameral system in 1996, when an amendment to the 1972 Constitution established a 100-seat Senate in addition to the 180-seat National Assembly. This was not changed in the 2008 Constitutional amendment.[ii]

As Head of State, President Paul Biya has exclusive power to convene the Electoral College and call for senatorial elections, although this was not done until 16 years after the Constitution was amended.  [iii] On February 27, 2013 Biya finally signed decree N° 2013/056 scheduling senate elections on April 14th, approximately six weeks later. [iv]

The lists of four parties have been approved by Cameroon’s Electoral body, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) for the Senate Elections in Cameroon’s 10 Regions: the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM)-8 Regions, the Social Democratic Front (SDF)-7 Regions, the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP)-3 Regions and the Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU)-1 Region.

This 100-member Senate will most likely strengthen Cameroon’s democracy as well as the future success of the opposition. A pointer is the hitherto unthinkable high-level consultations between the ruling CPDM party and the leading opposition SDF party, and the recent instructions by the CPDM Chairman, Paul Biya, for his party councilors to vote for the SDF in the West Region where the CPDM list was disqualified.

Electoral System

In this election, 70 Senators will be chosen by 10,636 electors from 360 local councils.[v] The remaining 30 seats will be appointed by President Biya.  This is embodied in Chapter 1 of Cameroon’s Constitution, Law No. 2006/2005 of July 14, 2006, which states:

(1) Each region shall be represented in the Senate by 10 (ten) senators 7 (seven) of whom shall be elected by indirect universal suffrage on a regional basis and 3 (three) appointed by decree of the President of the Republic.

Chapter IV Section 11 further states:

(1) Senators shall be elected in each region by an electoral college comprising regional and municipal councilors.

However, in 2008 parliament amended this clause, exclusively giving municipal councilors power to elect the Senate if its elections were organized ahead of regional council elections. Alongside creating a senate, the 1996 constitutional amendment outlined the establishment of Regional Councils, decentralized bodies in charge of governing the country’s 10 provinces or ‘regions.’  Since President Biya did not call for elections establishing Regional Councils, the Electoral College will comprise of municipal councils, 336 of 360 which are dominated by the CPDM. [vi]

 History of Women in Politics in Cameroon

Women in Cameroon have long had a presence in politics but they have often been marginalized and progress in their participation has been quite slow. In Cameroon, women comprise approximately 52 percent of the population yet hold only 14 percent of the seats in parliament and only six percent of mayoral posts. [vii]

They occupy less than 8% of the political and decision making system of the country. Women and girls remain the most affected by poverty and other societal ills. The burden of care remains very heavy on women with most of it being unpaid home care which is largely unrecognized and unvalued. Only 8% (29/360) of Mayors in Cameroon are Female and 0% of the Regional Governors are Female.[viii]

As Justine Diffo Tchunkam, Coordinator of the Network for More Women in Politics, says, there is a very weak participation and representation of women in the administration and political leadership in Cameroon; women who make up 70 % of political party membership, more than 51 % of the population and about 60% of the electorate.  [ix]

Number of Women in Parliament

Cameroon occupies the 94th position in the IPU world classification of the women in Parliament with 25 out of 180 (13.9%) parliamentarians being female.[x]The highest position held by a woman in Cameroon’s National Assembly both in the past and currently is that of 2nd Vice President.

Female Ministers 

Cameroon had its first woman in government as early as 1970, ten years after independence, with the appointment of Delphine Zanga Tsogo (Vice-Minister of Health and Public Welfare from 1970 to 1975 and Minister of Social Affairs from 1975 to 1984). Since 1970 to 2013, Cameroon has had only about 24 other women as Ministers, Ministers Delegate or Secretaries of State.[xi]

In the December 9th 2011 government appointed by President Paul Biya, 7 out of 38 ministers are female, none of seven minister delegates is female, none of the four ministers in charge of missions at the Presidency of the Republic is female, and 2 out of 10 Secretaries of State are female.[xii] Therefore, 9 out of 52 (17.31%) members of government in Cameroon are female.

 

Number of females vying for Senatorial Seats

Of the 280 candidates on the lists both substantive and alternate of all the four parties going in for the 2013 Senatorial elections in Cameroon, 89 (31.78%) are women. 31 out of the 140 candidates on the substantive lists (22.14%) are women, while on the alternate lists 58 out of 140 candidates (41.42%) are women. In relation to the individual political parties, the CPDM has 14 female out of 56 candidates (25.00%) on the substantive and 23 out of 56 (41.07%) and a total of 37 on 112 candidates (33.03%) on both lists; the SDF has 10 female out of 49 candidates (20.40%) on the substantive and 22 out of 49 (44.89%) and a total of 32 on 98 candidates (32.65%) on both lists; the NUDP has 6 female out of 28 candidates (21.42%) on the substantive and 1 out of 28 (3.57%) and a total of 7 on 42 candidates (16.66%) on both lists; the CDU has 1 female out of 7 candidates (14.28%) on the substantive and 3 out of 7 (42.85%) and a total of 4 on 14 candidates (28.57%) on both lists. These can be summarized on the table below[xiii]:

Party

Number of Female Substantive Candidates

Number of Female Alternate Candidates

Total

CPDM

14/56 (25%)

23/56 (41.07%)

37/112 (33.03%)

SDF

10/49 (20.40%)

22/49 (44.89%0

32/98 (32.65%)

NUDP

6/28 (21.42%)

1/28 (3.57%)

7/42 (16.66%)

CDU

1/7 (14.28%)

3/7 (42.85%)

4/14 (28.57%)

TOTAL (All parties)

31/140 (22.14%)

58/140 (41.42%)

89/280 (31.78%)

 

Existence of Quota System

According to the Section 218 (3) of the  Harmonized Electoral Code adopted on 13 April 2012 and promulgated into law by President Paul Biya on April 9th 2012, for the senatorial elections, “the composition of each list must reflect: - the various sociological components of the Region; - gender aspects.” [xiv]

In practice, this requires that party lists must include at least one woman. Some lists were rejected by ELECAM because of the failure to include any woman. It should however be noted that the position women have to occupy on the list is not specified and some parties have included just one woman on the substantive list and more on the alternate list or just one woman on the entire list at not at the leading position. Of the 20 lists presented by all political parties in all 10 regions of Cameroon, 3 are headed by women, 2 from the CPDM and 1 from the NUDP.

 

Obstacles and Challenges Faced by Women in Joining Politics

In traditional societies the role of the woman was based on carrying out domestic duties and  farm work. This added to the precarious living conditions, social prejudices, sexist stereotypes, and the heavy weight of tradition helped to block the participation of women in public life. The obstacles and challenges blocking women from joining politics are economic, cultural, legal and political.

Women face numerous problems at the political level including the underrepresentation in decision-making organs of political parties and organs, the low enrolment of women into political parties, lack of confidence in women by politicians, lack of self confidence and solidarity amongst women, lack of training on issues such as political mobilization and communication knowledge and skills, lack of financial means to finance a political career, the lack of the political will of politicians to promote equal participation in  politics for men and women, lack of sufficient training of politicians on gender mainstreaming, Furthermore, there is a poor political education amongst women, ignorance of texts such as the constitution which promote gender equality, the poor positioning of women on electoral lists especially in the senatorial elections and low participation of women during elections. Women also have a low rate of registration on electoral lists. During the last parliamentary elections, the rate of participation of women was comparatively low despite the population having interest that women should be represented in the parliament. [xv]

As pointed out by Justine Diffo “Women represent 52% of the Cameroonian population, therefore their demographic weight constitutes a decisive political advantage that should be exploited through the massive registration of women on voters’ lists for greater political participation.”[xvi]

 The absence of political ambition on the part of women (with the belief that politics is a reserve for men), the prohibitive modalities and conditions for elective posts such as the requirements of financial deposit, discriminatory practices within political parties are also other obstacles to women’s political participation in Cameroon.[xvii]

There is also imbalanced gender representation within political parties. Yet the correction of the imbalanced gender representation within political parties is advocated in most parties including the ruling CPDM (Cameroon´s People Democratic Movement). “There is generally a certain disregard for principles within the CPDM which require members to integrate women and the youth in candidate lists for legislative and municipal elections”, Jean-Pierre Makang, Assistant Manager for the Advancement of Family observed, noting that this attitude hinders the political participation of women.[xviii]

However, women representation on the political scene in Cameroon has improved slightly thanks to activism by feminist movements and efforts on the part of government. This progress is also reflected in Parliament, where a woman was first elected in 1957.  But, this progress remains insufficient because since the establishment of the legislative assembly, only 8.41% of women have been elected while 11.16% of women have been elected in municipal councils.[xx]

Conclusion

It has been noted that women’s participation and inclusion in politics in Cameroon is still very slow and difficult due to socio-cultural, economic, political and legal factors. Much needs to be done by all the stakeholders to address this situation. The government needs to put more efforts in the implementation of laws on the protection and promotion of women. Furthermore, parliament needs to put on the table debates on the institution of the quota system for women, not just the requirement for the inclusion of women in all electoral lists. Furthermore, the socio-cultural and economic obstacles should be combated through various means such as education, training, information, provision of credit facilities, increase of access to resources and the inclusion of women in decision-making positions and bodies. Within the internal organizational set-up of political parties, the effective involvement of women in the political process needs to be emphasized. This includes the promotion of female candidates, and equal opportunities for men and women in the election process.[xxi]  The putting in place of Cameroon’s first Senate after the April 14 2013 elections will be an opportunity not only to reinforce Cameroon’s democracy but also to increase the active participation of women in the country’s political process, indispensable for the country’s development.  

 

Women’s Political Participation Statistics[xxii]

 

Women’s Political Representation

As of 2007

As of 2013

Female members of parliament

25/180 (13.89%)

25/180(13.89%)

Female Senate candidates

N/A

89/280 (31.78%)[xxiii]

Female Members of Senate

N/A

N/A

 

 

 

 



[iii] Kwang Kometa, Richard. 2013. “Cameroon: A Decisive Moment,” All Africa, http://allafrica.com/stories/201303041819.html  

[xiii] Table Compiled with statistics from Cameroon Tribune N° 10306/6507 of Thursday March 21st 2013 and Cameroon Tribune N° 10315/6515 of Thursday 4th April, 2013

[xiv] Bill No. 911/PJL/AN of Friday 13 April 2012, Relating to the Electoral Code of Cameroon

[xix] http://www.makeeverywomancount.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=1659:cameroon-women-running-for-cameroon-presidency-break-political-glass-ceiling&Itemid=64

[xxiii] Table Compiled with statistics from Cameroon Tribune N° 10306/6507 of Thursday March 21st 2013 and Cameroon Tribune N° 10315/6515 of Thursday 4th April, 2013

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