São Tomé and Príncipe’s democracy is recent, having gained independence from Portugal only in 1975. Until 1990 it was a single-party State with restricted political rights. Since the introduction of the Constitution which established a multi-party democracy, there have been 10 elections so far which have been classified by international observers as generally free and transparent.
Presidential elections were held on July 17th and there were five candidates: Evaristo Carvalho, Manuel Pinto da Costa, Maria das Neves (the only woman), Manuel do Rosário, and Hélder Barros. Evaristo Carvalho won the election on the first round with 50.1% of the votes (34,629), against the 24.8% (17,121) obtained by the former president Manuel Pinto da Costa. Maria das Neves came in third with 24% of the votes (16,638).
Women’s Political Participation
São Tomé and Príncipe has no gender quotas, neither for parliament nor for executive office. Nevertheless, its gender representation in the parliament could not be characterised as low. In the last elections, in 2014, for instance, 10 out of 55 seats were held by women (18%). Although the numbers are not ideal, they could be considered as relatively high for a country with no gender quotas. It has to be pointed out that Maria das Neves was the first African woman to be elected prime minister (from 2002 to 2004). Unfortunately, there are still no statistics available on female presidential candidates for the 2016 elections.
The Constitution states “that women and men have equal political, economic and social rights.”However, women experience economic discrimination and traditional beliefs leave them with most child-rearing responsibilities and with less access to education or opportunity to enter a profession. Widespread reports of domestic violence continue. Although women have the right to legal recourse in cases of domestic violence, including against spouses, many are reluctant to bring legal action because of the cost and a general lack of faith in the legal system to address their concerns effectively. Lastly one of the most severe issues is that women often are not aware of their legal rights.
In terms power and decision-making, women have a significant share at the highest
level of the government. Nevertheless, despite good representation at the highest political level, the share of women in the political process and decision-making is very limited at the lower levels. A major barrier for greater female participation in decision-making is the socio-cultural preconceptions regarding appropriate social roles for men
and women. More effort is needed to expand opportunities for women’s participation and representation in the political sphere.