African Women’s Movements and Political Leadership: Cameroon

Looking at the history of women’s movements in Africa over the years, women have come a long way politically and economically doing great exploits in leadership spheres despite cultural and patriarchal barriers. International bodies and African governments have added their voices to ensure women’s voices are heard through measures such as addressing the plight of women, creating a quota system for women in legislation and more. Nonetheless, there still much to be done due to fluctuating  gender equity and  challenges still faced by women in leadership

The women of the western Grass fields of Cameroon played a cutting edge role in the liberation struggle against colonial rule, as did women throughout the continent in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Algeria. The role of women’s movements in effecting change has greatly inspired and spurred generations of women to join the advocacy and leadership mantle but still has not gained  the same attention and momentum as that of men

The Takembeng or Takumbeng are a female social movement in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. These movements connect with traditional practices common throughout the Western grass fields of Cameroon where groups of women perform ostracizing rituals against individuals in their communities. Toward the end of colonial control and in the early years of independent Cameroon (the 1950s and 1960s), these local practices became a crucial tool for larger political protest, often against agricultural policy. With political liberalization in the 1990s, the Takembeng women became a crucial part of opposition to the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party. The women marched with the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and would use nudity and the social status of older women to prevent troops and security forces from harassing protesters. These movement greatly advanced the gender equity journey and empowered other young women into leadership.

In previous years, the civil society has investing in building women’s political confidence in Cameroon and other parts of Africa, significance change have been recorded at the level of representation as the case in the North West Region of Cameroon that saw an increase from 16% to 26% of women elected in the  2013 Municipal and Parliamentary elections. During this period women engaged in building themselves up in fronts compromised of those standing, those supporting the team and those being groomed for the future. These teams formed a united front of women supporting their peers to take on leadership and having their voices heard. Women mobilising and building a strong front to succeed dismantled the common myth that ‘A woman is a woman’s enemy’ giving birth to other movements like ‘The Pink Card Campaign’ that stood for women working together equals development.

It is worth noting that  women have played a major role to ensure peace and security in Cameroon following the civil war in the English speaking regions of the country putting the lives of women and girls in a state of insecurity. In 2020 Cameroonian women took to the streets to cry out on the deplorable conditions women and girls in these regions live in. Women in these regions claimed their agency by standing up as activists and advocates for peace. Women mobilized themselves through community groups and NGOs to form a strong women’s movement called the South West and North West Women’s Task force. This movement has played a major role in pressing for the first National Dialogue as a step to bring an end to this crisis and restore peace. Their demonstrations and many  women led tasks have displayed the power of women’s political engagement leading collective action for change.

Some Major Successes on Governments and Legislature in Africa

Currently women are making significant strides as local government, legislatures, and even the executive.  Today, Africa is even a leader in women’s parliamentary representation globally. Civil society African governments have made concerted efforts at encouraging greater participation in politics. It is worth noting some of the major advancements looking at legislation.

In 2012, Senegal’s parliament after enforcing the Parity Law saw the fastest advancement in female representation globally with women making up more than half of its parliament. In September that same year, Aminata Touré was appointed as Senegal’s prime minister.

Cameroon’s 2013Legislative elections saw a change of representation of women from 13% to 31 %. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first elected woman president in Africa in 2005, and Joyce Banda served as president in Malawi in 2011.

Africa has had female vice presidents in Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Gambia and Djibouti with female prime ministers in since 1993; in 2017 South Africa ranked 8th in the world, with women taking 42% of Parliament’s seats. After the genocide in 1994, Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, engineered the election of the world’s highest proportion of women in a legislature. When a new parliament assembled in October, women had a world-record 64% of the seats.

To achieve more results, there is still need for quality Education for both men and women, Mentoring of the younger generation and Engaging more men in the gender agenda.

Women make up more than 1/2 the population globally and continentally and when women work together, the results are development that goes beyond just numbers to impact. 62 million girls are not in school and Sub Saharan Africa makes up more than half of this number. With what has been achieved at hand and what still needs to be done, there is more need to forward the gender agenda and foster women’s movements for development.

Mirabel Ngong