This rapid literature review collates evidence on women’s actions and interactions in parliaments in Africa. The literature mostly focuses on Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania (Bauer, 2012). There are several consistent findings from African countries, which enables drawing together key lessons:
Effectiveness at representing women’s interests:
- The presence of women in parliaments has contributed to a more women-friendly atmosphere, and as a result it has become easier to raise gender issues in most countries.
- Women report a change in attitudes of male MPs, and a shift towards acceptance of women in leadership positions.
- There have been significant gains in gender equality legislation in several African countries; but on the whole, policies are not progressive.
Factors which influence effectiveness are:
- Whether there is a women’s caucus or cross-party women’s representation. This facilitates discussing women’s issues in a positive environment.
- Whether women are united on gender equality goals. Some women expressed solidarity with other women as their main driving force.
- Whether party loyalty, or ethnic, religious, or cultural identity takes precedence over women’s representation.
- Whether women are in senior positions of power and influence. Mostly women remain in the lower echelons of power.
- Whether there is male support for issues. This can be critical to pass legislation.
Lessons on responsiveness:
- Partnerships and relationships with civil society can help create a broad base of support. Many women have strong connections with the grassroots, which helps them represent their views in parliament.
- Political systems can constrain women’s ability to be responsive to women constituencies. Some women are constrained by the need to follow party direction and cannot advocate for women’s rights.
- Donors support women largely by funding capacity-building and training.