In Sub-Saharan Africa, where women hold just 23 percent of the seats in national parliaments and there are only three women heads of state, Catherine Samba-Panza, president of the Central African Republic (CAR), is an inspirational figure. Her position as the first female president of a Francophone country is a powerful symbol for African women, showing they can succeed even in countries where armed conflict, corruption and inequality have been the norm.
So when 25 women politicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that has suffered through its own years of conflict, had the opportunity to meet her last month, it was considered a landmark event.
In the DRC capital of Kinshasa, President Samba-Panza and Congolese women sat down to talk about the president’s efforts to bring peace and stability to the CAR, which is in the midst of a sectarian struggle, as well as their own trials and triumphs promoting women’s rights and equal political participation in the DRC.
While highlighting how few women are active in CAR politics, President Samba-Panza commended the Congolese women for their political involvement and said she hoped they would one day be able to share their experiences with Central African women.
NDI organized the meeting when the president was in Kinshasa for the second annual World Forum for Francophone Women, where hundreds of French-speaking women from around the world convened to discuss women’s roles in peacebuilding and development.
The meeting followed her speech at the forum’s opening ceremony in which she spoke about her own rise to power, the challenges facing her presidency and the potential for women’s political participation to stem the tides of violence that have plagued the region.
“Only women can bring peace, national unity and unity among those who have been separated by politics,” she said.
Despite a busy schedule, the president set aside time to meet with the local women politicians, most of whom were members of Femmes Politiques Extra-Parlementaires (FPEPA), a research and advocacy group established by NDI that is made up of women politicians who are not members of parliament or the executive branch.
Other attendees at the meeting included government officials, political party leaders and civil society activists, such as Marie-Ange Lukiana, an MP from the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy; Marie-Madeleine Kalala, former minister of human rights; and Fyfy Osambia, federal vice president of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo party.
The 25 DRC women have been working with NDI to encourage political parties to include more women among their members and to devise platforms that recognize women’s concerns.
The largest news broadcaster in the DRC, state-operated National Congolese Radio and Television (RTNC), covered the meeting. Watch the coverage below.
NDI convened the meeting as part of its Tomikotisa (the Lingala word for “participate”) program, which encourages political parties to become more accountable and representative. One objective is to strengthen relationships among women politicians in the DRC. The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
In addition, FPEPA’s involvement in the meeting was supported through funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which also helped create the organization in 2012.
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Published April 23, 2014