Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sudan: Women in Government

From allAfrica:

"When Sabrina Dario Lokolong, the Speaker of South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria State Assembly, enters or leaves Parliament, all the other members of parliament must stand up.

"People, especially men, really don't like this," Lokolong said. She is 40 -- young in South Sudan's political scene -- unmarried and without children; all factors that add to her difficulties as a female figure of authority.

It would be a tough job for anyone: the south is barely out of decades of conflict, physical and administrative structures are weak where they exist, money is short and deep ethnic divisions remain.

Southern politicians are frequently accused -- usually with few consequences -- of corruption and nepotism. Women leaders also have to contend with even juicier, sexual rumors that spread faster and are often entirely untrue. And while wrongly distributed cash or jobs can at least be understood as beneficial to the individual's relatives, accusations against women tend to hurt their relationships with their family.

In the war, Ito explained, women were also left alone to deal with the homesteads and internal and inter-tribal conflicts. Once they found themselves in these positions of authority, there was no way they would return to the dutiful shadows.

There have always been strong women in Southern societies, Ito said, but the push now is to make high-profile women the rule, not exceptions allowed by their families.

The 25 percent target was greeted with jubilation by women and is much talked about at rallies and in speeches by southern leaders who have managed to -- or are making steps towards -- filling the quota. In some ways it is an easier promise to fulfill than improving the wrecked health and education sectors.

In national elections set for next year, a quarter of seats will have to be filled by women: following the precedent started by the SPLM. "Now there is 25 percent in the electoral law and even the most fundamentalist and conservative political parties talk about it," Ito said. It has been an important success for the SPLM who have always claimed to want political change across Sudan, not just in the South.

But Warija -- like others -- believes that the women leaders, like their male counterparts, need to do more to reconnect with the grassroots. Women selected for positions of power tend to be those who left during the war and picked up skills and ideas elsewhere.

Like other women in government, the top handful arrived at their positions in a variety of ways, including an important proportion through being married to top rebel commanders. But all were passionately dedicated to the rebel movement, making enormous sacrifices.

"They're all tough and very scary," Juma said about the five or six top ladies. While enormously respected - as mothers and grandmothers they also have a special "layer of power, influence and status" - there's not a huge amount of sisterhood to be seen.

And sisterhood is badly needed. Not only between rural women but between high-profile women and others in more lowly positions in government who may experience less spiteful sexual gossip and lies, but instead face endless sexual harassment."

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