Johannesburg, South Africa – Swiss and Flemish AWEPA members and members from the South African Provincial Legislatures (SAPL) interacted on cross cutting issues that affect both continents, during a four-day programme, from 28 September until 1 October 2014.
On 30 September 2014, Political Coordinators for the AWEPA SAPL programme Hon. Maja Ingold and Hon. Therese Frösch from Switzerland and Hon. Johan Verstreken from Flanders visited a women’s workshop and here is their Mission Report:
The Swiss and Flemish delegates were informed on the state of play regarding the advancement and empowerment of women in the provincial legislatures. They participated in a highly interesting and exciting event, facilitated by AWEPA, with a dozen senior parliamentarians and chairs of women’s committees, where they examined the needs of South African politicians after 20 years of democratic structure.
The overall theme of the meeting, the role of parliaments, was an issue which illustrated the importance of continued collaboration between African and European parliaments on cross cutting issues that affect both African and European societies in equally adverse way.
The parliamentary team from Belgium and Switzerland contributed first to the meeting by providing a general view on AWEPA – its purpose, way of working, programmes, history and perspectives. Presented by Hon. Maja Ingold, the input was followed by a complementary overview on women in politics in Switzerland, their struggle for their rights to vote in the past, and their commitment and solidarity today with the world’s sisters in the struggle for gender equality.
Hon. Johan Verstreken showed in an impressive biographical and political insight, how a male MP can strive for women’s rights. The interesting African-European dialogue ended in the conclusion that there is much more work to be done.
The SAPL members then explained how patriarchy shifts but remains dominant despite increased numbers of women in institutions. They gave examples of how even strong and vocal women are undermined and silenced. They appreciated the opportunity to meet as women parliamentarians as these were rare in a patriarchal world. They also were glad for the opportunity given to meet with their European counterparts to learn from and exchange knowledge between themselves.
Subsequently the South African Ambassador for Thailand H.E. Ruby Marks who is a very experienced expert, gave an excellent overview on 20 years of democracy in South Africa. She acknowledged the important achievements but also pointed out the deficits, for example the tiredness in the implementation process of a good constitution against the old culture of apartheid and patriarchy, which needs more time and hard work in order to get results. Ms. Marks also provided a toolbox of best practices and new solutions, ideas, encouragement and instruments of best practices.
The most important part of the workshop was the feedback and expectations shared of these highly competent and experienced parliamentarians, who explained their difficulties to prevail gender equality, for instance in securing the budget for the women’s caucus. If they are to raise their voice and eventually scrutinize the political system or propose solutions, they also need protection. Their struggle for real participation does not go without shifts of power and loss of power.
The new members of the legislatures also need more training and platforms to develop their networks. They asked for campaign driven programmes to push transformation of the justice systems in terms of protecting women’s rights. What they lack is a model for the women’s caucus to institutionalize the women’s caucus and to exchange knowhow. What they need is additional assistance in the technological aspects of communication; deepening of skills is useful, as after each election there new MPs coming in. The women of the workshop requested AWEPA to continue its support to the empowerment of parliamentarians.
There is no question about it, the Cape Town office of AWEPA, directed by Jessica Longwe, is of great importance. The achievements of democracy after 20 years are not to be lost, and the continued capacity building of democratic powers remains essential.