In spite of numerous women in Cameroon having got themselves the financial strength and the mental courage to be in the forefront of civil revolution there are very few who have been actually able to create an impact in the political landscape of the country which is Cameroon is still dominated very much by their male counterparts.
Most often the contributions made by the ladies in politics and related areas tend to go relatively unnoticed.
Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, a journalist and publisher of Bebela — a weekly independent newspaper — and one of the founders of Transparency International in Cameroon, spoke about this issue that is hampering the growth of women in Cameroon and not getting them to the forefront of activity on March 7 at a roundtable conference that took place at the U.S. Department of State. Ekwe was in Washington at that time and has been chosen for the very prestigious 2011 International Women of Courage Awards.
Ekwe was chosen for this honor as a token of appreciation of devoting her entire life to advocating the importance of the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the acceptance and implementation of human rights, proper governance and eradication of gender discrimination.
The Women of Courage Awards was set up in 2007 by then–Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice so as to identify and respect women from all parts of the world who through their impeccable devotion, admirable guts and excellent leadership skills have worked towards protecting women’s rights and fostered the development of their sex.
Ekwe during the round table indicated that in Cameroon, men are still undisputed rulers in the political space.
The growing male dominance in politics and their unwillingness to let women take over have resulted in numerous such women who had earlier been active in the politics of the country move out from there and start their own nongovernmental organizations so that they could contribute towards the uplift of the civil society and work for their sex without having to face male superiority.
She said that many such women have also been synergizing with organizations like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund in fostering such initiatives.
“Many of them [those women] have created organizations to defend women and to defend children,” she said. “They feel that they are respected much more in civil society organizations than they are in political parties.”
Ekwe complained that not a single member in the delegation from her country who had been part of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing (along with more than 300 other women’s organizations), had revealed to other organizations or the government in Cameroon after they got back to their homeland that a decision had been adopted in Beijing, which asked that a minimum of 30 percent of the decisions makers in any country be women.
“We have many problems with getting women into politics,” she said. “In Cameroon, there are only 21 women members of parliament (MPs) of a total of 180, and 29 women mayors out of a country wide total of 360”, she said.
Ekwe said many women in Cameroon are well educated with most of them having a great business acumen as well, making their presence felt in the markets and in many other businesses.
But sadly the conditions in the country are so pathetic that if a family has the option of choosing between sending a boy or a girl to school the girl would always be ignored and the boy would be the obvious choice.
Most parents would go out of the way to get their sons educated while most of them would not even bother doing the same for their daughter.
She said most men in the country do not encourage their wives to go into politics or compete for the elections because they fear the feeling of being inferior to their wives.
When asked for her opinion about he homelands electoral process which is a topic that is being increasingly discussed in the global political space these days and presidential elections slated for October 2011, she said, “If we have free, fair and credible elections, then I think we will be free to talk, we will be free to criticize.” The current president has been ruling her homeland Cameroon since 1982.
Whe she is questioned about her aspirations for the future of her country, Ekwe said any major change in Cameroon towards progress is now in the hands of the young people who have been drawing inspiration from their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt.
The others whose names have been selected into the list of the 2011 International Women of Courage awardees include:
• Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva
• Maria Bashir, the prosecutor general in Herat province, Afghanistan
• Guo Jianmei, a director and lawyer at the Women’s Studies and Legal Aid Center in China
• Agnes Osztolykan, a member of parliament and the Politics Can Be Different Party in Hungary
• Eva Abu Halaweh, executive director of the Mizan Law Group for Human Rights in Jordan
• Ghulam Sughra, founder and chief executive officer of the Marvi Rural Development Organization in Pakistan
• Marisela Morales Ibañez, deputy attorney general for special investigations against organized crime in Mexico
• Yoani Sanchez, innovator, blogger and founder of “Generación Y” blog in Cuba
• Nasta Palazhanka, the deputy chairwoman of the Malady Front (Young Front) nongovernmental organization of Belarus