POLITICS-GUINEA: Women Amongst Also-Rans in Presidential Elections

  • by Saliou Samb (conakry)
  • Inter Press Service

Saran Daraba Kaba, the first and only woman candidate for president, finished a distant 22nd of the 24 candidates who took part in the first round of voting on Jun 27, garnering only 0.11 percent of the vote.

'Compared to the results achieved by the major players in the election... Saran Daraba's tally seems trivial when you consider that women make up over 52 percent of the Guinean population,' says Abdoul Gadiri Diallo told IPS, a member of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation.

Women play an active role in Guinea's political life, at least at the grassroots level. Thousands of women were among those who responded to a call to rally against former military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in September 2009.

The Sep. 28 rally, organised by a coalition of political parties, trade unions and civil society groups to protest Camara's proposed candidacy in presidential elections, was brutally suppressed; rights organisations and the U.N. put the death toll at 157.

There were damning reports of the gang rape of women in broad daylight during the crackdown have emerged; soldiers are reported to have violated their victims with guns, sticks and boots, and the International Criminal Court has made preliminary inquiries into the atrocities.

More recently, women made up the bulk of the 3,000 demonstrators who despite a ban on public demonstrations, on Jul. 5 marched in protest against ballot-stuffing alleged to have taken place during the first round of the presidential elections.

'Saran Daraba came out of nowhere in this latest chapter of the struggle for power. She's certainly competent in certain respects, but was not an acclaimed leader during the recent struggles for democracy and does not represent a vision, a program or a commitment to a better life in Guinea,' says Néné Oumou Baldé, a feminist activist who runs a website devoted to women's issues.

'Misogyny was a minor factor in her case, although in our country men do hold all power, all wealth and as a rule have no tolerance for strong, independent women. But being a woman is not enough to get elected,' she told IPS.

Despite her poor showing, Saran Daraba defended her candidacy against the criticism: 'With 20 years of service in various public and private administrations and now in nongovernmental organisations, I don't have to prove that I helped improve democracy in my country,' she said.

'We mustn't forget that this election was dominated by money and ethnic issues. But I did not embezzle when I was in government nor am I supported by a foreign lobby like others. My message was well understood and well appreciated, and that's what's most important,' she told IPS.

But women's willingness to participate in public life has found little reward in seeking political office. Women are woefully underrepresented in Guinea's government institutions.

There are only five women among the 34 members of the current transitional government and of these, only one the trade unionist Mariama Penda Diallo, holds a ministerial position - responsible for the Ministry of Public Service, Administrative Reform, Labor and Employment.

Another woman trade unionist, Rabiatou Serah Diallo, is president of the National Transition Council which acts as an interim parliament.

Campaigners for the two candidates that topped the first round - Cellou Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and Alpha Condé of the Rally of the People of Guinea (RPG) - are quick to argue that their parties reserve a privileged space for Guinean women and that their party's platforms address the main issues confronting women. They both say it is impossible to improve the situation in Guinea without the contribution of women.

'In our party, women are represented and we aim for parity. For now, our goal is that at least 30 percent of positions (decision-making and within institutions) are held by women,' said Kadiatou Diallo, president of the UFDG's women's wing.

Martine Condé, communications director for Condé's party, told IPS: 'The RPG's strength lies in women and youth. There are at least 30 percent of women in the political command. In each of the party's decision-making bodies, you will find 15 women out of 45 members.

Moustapha Naité, deputy director of communications at the RPG says his party also prioritises women, 'Women are the heart of RPG's social vision. We will promote them wherever possible to achieve, as soon as possible, gender parity that some countries are campaigning for. Regarding health care, he added: 'We are committed to providing free prenatal care for all.' UFDG's Ibrahima Diallo told IPS: 'We are working to achieve the target of 30 per cent of leadership positions filled by women first within the party, but also in the administration if we win this election.' Then he said, 'we will ensure their development and advancement... by organizing them, and giving them access to credit by several different means.'

*An earlier version of this article appeared on the IPS French service on Jul. 14.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service