43 years of Compulsive Sexism in Cameroon

“Africa in miniature” is the historical term often used to refer to Cameroon in high schools and other arenas. It is a term that adopts the culture of characterizing Cameroon as having a little bit of everything we find anywhere on the African continent, be it in terms of culture, economy, and resources.

But what is in Cameroon that we will not find elsewhere is the compulsive sexism of its government.

Cameroon is one of the last 50 countries out of 189 to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) more than 10 years after it came into force on 3 September 1981 with aims of accelerating gender parity and fight discrimination in all its forms against women.

Some of the 50 last benchers include Bahrain, Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea, Lebanon, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, countries reputed for their harsh policies against women, the high rate of trafficking in women, and other forms of gender-based human rights violations.

In Cameroon, since 1982, year of accession to power of President Paul Biya, there have been 7 Prime Ministers who till today have held a cumulative year of service of 29 years, but no woman has ever been qualified to occupy that position. Since 1960 however, there has been 16 Prime Ministers in Cameroon accumulating about 53 years of service, without there still being a single qualified female to perform that function.

Similarly, in a sixty-nine-man government of Cameroon in 2018, only about 10 are females, representing less than 15%.
There are over 243 political parties in Cameroon and during the 2011 Presidential Elections, out of 52 who submitted their candidacy files, only 23 were finally selected to contest but only two of them were female-led parties, the Branch for the Integral Reconstruction of Cameroon (BRIC) and the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) of Dang Esther and Walla Edith Kahbang. In 2018, the latter declared that it was needless to participate in the 7 October 2018 elections and only 9 candidates finally took part – all males.

Since 1982 once more, only two women have been appointed to the position of Senior Divisional Officer (SDO), the first being in 2016 and the Second in 2017. It should be noted that in Cameroon, there are 58 divisions in total governed by SDOs, and 360 sub-divisions governed by Divisional Officers (DO) but there are only 7 female DOs in Cameroon, representing less than 2% females. Since 2008 after the presidential decree transforming provinces into regions, no female has ever been governor of any of the 10 administrative Regions.

The document on “Government’s Major Accomplishments during the 2011-2018 Seven-year Mandate” at page 15 showing on gender policy only states the improved figures and does not also state the total number of people within the particular functions. It does not also show the wide gender gap between males and females in a given position.

The figures of the government concerning female representation in the Senate and Constitutional Council cannot be considered an improvement because both institutions did not exist before 2011. The figures also do not show the statistics of women before the 2011-2018 period in functions like councils, territorial command, the military, gendarmerie and national security command meanwhile such positions have been existing for decades. Absence of data on these issues can only be interpreted as a disregard or denial of the inclusion of women into the political affairs of the government.

On 12 April 2018, the President appointed 30 senators to join 70 others elected on 25 March 2018 for a five-year mandate ending 2023. Among the 30, only 4 were females from East, North, North West and South Regions, meaning that 6 regions were unrepresented. Five years ago, on 8 May 2013 when the Senate was created, out of 30 senators, only 3 females were appointed senators, with 7 regions still unrepresented.

The post of President has been held by two males since 1961, date of independence, totaling 65 years by the end of the current mandate. The first spent 22 years in power while the second was reelected and will spend 43 years in power till the next voting season, in 2025.

According to the World Population Prospects of 2017, the male to female ratio in Cameroon is 50:50 but less than 30% females are seen in positions of responsibility.

By 2025, the newly elected president will be 43 years in power since 1982. These problems of women empowerment in Cameroon highlight only the tip of the iceberg.

According to Cameroon’s National Report submitted for consideration to the Human Rights Council’s Periodic Review on 16 May 2018, their strategy does not take into account the fact that if women are empowered economically, educationally, politically, culturally and socially, certain ills and wrongs targeting or affecting women will cease.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in September 2000 and had as goal 3, the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment by 2015. The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are already in their 3rd year of execution, and 12 years left. It is evident that the MDGs only had 8 goals and most or all of them have been transposed into the 17 SDGs, meaning that MDG3 and SDG5 (on gender equality) have been existing since the year 2000, and for 18 years since then, Cameroon has not yet implemented the decisions it endorsed.

Gender empowerment or parity has never meant appointing women to feminine-related positions. It could mean considering women as being equal to perform any function of responsibility like any qualified man to achieve common goals.

Pursuant to Article 9 of the Maputo Protocol of 2003 to which Cameroon is party since 28 December 2012 and last of the 36 to have ratified the protocol, the State of Cameroon has an obligation to ensure that:
a) women participate without any discrimination in all elections;
b) women are represented equally at all levels with men in all electoral processes;
c) women are equal partners with men at all levels of development and implementation of State policies and development programs.

2. States Parties shall ensure increased and effective representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making.

The Cameroon Constitution is a replica of universally-agreed fundamental rights and the 70-years-old Universal Declaration on Human Rights serves as an important instructive manuscript which hails that “everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his [or her] country.”
The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms is a competent national human rights institution created by the Head of State to ensure the implementation of international human rights instruments and receive complaints and seize any competent authority in case of violations of human rights instruments duly ratified by Cameroon.

The Constitutional Council is another competent body according to the Cameroon Constitution, charged with the duty to rule on the constitutionality of laws, treaties and international agreements. It can be seized in cases where laws passed by the parliament or the president are not in conformity with the Constitution.

A non-litigious mechanism for claiming women’s rights is passing through the continental route of seizing the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, a position created by the African Commission since 1999 in a session in Burundi.

There exist other continental and international litigatory bodies where women’s rights to political participation can be claimed. The first is before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights based in Banjul, Gambia, the second is the CEDAW Committee, and the third is the Human Rights Committee. Finally, the Human Rights Council’s complaint procedure is a crucial mechanism through which complaints for gross and reliably attested violations of human rights can be tabled. The only pre-condition for communications to be looked into by these institutions, is to ensure that basic rules on admissibility and exhaustion of domestic remedies have been complied with.

Written by Salim Sango Aliyu, a human rights activist, researcher, political analyst and pan-Africanist.

Salim holds an LLB Law degree from the University of Buea as well as an LLM in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame in the United States of America.

published date: October 28, 2018

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