MENTAL HEALTH AND WOMEN IN POLITICS

World Mental Health (1995) indicates that women’s education is an equally valuable investment for mental health of women, men and children.

Mental illness and societal responses to those who are burdened by it have been the subject of centuries of politics and power. Health care-related activities very much subject to politics and a clear and comprehensive understanding of power is necessary in order to build up rich nuanced description of forms, practices and effects of power, integrated care and its governance.

As such the participation of woman in political life today is on the agendas of most governments and political parties. However, attempts to translate this goal into concrete reality has suffered setbacks and reversals and have had limited success. A basic reason for this is the lack of conceptual clarity about and genuine commitment to the issue.

Although the African Union Commission and its human rights mechanism have adopted binding agreements, numerous measures and produced recommendations and reports addressing the human rights of women there are still some gaps and challenges.

That the women issue could no longer be left to the whims of individual nations was recognized by the United Nations Organizations (UNO) which has, since its early years, passed a number of conventions specifically pertaining to women. The body realizes of course that the degree of deprivation and its manifestation differs from continent to continent, from country to country, and within a country from one area to another.

The UN efforts culminated in the body declaring 1976-85 the Decade for Women. This was subsequently followed by other declarations including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women proclaimed in 1979.

All these efforts have been buttressed by other international instruments for instance United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development Article 8: States inter alia; ………” Effective measures should be undertaken to ensure that women have an active role in the development process.”

In 2020, the global community will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). 2020 is therefore a pivotal year for the accelerated realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, everywhere. For any such endeavor to be successful, it must be recognized that equal participation of women and men in decision making in all spheres is a pre-requisite for effective democracy. Participation means more than female membership in political parties, female voter turnout in elections or token female presence in political parties.

Participation must be meaningful and effective and must include representation in the political arena. This includes not only formal or higher-level decisions making forums, but also other political units namely inter alia: the family, community groups, association, trade unions, civic groups, churches and local bodies.

These are critical areas for intervention within which women can easily understand the issues and play an effective role. The identification of barriers to women’s political participation is obviously a pre-requisite for overcoming them, but the visible barriers do not necessarily reflect the entire situation, and are often indicative of more deep-seated problems.

Overcoming the barriers means not only eliminating them but also ensuring women’s participation through other means. Affirmative action measures should not be perceived as privileges or concessions, but as interim measures to reverse existing imbalances, until such time as genuine equality is achieved.

In the spirit of SADC declaration, member States are expected to review policies, constitutions and legislations to see whether there has been discrimination and retrogressive towards women or have been ineffective in promoting women’s rights. In particular each country has to review its ratifications of international covenants, conventions, agreements and protocols. Article 75 of Abuja Treaty states that Member States agree to formulate, harmonize, coordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms for full development of the African woman through the improvement of her economic, social and cultural activities Maputo Protocol adopted in 2013 is a demonstration of goodwill and total commitment of the Union Member States to invest in the development and empowerment of women who represents the majority in most African States. It is encouraging that 22 out of the 25 countries have ratified the Protocol. While celebrating the great achievements that Maputo Protocol has brought to the African human rights agenda, it is also recognized that more action is needed to guarantee women and girls the full enjoyment of their rights.

Since the issue of women’s participation cannot be addressed in isolation, SADC countries must assess the factors affecting the development of a new democratic culture or the recognition of human rights concerns. The factors include the following among other things; country’s political history, socio-cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, impact of tradition, customary, feudal, tribal wars and religious interpretations regarding women’s rights. It is particularly important to assess women’s political participation, including political parties, representation in legislative bodies and local councils, women in the civil service and in trade unions and women’s groups. Barriers to women’s political participation can be legal, social, financial or political. It will be prudent to develop clear policies articulating the effective involvement of women in the formulation of laws and policies which are gender sensitive. Deliberate steps must be taken to ensure the principle of equality as a fundamental right is deeply entrenched. Sometime back depressing and disheartening figures were realized by Geneva Inter-Parliamentary group. According to figures released, women comprised a mere 10.5 percent of politicians worldwide, a drop of more than four percent from 1988 figure of 14.8 percent. These disparities become grimmer at cabinet level where women hold just 6.8 percent, barring women from participating in decision making is often referred to as the glass ceiling.

Let’s hope during the intervening years there has been a dramatic positive shift towards empowerment, recognition and catapulting women to positions of influence and substantive leadership roles in all sphere’s life including occupying the highest office in the land. Although there is a school of thought which asserts that parity without equity serves no useful purpose.

As a matter of urgency priority research must be undertaken to cover information gaps. The respective government ministries or departments in conjunction with other key stakeholders must devise mechanisms, guidelines and indicators to provide interactive real-time data which will hopefully enable decision makers and law makers to promulgate gender sensitive laws which advance, promotes and protects the interests of women and girl child.

Civic education should be provided on electoral rights, good governance, and voter education, civil rights, political parties, election issues, women in politics, gender mainstreaming and advocacy work.

There is a need for political parties to institute and engender gender sensitive programs in their political work to enhance and inculcate a human rights culture furthering women rights agenda in all strategic levels.

Other things being constant political parties are expected to publish positions on women’s rights issues and encourage women to vote on issues that concern them.

There is a need for a continuous body of research that looks at how member states have incorporated the instruments in their jurisdiction, how they have influenced their policymaking and judicial decisions. Health policies and ‘healthy policies may both be fostered by and provide ways to encourage equitable state gender ideologies that bring about the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into the health sector.

Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the mental health sector-through educating women at all levels of society about the possibilities of mental health interventions and the potential for services and programs—is central to the success of mental health program development.

These are only some of the basic principles and guidelines that can be adopted; ultimately, however no national strategy can be effective unless it is backed by the requisite political will and impetus.

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