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Looking up to Cameroon’s women senators


YAOUNDE — Marlyse Aboui, a 40-year-old nurse, has still not gotten over the astonishment she felt when she heard that Cameroon’s President Paul Biya had nominated her to the Senate.


“I feel like I am in a dream that I will wake up from at any minute. When I first learnt that I had been appointed to the senate, I told myself that it couldn’t be true. I asked myself what I could possibly have done to receive this high appointment from the president,” she told IPS.

As the local party chair of the National Alliance for Democracy and Progress, an opposition party in eastern Cameroon, Aboui is one of only 20 women in the 100-member Cameroonian senate. Seventy senators, 17 of whom are women, were elected on April 14 in the country’s first-ever senatorial elections. Biya was required to nominate the remaining 30 senators, and included in his nominations were three women.

“It is a great honour that I truly appreciate,” Aboui said.

“Women can contribute much to politics. We have often seen that some conflicts are narrowly avoided thanks to their powers of persuasion.”

Nicole Okala Bilai, a senator from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), shared Aboui’s excitement. The female politician, who was elected in Mbagassina in central Cameroon, hopes to use her presence in the senate to radically reform this Central African nation’s schools.

Women’s rights organisations and politicians say that the appointment of women to the upper house of Parliament was timely.

Yvonne Muma Bih, a national executive committee member of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, is one politician who welcomed the appointments.

“The rise of women to this office offers some encouragement to those still suffering under the yoke of male domination, who believe that women cannot pursue political careers. We have done better than certain European democracies and this is something to be celebrated,” she told IPS.

However, Justine Diffo, national co-ordinator of the NGO More Women in Politics Network, a support network for women’s political participation, told IPS “20% is inadequate.”

“Women can contribute much to politics. We have often seen that some conflicts are narrowly avoided thanks to their powers of persuasion. Why then deny them the 30% (women’s representation demanded by women’s groups)?”

According to Diffo, the only way to fully address women’s marginalisation “would have been for the president to nominate 15 women out of the 30 senators that he is mandated to appoint.”

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