February 01, 2017

Seeking Peaceful Governance through Women in the Central African Republic

On Saturday, January 21st women in cities around the world gathered together in a show of support for women’s rights and recognition of the important role of women’s views in politics. While hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Paris, Hong Kong and Cape Town, in countless other communities around the world the threat of violence prevented such demonstrations. For the women of the Central African Republic (CAR) where a persistent civil conflict continues to take lives, there were no womens’ demonstrations. Yet despite the persistent threat of social unrest in this central African country, women’s rights are no less on the march.


Cathérine Gomotali spoke to ABA ROLI staff about her organization, the support from ABA ROLI, and her fight for women’s rights in the community.

As the Central African government, in collaboration with international partners such as the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), seeks to move the population beyond the violence and conflict that has gripped the country since 2012, elected representatives in this newly democratic state have sought to institutionalize the role of women through the recent introduction of a gender parity law.  The new law — commonly referred to as the “Parity Law" — was passed by parliament on Nov. 24, 2016, and mandates that women hold at least 35 percent of nominative and elective positions in both the public and private sectors. Decisions taken by institutions that do not respect the law are subject to nullification, and to ensure effective implementation, the law creates a National Gender Monitoring Observatory which monitors and evaluates institutional compliance.

While much remains to be accomplished by incorporating the views of women in CAR politics, the parliament's passage of the Parity Law is a significant achievement for women-led Central African civil society organizations (CSO) and their many international civil society supporters. Since early 2015, ABA ROLI supported the inclusion of women’s views in the constitutional drafting process through support to local CSO-conducted focus groups in rural communities. The resulting Constitution, which passed a referendum in December 2015, mandated the creation of a law to increase women’s participation in politics. More recently, with support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau for African Affairs Women Peace and Security Initiative, ABA ROLI assists women-led CSOs to communicate with and draw input from women and communities, and to direct this information into national advocacy initiatives.

One community leader who works in partnership with ABA ROLI has already seen the benefits of ABA ROLI’s programs. Cathérine Gomotali is the president of the National Organization of Rural Women[i] in Yaloke, a community located a half-day’s drive from Bangui, the national capital. With support from ABA ROLI, Gomotali said she now has a deeper knowledge of women’s rights and is better equipped to spread awareness to women in the community through her organization. ABA ROLI’s workshops have helped Gomotali and the women in her community take a stand against rights violations such as child marriage. “Most of our girls are married at the age of 13,” Gomotali said, “and it passes by the authorities, the community finds this normal but I am now able to engage in advocacy and awareness building to put an end to this harmful practice.”

Having access to and awareness of a legal basis to defend basic rights, and the ability to engage with law enforcement are skills that ABA ROLI works to encourage and enact, and it is crucial to continue supporting the progress of women like Gomotali. The Parity Law, she said, is “the law of 50/50.” It offers the chance for participation at a higher level which can improve the way women are governed, and govern, across the country. As Gomotali and ABA ROLI recognize, increased diversity in government bodies means issues important to women are more likely to be raised in both the public and private sphere. It also means that female representatives will have more influence when issues important to women come to the legislative floor. Central African civil society, and ABA ROLI, recognize that female representation is essential to equitable and peaceful governance, and both plan to keep fighting for a future in which CAR women are free to march.

To learn more about our work in the Central African Republic, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org

[i] Organization Nationale pour les Femmes Rural