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In Cameroon’s Northwest region, citizens, organizations and local officials are taking part in campaigns and speaking out to encourage women to run for office in the legislative and municipal elections anticipated for this year. Though a date has yet to be set for the elections, International Women’s Day this month stirred up excitement for women’s campaigns.

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by Nakinti Nofuru     Reporter, Tuesday - March 27, 2012

BAMENDA, CAMEROON ­– Sarah Ngalla, 56, is a primary school teacher in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region. The mother of three children, Ngalla says that she was never interested in politics until a regional civil society organization, Community Initiative for Sustainable Development, started its campaign in 2010 for more women to run for office in this year’s elections.

“I was never interested in politics,” she says. “But when I attended one of COMINSUD’s meetings, I was automatically inspired to become a part of the few women whose voices are heard within the political scene.”

It is an election year in Cameroon. Ngalla says she is determined to be elected to the local council in her home village. She is running on behalf of the Social Democratic Front, Cameroon’s leading opposition party.

Getting up from her seat in excitement, Ngalla says Community Initiative for Sustainable Development has awakened her vocal talent, a talent she believes can be best put to use in politics. She says she has realized that the best ways for women’s issues to be addressed is for more women to be represented in local councils and in national parliament.

“Getting into politics as a woman is not about fighting to reverse gender roles, but to work hand-in-glove with men so that when decisions are taken, women’s issues and concerns will be taken into consideration,” she says.

Ngalla says enthusiastically that she has already talked to four women’s groups – comprising about 530 women. On the eve of International Women’s Day this month, she traveled to her native village of Ndu to speak to various gatherings of women preparing for the day. She talked to them about the need for women to be represented in politics, although she did not declare her intention of being elected to the Ndu Council.

“I asked them whether we are going to continue to allow the men sit on our heads, take decisions that do not favor us,” Ngalla says. “Are we going to sit and watch the men trample on our rights? Are we going to continue to support only men to take up political positions? We need women to speak for us women when political decisions are taken.”

Ngalla says the women were so happy to hear all that she told them. She says a group of about 150 women expressed their excitement by immediately contributing money for her to traverse the region and talk to more women. In less than 15 minutes, the rural women of Ndu gathered 16,000 francs ($32) and handed it to her.

Ngalla says she divided the money and gave 8,000 francs ($16) back to the group's leaders. She instructed them to use it to buy laundry and bath soap for poor women and widows around the village.

Ngalla has no money to fund her campaign. Instead, she says she will use the power of the spoken word to gain support from her fellow women. She says she is convinced that women are going to support and fund her campaign.

“If you plan well with the women, say things that will move them, they will give you their support,” she says.

Local and international organizations have been collaborating on campaigns in Cameroon’s Northwest region to increase the number of women in elected offices. Women here say this has encouraged them to run in legislative and municipal elections anticipated for this year. While some women distrust politics, other women say this is more of a reason for women to make a positive mark on this sector. Male and female government officials also encourage more women to run for office.

The government has not yet announced the legislative and municipal elections in Cameroon for 2012. But elections are usually held every five years in Cameroon. The last elections took place in 2007.  

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