In recent years, African leaders are realising the need to bring in visionary female politicians to decision-making processes in government and change the narrative.
With most societies in Africa being patriarchal, women were, hitherto, not expected to be seen taking up leadership positions. As Africa and the rest of the world continue to push for gender parity in all sectors, particularly, in politics, things are changing.
Statistics cited by an article on Times of Oman say that six of the world’s 20 top countries in terms of the share of legislative seats held by women are in Sub-Saharan Africa. It adds that in two African countries toward the bottom of the global list – Nigeria and Mali – politicians are discussing ways to increase female representation.
In effect, women have come out to stake a claim on the political scene, which has been dominated by men for centuries. Some of these women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Ethiopia’s president, Sahle-Work Zewde; former Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; and former Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.
These women have made a tremendous impact on politics, despite various obstacles on their path to success. Analysts say that women’s political participation and leadership strengthen democracy and governance, enhance peace and prosperity, and tend to address more of the concerns that apply to women, including gender-based violence.
Even though women are beginning to assume leadership positions in governance, a major problem remains: they are still highly outnumbered by their male counterparts. Thus, a few countries have made strides to introduce measures, including gender-balanced cabinets to address the problem.
In January 2014, UN Women and the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) reported only three countries – Nicaragua, Sweden, and Finland – with at least 50 per cent of women ministers. This figure increased to five countries in 2015 – Finland, Cabo Verde, Sweden, France, and Lichtenstein – and to six countries in 2017 – Bulgaria, France, Nicaragua, Sweden, Canada, and Slovenia, according to statistics.
Three African countries have since been welcomed into the fold, increasing the figure to 11. Their recent appointments of strong gender-balanced cabinets have been hailed by many people and seen as a step in the right direction for women’s rights. Below are those three African countries who are setting the pace:
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in October 2018, made a political reshuffle that has now seen women ministers making up a record 50 per cent of the new cabinet, in other words, 10 of the 20 positions have gone to women. The historic appointments include the job of the defence minister that is being handled by Aisha Mohammed, making her the first woman to hold that position in the country.
“Our women ministers will disprove the old adage that women can’t lead,” Ahmed told the country’s parliament as he outlined his choices. The prime minister also appointed female chief justice, president, and electoral commission chief. Ahmed, who has promised to deal with ethnic conflicts in his country, is optimistic that the women he has brought on board his government would help in restoring peace and stability.
In October 2018, Rwanda became the second African nation to include more women in lean 26-seat cabinet. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame unveiled a new gender-balanced cabinet with 13 women ministers out of the 26. He said at the time: “A higher number of women in decision-making roles have led to a decrease in gender discrimination and gender-based crimes.”
Rwanda’s parliament has also improved its ratio of women legislators which is the highest in the world. The East African country recently elected 58 women legislators out of the 80 members of parliament. This is an improvement on the previous parliament’s 49 women representatives.
South Africa’s cabinet, on Wednesday, became the third on the African continent to have an equal number of female and male ministers. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the new line-up after he led the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to victory in elections earlier this month. According to the AFP, he cut cabinet ministers from 36 to 28 to tackle “bloated” government and improve efficiency while his historic appointment of more women in the cabinet was aimed at achieving gender diversity.