Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Africa moves towards gender-equal government system

23.12.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The continent in recent times has experienced a massive rise in women's political participation as compared to the past decades. Presently, the role of women in decision-making and their contribution to growth and development is constantly at the center of global discourse. In the past years, most countries in Africa did not value women's involvement and participation in politics. This can be buttressed by the fact that most African cultures restricted the rights of women and relegated them to the background. However, women have risen strongly to challenge this narrative and claim their role in decision making. This concept is gradually changing as African leaders are beginning to integrate women in top decision-making functions within their government.

The adoption of the Beijing Declaration by 189 governments some 20 years ago, which today serves as a blueprint to realize equal opportunities for women and girls marked a significant change in women’s rights. Before, women were not adequately represented in top-level positions. In the 2013 Constitution in Zimbabwe, only 3 women were appointed in the 26 member cabinet. According to many, this move countered Zimbabwe’s efforts to achieve gender equality.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, in its annual report, Women in Parliament 2015: the Year in Review stated that women accounted for 22.6 percent of the world’s Members of the Parliament. It went further to reveal that the 58 parliamentary elections held in 2015 in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and, the Arab world saw an increase in women’s representation.

During a meeting held by the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York in March 2015, attendees agreed to the improvements made to promote women in politics years. Rachel Mayanja, The UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women acknowledged the significant improvement in the implementation of the UN protocol known as the CEDAW.

In 2014, Sweden became the first country to adopt a gender-balanced cabinet after the Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, announced his feminist government. This sounded a wake up call to other countries. In 2015, Canada followed the same example after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed his first gender-balanced cabinet.

In the last 2 years, Africa has been fast gaining track as some countries have made strides in balancing up the gender equation. Rwanda in 2018 took the lead in Africa to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet. Paul Kagame gave women a 50 % representation in the new cabinet through a cabinet reshuffle. According to the IPU, Rwanda has been placed at the top position in the world since 2003 as far as the percentage of women in parliament is concerned.

In 2003, the Rwandese government validated a new constitution that included a quota system for women at all levels of government, authorizing that women should form 30 percent of all representatives, including those in parliament.

In that same year, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed established sweeping reforms in the horn of Africa, among which was the appointment of women to half of his government’s ministerial posts. In 2019, Cyril Ramaphosa followed suit by appointing women to half of the government’s cabinet after he was elected president of the Southern African nation.

Women’s political participation in Africa and Progress made

As a result of several changes occurring on the continent, the need for women to assume leadership positions became incontestable. Gradually, women began challenging the male dominance stereotype to take a center stage in politics. The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005 as the first female African Head of State in Liberia sent out the message that women too can be in charge. Similarly, Malawi in 2012 followed the trend with the election of Joyce Banda.

Throughout the years, there has been significant improvement as more women are getting actively involved in political activities. This progress has been championed primarily by the African Union, which took the commitment to promote gender parity in major decision-making positions by appointing five women and five men as AU commissioners in 2003.

Individually, African countries have been making progress at country level. For instance, Mozambique was the first country to appoint a woman as prime minister in 2004.  Rwanda, which has more than fifty percent of women in its elected public offices, is topping the list of countries promoting women. Senegal, South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, and Angola are also countries that have received favourable rankings as far as women’s representation in parliament is concerned. According to the 2013 Inter-Parliamentary Union report, Algeria emerged the first Arab country to have more than 30% of women holding parliamentary seats

According to the Women in Parliament 2018, the year in a review published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the continent witnessed relative progress in 2018 as the regional average of women parliamentarians was reported at 23.7 percent.

Given the progress African countries are making, the IPU report noted that among all the countries which held elections in 2018, Djibouti witnessed significant progress as the proportion of women in parliament rose from 10.8 percent to 26.2 percent. It should equally be noted that at least 10 percent of parliamentary seats have been reserved for women since 2002 in the same country.

Further data indicated that Cameroon made huge progress in its upper chambers, which moved from 20 percent to 26 percent. IPU revealed that women won 22 seats out of the 70 directly elected seats, they gained 4 additional seats among the 30 appointed by the president. Côte D’Ivoire has also recorded some progress with 12.1 percent of seats in the upper chamber allocated to women

However, some countries such as Eswatini and Zimbabwe are still regressing as far as women’s representation is concerned, although the 2013 Constitution in Zimbabwe advocates that 60 of the 80 senators be elected by proportional representation.

It is held that this improvement was encouraged by the rise in enforcement groups such as Uganda’s Action for Development; National Women’s Lobby Group (Zambia); the National Committee on the Status of Women (Kenya); and the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) among other civil society groups.

Africa adopts frameworks to promote the involvement of women

In 2009, Africa adopted The Africa Union Gender Policy to facilitate the narrowing of the equality gap between men and women. As a result of this, African leaders later declared 2010-2020 as the African Women’s Decade as a means to promote the implementation of the African Union Assembly Decisions on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

Besides, Agenda 2063 adopted by African Heads of State and Government during the 24th Summit of the African Union External link, held between 23-31 January 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, particularly advocated for the role of women in achieving sustainable development enshrined in the continent’s 50-year structural transformation and development agenda. The sixth aspiration in the agenda calls for an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of women and youth.

The Summit equally declared 2015 “The Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063” to further recognize the role of women in attaining the goals of Agenda. In 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which has been ratified by about 51 of the 53 AU member states.

Other conventions which championed gender equality and called for increased political participation includes; the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), Equal Remuneration Convention (ERC), Dakar Platform for Action, Southern African Development Community Declaration on Gender and Development (1997) with its addendum on Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children (1998) and The Millennium Declaration of 2000 among other.

At the level of the sub-regions, the Southern African Development Community, SADC approved a declaration on Gender and Development in 1997 with a special clause on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children. The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS also designed and instituted a gender policy intending to mainstream gender in policy design and implementation. Although the continent is recording progress in instituting a gender-equal government, popular opinions hold that this progress is still very slow. Furthermore, a 2012 journal article revealed although countries are appointing more women to cabinets, they are still allocated to positions with a low level of impact and influence.

The large numbers of women in political positions do not mean that women have been given the voice to make impactful decisions. Hence more work is still required to move women from the dormant position to ensure that they are not only occupying less important positions but are placed in positions where they can influence policies and the overall decision-making process of their respective countries.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit: google image/illustration

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