Female Participation in African legislatures

[UN Women Africa]

One of the most effective methods for increasing women's rights is through participating in the legislature (the law-making process). By having females in the legislature, there would be someone speaking up for women and ensuring that issues we face are addressed. For example, in six African countries, there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. By having female legislators, or even women in influential positions, the chances of having issues such as these addressed would be higher.

There is indeed an improvement in political participation in regards to the amount of women in politics. Female participation in African legislatures surpass many in developed countries for example, Rwanda (with 63.8% of women holding positions in the legislature) is ranked number one in the world, with Senegal and South Africa in the top ten. However there is still a large majority of countries in Africa with under 34% of female representatives in the law-making process (as shown in the picture below). Furthermore, regardless of having an acceptable number of females in parliament, some of these women still battle with the lack of authority their words hold against their fellow male ministers. 

[Percentage of Female Representatives in African legislatures - 2016/2017]

What are some of the obstacles to their participation?
  • Lack of education: A low proportion of girls are being enrolled into school, this lack of education limits their chances of getting well-paid jobs and influential positions. With a lack of education, there comes a lack of opportunities and ambition. The disparities between girls and boys start in primary school and the differences widen up through the entire educational system. School fees are often expensive therefore, poor families come to a point where they have to decide on which child to send to school, and it often tends to be the boy. There are indeed some policies specifically targeting girls which show a gradual improvement for example, in Benin the gender gap narrowed from 32% to 22% as a result of policies such as sensitising parents through media and reducing school fees for girls in public schools in rural areas. 
  • Politics is expensive: Many women lack the financial assets to succeed in it.
  • Violence in African politics may discourage participation: Generally, women feel "a sense of vulnerability to political intimidation and violence" (Afrobarometer survey). For example, in Guinea-Bissau, 64% of women say that they are very concerned about political intimidation. 
  • Socio-cultural and religious factors: Tradition continues to emphasise women's primary roles as mothers and housewives and to merely restrict them to those roles. Women face prejudice as leaders because people tend to assume that leadership is a masculine trait and even when women step into the role of a leader, people evaluate "autocratic" behaviour by women more negatively than the same behaviour by men. In regards to religion, in some jurisdictions, some argue that religion has been used (in the way they are interpreted) to restrict women's roles in society. (Kassa S' article, 2015)
  • Balancing work and home: Having a job that demands your time can be difficult, especially when it comes to balancing work and home, as some women return home to housework and looking after their kids.    
These factors and the low number of female legislators show that we are still not at the stage where female representation in politics, in the African countries, is equal to men. Despite this we can of course celebrate the improvements made and initiatives put forward to achieve this. For example, The African Women Leaders Network, which launched in June 2017, aims to help in supporting the role of women in leadership across Africa. They are backed by the UN and African Union and state that they ‘will provide practical, grassroots training and mentoring for women trying to reach leadership posts traditionally held by men’ (Evelyn Anite, minister of finance for industrialisation and privatisation, Uganda). Furthermore, almost all of the countries in Africa have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and more than half have ratified the African Union's Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. 

By raising awareness of the issues related to the lack of female participation in politics, supporting and guiding women who want to take leadership roles, encouraging and creating initiatives for girls in education, we will be seeing an advancement in addressing the inadequacy of women's rights in the African countries. 

I'll be covering more on the topic of women's rights in the African countries in my future articles. For now, take some time out of your day to look into issues and improvements in relation to women's rights in the country you're from, even subscribe to sources of news to keep yourself up to date. If you have enough time on your hands, you can look into events and organisations to get involved with. 

- Tasneim Mahmoud x 


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