Although only two of Africa’s nine female heads of state and government were elected, it speaks of the growing confidence that the populace has in female leadership across the continent. Various African Union pronouncements have called for gender equality in democratic processes. These are among the reasons female representation in multiple sectors in the continent is above global averages.
Above The Global Average
Fifteen out of 30 African countries have more women in parliament than the global average. The number of women working as CEOs, executive committee members and boards is also greater than the average worldwide. While these are positive developments, the participation of underrepresented groups alone may not be effective in achieving gender parity. This will require further reviews of electoral systems and legal frameworks, as well as continued contributions from stakeholders in the public and private sector.
In December 2016, the UN launched the Women’s Leadership Initiative for Stability in Africa. The initiative, which is in line with the Global Study on the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 study, outlines the importance of women being included in all stages of peace processes in order for more sustainable and lasting negotiations, dialogue, peacebuilding, and recovery to take place across the continent. Not only this, but other instruments too have contributed to the continent’s progress in fostering cultures with greater emphasis on the empowerment of women in society.
To date, 19 African Union Member States have developed national action plans to implement the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women, also known as the Maputo Protocol and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. The utilisation of the law for female representation has helped to create more opportunities for women, but as Nigerian-born lawyer and International Federation of Female Lawyers Vice President, Okarafor Ezinva stated, advocacy alone is not producing the expected results for the women and children of Africa.
The Main Drivers
Education is one of the many keys to empowering women across the continent. The gender parity index is lower than 0.7, meaning there are fewer than seven girls to every ten boys in secondary school. Although there is some way to go, this may also indicate the progress being made on the continent as there were 91 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa for every 100 boys in primary school in 2008, up from 85 girls in 1999.
The Education and Scientific Development in Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Countries 2016 report, which was published by the Turkey-based Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC), indicates that the share of women researchers in North Africa is above the world average of 22.5%.
It is only with the continued contribution of various offices that progress can be made. Legislation remains fundamental to the empowerment of women but so does the way in which education is provided across the continent. Technology could increase the availability of education for women.
While they may, out of choice, continue to support their families in traditional and cultural respects, affordable education made available through innovative platforms may reduce the opportunity costs of supporting families.
Women In Business
World Bank’s Africa Region Gender Innovation Lab (GIL), which is currently working on more than 50 impact evaluations in over 20 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, is leading efforts to identify scalable solutions in this regard. Female entrepreneurs in Ethiopia who participated in the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Entrepreneurship Training had 30% higher profits, suggesting that more innovative skills-based business training may more effectively support women in businesses and personal development.
Like other continents, Africa has much to gain from reducing gender gaps. On average, sub-Saharan Africa loses $95bn a year to gender gaps. Quite simply, if development is not engendered, it is endangered. These words from the UN development report will continue to shape the narrative for continents around the world.
Many African nations continue to make great steps towards gender parity using finance, legislation, and other sociological factors. A lot of progress has been made, but looking beyond the numbers may be imperative for fair and calculated judgement of the implications of policies made to support women and children across Africa. The aim should be the empowerment of both genders in relevant areas of concern.