The Importance of African Women’s Political Participation and Leadership

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    In the last two months the importance of African women’s political participation and leadership has come into prominence as Women’s Rights movements across the continent have seen a tremendous shift towards more representation within the policy and decision-making space

    Why is this important?

    Women’s participation at all levels of decision-making benefits not only women themselves but it is a marker of progress in development and an all in all requirement of democracy.

    A declaration adopted at the fiftieth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women states;  “without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved, and that women’s equal participation is a necessary condition for women’s and girls’ interests to be taken into account and is needed in order to strengthen democracy and promote its proper functioning.”

    Many Women’s Rights and Advocacy groups’ opinion that the most important role of Women in these decision-making spaces is that Women have specific needs that can only be represented by other women in addition to the fact that women’s leadership styles are varied and largely much more representative of other segments of marginalized populations and their consultation and cooperation can only guarantee positive social change.

    Women’s recent advancement in political space 

    This societal change begins with giving women the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership prowess in important organisations such as the recent appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African woman to hold the position as Director General of the World Trade Organization and Samia Suluhu Hassan as the first female president of Tanzania.

    Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office on March 19 to become the president of Tanzania. (Reuters)
    Director general of the World Trade Organization

    Such great milestones for these women have the opportunity to heal polarisation within these institutions of democracy and have the ability to engage other stakeholders so as to build an inclusive national and international dialogue that represents the needs of the African woman.

    There is still more work to be done 

    Women often represent more than 50% of a country’s population and many injustices are perpetrated against them in diverse ways and yet many countries do not have legislations that adequately protect women. Currently, Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 22 countries, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

    Just 25 per cent of national parliamentary seats are held by women, and data from 133 countries indicate that women make up only 36 per cent of elected members of local deliberative bodies.

    When women are underrepresented in public decision-making, policies may not reflect their needs and priorities. If we don’t take decisive action to empower and enable more women to claim leadership roles in politics and public decision-making, we will not close the gender equality gap at the highest levels for many years to come.

    We must also remember the importance of role sharing and modeling for the next generation because if men alone continue to make all the important decisions, then, girls and boys as well as women and men can be led into believing that women have no legitimate place in such decision-making.

    This will inevitably have a self-fulfilling effect, inferring that girls and women will not view themselves as ‘important’ decision-makers. This may snowball into oppression of women and men and boys have the legitimacy of ‘keeping women and girls out’ of decision-making positions.

    It is my hope that with this new wave of political representation at the highest levels of policy & administration, women will make great strides to close the gender gap and lead in a major cultural shift that will completely lead to political transformation as we know it today.

    Written by: Ambra Afua Yirenkyi