Gender Parity Still a Challenge in African Countries

By Treezer Michelle

Women have made significant steps in leadership globally but those milestones are measured in micro- steps in Sub-Saharan Africa which records as little as an estimated one percent increase in women’s leadership annually.

Despite this slow growth, Africa hosts the country with the largest representation of women in government in the world as stated in the Women Political Participation Report 2021.

Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in parliament (61%) and cabinet (60%) globally. It is the first country globally with a female majority.

The country further has a Childhood Development Policy, adopted in 2016 which guarantees a holistic development of the child and it takes into account the health, physical, social and emotional aspects of the child’s growth. Gender parity has remained stable at primary and secondary levels with an actual schooling rate for girls at 49.7% and 53.2% respectively whilst it is estimated that at tertiary level, young women were at 42.6% in 2018. But is this good news? Has gender parity been entirely achieved in Rwanda?

While this progress is something that should be celebrated, warning signs have been noted in the country’s weaker inequality indexes. While ranked first in terms of women’s representation in parliament, Rwanda only ranks 158th in the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index. This index considers inequality in terms of reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market.

According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of United Nations (UN) Women, these figures speak more to the realities for women at all levels in Rwanda and reflect that Rwanda’s high representation of women in parliament is not a guarantee to transformation that benefits all women. This could be a move to distract from the country’s shift towards authoritarianism.

Gender issues in achieving increased women representation

In Kenya, the increase in the representation of women in both local and national governments has been a constant struggle. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission 2017 General Elections Report recorded that in 2017 as opposed to 2013, women won seats at all levels except the presidency and the first three female governors and three female senators were elected.

Women running as independent candidates were also elected for the first time. While these are positive changes, women comprised just 9.2 percent of the 1,835 elected individuals in 2017, a marginal increase from 7.7 percent in 2013.

“Article 27(8) of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution states that: “not more than two thirds of members of the elected house can be of the same gender”. The Supreme Court advised the Attorney General that the one-third gender requirement in the National Assembly and Senate should be implemented progressively in successive elections. This quota has been so opposed to making the one-third provision an aspirational target,” explains Rose Akinyi Buyu, the woman representative of Kisumu County (2017- 2022).

During the 2017 general elections, there was no law to facilitate the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule. This resulted in the composition of parliament being noncompliant with the constitution as before. Despite six court orders directing it to do so, parliament has yet to enact the law.

Another major reform meant to increase women’s participation in politics is envisioned in Article 81(b) of the 2010 Constitution which sets 47 women representative seats in the National Assembly specifically for women.

After losing in the 2013 general elections, where she vied as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Kisumu West, Buyu opted for the Kisumu County Women Representative seat in 2017 which she won.

“The main reason for creating the women’s representative position in Kenya was to enhance women’s representation in the government. However, this position has created further challenges for women who wish to represent a party in an election for a regular constituency seat, requiring them to raise and spend even more money during the nomination phase because the regular seats are now perceived as ‘men’s seats’,” she adds.

Even though the constitution does not outline the framework for implementation of the two-thirds gender rule at the National Assembly and the Senate, at the county level, there is a clear procedure of achieving that.

Pamela Amondi, a veteran politician who has served as a councilor in the pre-devolution era as well as a Member of the County Assembly (MCA) between 2013 and 2017 in Kisumu County has a lot to say about how far Africa has to go to achieve gender parity in politics.

“Because of politics I have endured being branded a prostitute, I was forced to remarry in 2001 after my husband’s death in 1994 to prove that I was a family woman, and on 19th April 2022 during the ODM Party primaries, I lost my son to cruel butchers who hacked him with an axe. This move was meant to frustrate me,” laments Amondi.

Amondi was first elected a councilor for Aerodrome Ward in 1997 few years after her husband’s death. She also won the seat in 2002 and 2007 in the same ward. In 2013, she was the first elected MCA for the Central Kisumu ward.

Despite this, she says that representation of women in Kisumu County political space is still low. Amondi attributes this to various challenges including lack of proper support from political parties, cultural beliefs, predominant gender roles and financial issues.

The rising cost of seeking political office in Kenya is a hindrance to participation in politics by women according to Women Political Participation Report 2021. These costs make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to seek political office, and women and youths are often locked out.

According to a report titled A Gender Analysis of the 2017 Kenya General Elections Report by United Democratic Institute and FIDA Kenya, few elected women leaders can be greatly attributed to the incomplete nature of the country’s legal frameworks and its non-compliant political institutions.

A comprehensive review of the experience of female candidates as shown in the report shows that women faced the same challenges in 2017 that they did in 2013. These include inadequate political support from their parties in the primaries, lack of financial resources, gender-based violence, gender stereotyping, and patriarchal structures across society.

The UN Women categorizes obstacles that prevent women from participating fully in political life into two. The first is structural barriers, whereby discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office. The second is capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts, and resources needed to become effective leaders.

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