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How African women are fairing in decision-making and leadership

As 2018 draws to a close, a change that has shaken the gender disparity debate in Africa has occurred in Ethiopia. In a historic move on 25 October, its parliament unanimously elected Ambassador Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female head of state. In the same month, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed appointed 10 female ministers, making Ethiopia the third country in Africa after Rwanda and

Seychelles to achieve gender parity in their cabinets. These and other recent increases in the share of women ministers in African cabinets offers a unique opportunity for African women to showcase how gender parity can improve quality of governance and accelerate development in Africa. Ethiopia is very well suited to champion this objective and inspire the rest of Africa and the developing world. Ethiopia and Rwanda have shown that gender parity in the executive branch is an attainable goal.

Ultimately, gender parity in cabinets should translate into peace, social development, business and environmental dividends. Songwe alluded to this at a meeting to welcome the new Ethiopian president: “As we celebrate your appointment the 10 women ministers and the first Supreme Court president in Ethiopia, we can start talking about how we can work together and use the fund to create a network of young women fund managers, train them and then put them out in the market as we seek to address the fundamental gap in the access of women to finance architecture,” she said. Africa may have made significant strides on women’s participation in decision-making, surpassing Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East. But the continental achievements hide national and subregional variations, as facts and figures by UNECA’s African Centre for Gender (ACG) reveal.

As of October 2018, out of a total of 11,037 African parliamentarians, 2,591 were women, which represents a 23% average share of women in parliament in the entire continent. And of the 1,348 ministers on the continent, 302 are women. As such women’s representation in African cabinets remains on average at 22%, the ACG’s fact sheet – Women in Decision-Making Spheres in Africa – released in November 2018 pointedly reveals.

While this is commendable progress, it barely represents the halfway point to attaining gender parity in African parliaments. Yet ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to its intrinsic value, women’s participation is essential to the formulation of effective policies, which respond to the differential needs of men and women.

Therefore, the fact sheet provides a comparative perspective on where African countries stand in women’s representation in both national parliaments and government positions.

Out of 35 countries with more than 33% female representation in national parliaments across the world, there are nine African countries, including Rwanda (61%), Namibia (46%), South Africa (43%), Mozambique (40%), Ethiopia (39%), Tanzania (37%), Burundi (36%) and Uganda (34%).


There is substantial variation across Africa as shown in Figure 2 below. While Southern Africa is close to attaining the 33% representation threshold, West Africa on average lags substantially behind other subregions. Out of 15 countries in West Africa, only five countries have over 15% female representation in parliament. Senegal leads the way with 42% female representation in parliament, ranking 4th in Africa.

In Southern Africa, Namibia and South Africa are within reach of gender parity in parliament with 46% and 43% female representation, respectively. Mozambique is also close at 40%.

In Eastern Africa, Rwanda leads the way with 61% female representation in parliament, ranking it 1st among all African countries and across the world. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda follow suit with over 33% female representation in parliament.

In North Africa, Tunisia and Sudan are close to reaching 33% threshold while Egypt records the subregional minimum at 15% female representation. Central Africa has slightly higher average women’s share relative to West Africa due to Cameroon where female representation in parliament reaches a subregional maximum of 31%.

Steady progress

Since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, Africa has made steady progress on women’s participation in parliaments. Figures show that the average share of women in parliaments in Africa has almost tripled over 22 years. However, progress has slowed down since the early 2010s. In many African countries, the share of women in parliament must more than double its current level to reach the 50% gender parity target as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal 5, Target 5.5, Indicator 5.5.1.

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