Women are notoriously under-represented in government, occupying just 21.9 percent of all elected parliamentary seats worldwide. In the U.S., that number is even lower, at just 18 percent. The following countries in sub-Saharan Africa have managed to buck the trend.
They are including women in politics and creating significant roles for female politicians through advocacy, quota systems, and citizens’ desire for real change. Here are the 12 sub-Saharan African countries with the most women in parliament.
Percentages listed here represent the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and World Development Indicators, and World Bank for 2014.
Sources: Data.WorldBank.org, IPSNews.net, UNWomen.org, TheIndependent.co.zw, QuotaProject.org, GenderLinks.org.za, NGOPulse.org, TheGuardian.com
In Ethiopia’s National Parliament, 28 percent of the seats are held by women, up from 21.9 percent in 2009 – and up even more dramatically from the 2.74 percent in 1995. The government has been active in striving to increase the number of women in legislature to 30-to-50 percent of the house through different measures, and is on track to achieve this goal by 2020.
Female politicians in Burundi make up 31 percent of the country’s parliament, just meeting the national quota of 30 percent for the lower and upper houses. However, there are no quotas in place for the other governmental decision-making bodies, and the country has yet to see a woman in the top three offices – president, first vice president, or second vice president. Burundi also struggles with female representation in security services. Just 2.9 percent of the Burundi National Police and 0.5 percent of the Burundi National Defence Force are women.
The legislative elections in 2013 in Cameroon catapulted an unprecedented number of women into the National Assembly, bringing the proportion of women to 31 percent, up from 13.8 percent. The significant increase was the result of internal advocacy efforts in conjunction with U.N. Women’s strategic plan for gender and elections that was implemented in June 2012.
Zimbabwe’s Eighth Parliament has 85 women representatives out of 270 seats. Following the country’s 2013 elections, Zimbabwe has had a quota system in place to ensure female representation. At least 60 seats must be held by women — six from each of the country’s 10 provinces. By contrast, Zimbabwe’s parliament had just 17 percent of seats occupied by women following the 2008 general elections.
Uganda’s parliament has a quota system in place that mandates that at least one woman representative from each of the country’s 112 districts must hold a seat. Additionally, two of the 10 representatives of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, one of the five youth representatives, one of the five representatives of persons with disabilities, and one of the five representatives of workers must be women.
Tanzania has a strict 30 percent minimum quota for women representatives in its National Assembly, and has surpassed this quota since its last election. The seats are distributed among women in proportion to the number of seats won by political parties, but at least 102 of the assembly’s 350 members must be women. According to the Elections Regulations submitted in 2010, “Every Political Party which contests Parliamentary elections may propose and submit the Commission names of eligible women candidates for nomination of Members of Parliament for Women Special Seats.”
Though Angola’s 37 percent representation by women in parliament is impressive, it is actually down from the 39 percent it enjoyed in 2008. This was in part due to a new party list system established in 2010 in which citizens vote for a party instead of individual candidates – in the 2012 election, just five of the nine parties or coalitions had 30 percent women in their candidate lists, and none had a women at the top (thereby excluding them from a potential presidential position). Just 8 of the 31 ministerial positions in the Angolan government are held by women.
Following the 2014 election, 99 of the 250 seats in Mozambique’s Assembly of the Republic were held by women, as the result of voluntary political party quotas. FRELIMO, or the Mozambique Liberation Front (from the Portuguese “Frente de Libertação de Moçambique”), holds 144 of the 250 seats, and has a self-imposed 40 percent quota for women representatives – thereby bringing the collective female representation of women in Mozambique up.
Before the 2012 elections, women held just 22 percent of seats in Senegal’s parliament. A law on gender parity, passed in 2010, required all 24 parties and coalitions to put forward equal numbers of men and women on their candidate lists, accounting from the marked increase. The success of the parity law on elected positions has already encouraged calls for it to be applied to other economic sectors, such as agriculture and fisheries.
Since its national parliamentary elections in 2011, Seychelles saw his proportion of women in parliament spike to 44 percent. Furthermore, its women’s representation in district administrators positions have increased to 70 percent, up from an already-impressive 67 percent, all without any enforced legal quotas. While impressive, this statistic is still short of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Protocol on Gender and Development’s 2015 deadline on reaching 50 percent women’s representation.
Though also just shy of the SADC goal mentioned above, South Africa is extremely close to gender parity in its national parliament. The relatively high numbers are largely due to the ruling African National Congress’s (ANC) 50 percent quota – though it should be noted that it has not always abided by its self-imposed quotas. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has always been opposed to quotas, and has only a 30 percent female representation among its seats.
Rwanda not only leads sub-Saharan Africa in regard to female representation in parliament, but the whole world as well – it is the only country with more female MPs than male ones. Much of this has to do with the aftermath of the country’s post-genocide circumstances, in which 70 percent of the remaining population was female, as well as its adoption of quotas to ensure women occupied at least 30 percent of seats. But as female representatives in Rwanda have been able to make significant strides, the population seems poised to continue to give women leadership positions, and Rwanda can serve as an example to governments and citizens across the globe.