Figure of the Week: Where in Africa are the women leaders?

Last night, the results of the American presidential elections were announced—a close contest lost by Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first-ever female president of the United States of America. Many women around the world have already held the honor of head-of-state or head-of-government, including the United Kingdom’s Margaret Thatcher, Israel’s Golda Meir, and Liberia’s Nobel Peace Prize winning Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was celebrated worldwide for breaking a double glass ceiling: She became both the first female head of state in Africa and the first black woman head of state. This week, we take a look at the state of female political leadership in Africa.

In the past 20 years, sub-Saharan Africa has achieved some of the most dramatic breakthroughs in the world. The number of female legislators on the continent rose from 9.8 percent in 1995 to 23.2 percent today and Rwanda, with 63.8 percent female representation in the legislature, is the world frontrunner (Figure 1). While the Nordic countries lead the pack with a 41.1 percent female legislature, sub-Saharan Africa’s 23.2 percent is within striking distance of Europe’s (excluding Nordic countries) 24.3 percent and the Americas’ 27.7 percent. Today, six out of the top 15 countries are African: Seychelles (43.8 percent), Senegal (42.7 percent), South Africa (41.7 percent), Namibia (41.3 percent), and Mozambique (39.6 percent). By contrast, in the 114th United States Congress, a mere 20 percent of the legislature are women. In fact, 24 African countries have better female representation than the United States of America.



While the trend has been improving for most of Africa, in Nigeria, the opposite is true. In the previous administration, two notable women were truly influential in Nigeria’s political landscape: Diezani Allison-Madueke, former minister of petroleum and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance, were at the heart of the Jonathan presidency. Unfortunately, while the 2011 Jonathan administration was credited with appointing women to one-third of cabinet positions, the Buhari administration only gave six ministerial slots to women, only 16 percent of the total. This is part of a disheartening trend for Nigeria: whereas women represented 9 percent of the National Assembly in 2007, the figure fell to 7 percent in 2011 and 5.6 percent today. While Nigeria slides down the global rankings, the rest of Africa continues to rise. Rwanda and South Africa have successfully used quotas to increase their female representation in the legislature: Rwandan law stipulates that 30 percent of all parliamentary seats should be held by women while South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, voluntarily upped its female quota for government positions from 30 to 50 percent in 2009. Following South Africa’s lead, the majority of African nations now have some form of quota to encourage female representation in the legislature. Most encouragingly, South Africa may soon find itself with a female president: Outgoing head of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been touted as the next head of South Africa’s ANC.

Junaid Belo-Osagie contributed to this post.