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African women breakthrough in politics

PROGRESS FOR WOMEN: Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that “at face value” African countries outperformed more developed democracies in the world when it comes to the representation of women in politics

THE FORMER president of Liberia has hailed the breakthrough of women in Africa’s national legislative bodies.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who became the continent’s first elected female head of state in 2006, was speaking at the Royal African Society’s Annual Lecture in London.

According to recent figures from the Brookings Institution think tank, the number of female legislators and elected officials on the continent has more than doubled in the last 20 years, growing from 9.8 per cent in 1995 to 23.2 per cent in 2016.

The figures also show that five of the world’s top 15 countries for the number of women serving in parliament are found in Africa, with Rwanda standing out with the highest ratio at 61 per cent, followed by South Africa (42.3 per cent), Senegal (41.8 per cent), Namibia (41.3 per cent) and Mozambique (39.6 per cent).

Eight other African nations have parliaments with more than 30 per cent female membership.

And speaking about Liberia’s elections last year, Sirleaf highlighted the fact that women participated strongly, including one presidential candidate and six vice presidential candidates, one of whom was successful, as well as close to 160 women standing for seats in the country’s legislature.

Sirleaf said: “There is much to celebrate… Sub-Saharan Africa has seen some of the most dramatic breakthrough in women’s political representation in national legislative bodies and beyond.

“These numbers, at face value, show 22 African countries outperforming more developed democracies across the globe.

“African democracies have produced women trailblazers… who inspire young girls to get involved in political and civil life.

“These extraordinary women include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, the late Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Joyce Banda of Malawi, Graça Machel of Mozambique, the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of South Africa, Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic, and Amina J Mohammed of Nigeria, who is now Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.” She added: “There are many more but these women do blaze the path that we look at and we follow. “Women and girls dream of a future in which barriers and obstacles no longer hold them back from the realisation of their dreams.”


However, during the wideraging speech, Sirleaf acknowledged that the barriers against the participation of women in public life remained strong.

She told the audience at the Royal African Society: “If you look beyond these statistics, you will see that true governing powers remain largely closed to women.”

According to Sirleaf, barriers were not just “patriarchal and misogynistic, they are institutional, societal, and cultural”.

She added: “They come from a legacy of winner-take-all politics, from states where power is highly centralised, and from weak institutions where accountability to the people is still aspirational.”

While trumpeting the power of the #MeToo movement and the global wave that it now represents, Sirleaf was quick to push for the consideration of others disenfranchised from the political process.

She said: “I speak especially of the youths. I do not believe that we can bear the costs of failing another generation of young people, not when one in five people on earth will be African by 2030, and of those, 65 per cent will be youths.

“We must seek out the force multipliers [and] capture the political energy of the youth.”

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