The inclusivity of women in politics and decision-making is steadily rising across Africa. This could be the last frontier for sustainable development in Africa.
Africa has enormous potential to grow if it can take advantage of the untapped power that girls and women hold as societal and economic drivers. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the lack of inclusion of women in the economy will cost Sub-Saharan Africa as much as US$110 billion in 2022, and $190 billion in 2023.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which deepened already existing inequalities, has further delayed the realization of gender-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Access to education, the labour market, maternal health, basic sanitation and technology are all important aspects for achieving gender equality. Women need to be at the centre of decision-making processes on these and other issues, in order to contribute to Africa’s sustainable development transformation.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII)2 measures gender inequalities by accounting for maternal mortality ratios and adolescent birth rates; political empowerment and secondary school completion; and women’s participation in the labour force. The average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 0.57, higher than the global rate of 0.44.
Libya and Tunisia have the lowest scores on inequality, both being countries with high human development. Numbers from Libya show that 70% of females aged 25 years and older have at least some secondary education, compared to 45% for men. However, they still face challenges in inequality with almost half as many women as men contributing to the labour force.
Rwanda is the fifth best achieving country in Africa on the GII. As a growing economy, Rwanda shows impressive advances in women’s participation in the political system, and has an equal number of women and men working. On the contrary, maternal mortality rates are high and only 10% of women have some secondary education, showing that important challenges still remain.
All the countries that score highest on inequality are also high fragility and low development countries, with very high maternal mortality rates and high adolescent birth rates.
The significant gaps in the GII illustrate the need to rethink and refocus public policy. Morocco, for instance, reduced their maternal mortality rates by more than 50% by setting public objectives on improving women’s health issues, making maternal healthcare free and educating health personnel.
Creating space for women’s voices and allowing them to participate in decision-making, not only on women’s issues but all development issues, is essential to making progress on the status of women and girls in society.
Today, women occupy an average of 26% of all seats in African parliaments, with Rwanda having the highest number of female representatives in Africa and globally. On the other hand, women representation is less than 10% in countries such as Algeria, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The data shows that female representation has improved from 22.5% in 2017 to 26% in 2022. At this rate, Africa will not be able to reach the goal of 30% female representation by 2030 as set by the Beijing Platform for Action.
In Senegal, gender quotas have been important to get more women into political positions, which in turn has had symbolic effects in normalizing women leadership. More African countries would benefit from following their example.
Public perceptions on women leadership in Africa is growing but should continue to improve. Today, more than 2 in 3 Africans believe women should have the same chance of being elected to political office as men. Sustained and improved public perception on women leadership needs to be at the very centre of gender strategies, ensuring that women are viewed as equally important in the development of societies.
Women leadership across sectors of society will boost advancement towards sustainable development in Africa. Therefore, to realize the gender aspirations set out in Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda, Africa needs to:
- Enhance advocacy that commit to the inclusion of greater representation and influence of women at the centre of decision-making processes at the national, regional and local levels. UNDP country and regional offices, working closely with national and local partners (including civil society networks) have a major role to play towards this ambition.
- Promote non-discriminatory social and legal policies within the continent to support gender equality in all spheres and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
- Support countries to advance women’s leadership and equal participation through affirmative action provisions and quotas. Encouraging a cultural shift and re-orientation of the role of women in leadership positions will engender a sustainable approach to the inclusion of women in leadership.
The understanding of women’s leadership role in promoting sustainable development is no longer an aspiration. Such an understanding must be matched by renewed commitment across all levels of society to ensure the consistent representation of women’s voice is amplified. The social, economic and political cost of underrepresentation, or limited representation, of women to economic development in Africa is dire. The idea of pan-womanity, which privileges the leadership role of women in development, is the new approach to pan-Africanism, and for realizing The Africa We Want agenda.
UNDP’s Regional Programme for Africa contributes to the implementation of UNDP’s Strategic Plan (2022-25) and the Regional Bureau for Africa’s Strategic Offer in Africa. In recognition of the importance of grounding development programming in data analytics, the What can data tell us? series provides readers with an overview of emerging development trends in Africa using quantitative analysis and visualization.