Women form more than half of Africa’s population, but you wouldn’t know this from looking at African parliaments, governments, and boardrooms.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women remain significantly outnumbered in the upper echelons of public leadership. There are just five women serving as prime ministers and two as presidents, while just over one in four members of parliament is a woman.
African women continue to suffer from lack of opportunity and outright prejudice. So, it is no surprise, then, that they are disadvantaged in nearly every aspect of life including when it comes to leadership.
Of course, it is important that we recognise the progress that has been made in the past couple of decades. The percentage of women occupying parliamentary seats in sub-Saharan African countries has more than doubled since 2000, and we have no doubt this has contributed directly to Africa’s continued growth and prosperity. In my own country, Namibia, we have one of the highest levels of women’s representation in parliament on the continent. We have a woman Prime Minister, and our youngest Parliament and Cabinet members are women aged 22 and 21 respectively.
African women are also blazing trails, having been appointed to prominent international roles in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. Yet these remain high-profile exceptions.
During my career in public life, I have seen how women’s empowerment energises communities and sets countries on a path to more inclusive and sustainable development. The evidence of its benefits is plentiful.
As the 2030 goal to achieve gender parity in politics nears, we ask ourselves: how can we achieve victory? Where do we find the support we need? The answer lies with those occupying most leadership positions worldwide: men.
Men are women’s primary allies in the fight for gender equality, and we need them to step up to the plate.
I know there are many men at every level of society in the world and particularly in Africa –including those in the most senior positions –who respect women’s inherent right to full participation in society and use their platforms and influence to shape a more inclusive and equitable future. They believe in gender parity and know that it’s not enough for them to be passive allies.
There are plenty of recent examples. President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi recently pledged to continue promoting gender equality, saying that his administration would take concrete steps to increase women’s economic empowerment. Last month, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon committed to continue to promote gender equality as part of the Gabonese Women’s Decade, an initiative which he instituted in 2015. The country has already made great progress, with its standing in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report drastically improved. And President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, a country already known for having the highest percentage of women in parliament, also recently called for gender equality to remain at the center of Rwandan politics, stating “equality is a right not a favour”.
Other men who hold some of the highest leadership positions have shared similar pledges to take concrete action to further women’s leadership in their spheres of influence as part of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Centre for Women and Development’s (EJS Centre) #HaveHerBack campaign.
I applaud their efforts and urge other African men from all walks of life to join them and consider how they, too, can challenge and break down the stereotypes and misconceptions that stand in the way of women’s full and equal participation.
One bias that society tends to hold is the idea that men do not, or should not, have equal responsibility in the fight for gender equality. In reality, it is up to all of us – both men and women – to strive for women’s advancement. We should therefore amplify the message that African men are willing to join the fight for gender equality.
Just as a bird can’t fly with only one wing, we can’t expect to see systemic change, with the efforts of only half of the population. If Africa is to thrive and prosper, we must all fight for parity, we must all stand together as Africans and say proudly to our daughters, sisters, and mothers: we have your back!