Accessibility links

Breaking News

African Women Politicians Urge More Representation


FILE - Ugandan lawmakers gather in the parliament to debate a move to change the constitution to extend the president's rule, in Kampala, Uganda, Sept. 21, 2017.
FILE - Ugandan lawmakers gather in the parliament to debate a move to change the constitution to extend the president's rule, in Kampala, Uganda, Sept. 21, 2017.

Women politicians in Africa say their representation remains low across the continent despite efforts to empower women and girls and promote equality.

Politicians and activists say traditional norms and beliefs that are practiced across the continent promote patriarchy, making it difficult for women with leadership aspirations to break through.

Hellen Nakimuli, a Ugandan parliamentarian who was elected to her post two years ago, said during her campaign several people questioned her marital status and told her that they would not vote for a woman.

“Most people think when you are not a married woman, you may not be responsible since you don’t have a family to look after,” Nakimuli said.

The Ugandan parliamentarian said female politicians are often discriminated against and sexually harassed by their male counterparts.

“Men undermine women because they believe they are a superior gender,” Nakimuli said.

“So they believe women may not perform better than them,” she added.

Santa Okot, another legislator in the East African nation, said the best way to promote gender equality is to ensure that men are involved in programs focused on women empowerment.

“As we promote women, we should bring the men on board. There are some men who already understand that when a woman is busy doing something, there is no problem ... but there are others who can cause problems because of their cultural background,” Okot said.

“That is why we are talking about equality. That if the woman is not yet at home and you the man is at home, you can take care of the children… that’s sharing of responsibility.”

Haija Ireti Kingibe, a Nigerian senator, said she hopes to see a female president but doesn't expect it in the near future.

“It will be a dream come true, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. We have to get a transparent electoral process. Right now, the credibility and transparency of the whole process is a gray question [area],” she said.

Kingibe said corruption plays a role in perpetuating gender inequality in her country, especially when it comes to campaign financing for political candidates.

“The biggest problem in Nigeria is it's generally corrupt. As always there’s a lot of challenges, violence, too many things,” Kingibe said, adding that with the “amount of money flying around, there were so many people available to be bought.”

Facia Boyenoh Harris, a Liberian activist and recipient of the 2022 International Women of Courage Award, said progress has been slow in her country.

“We have had Liberian women who have been in leadership positions at different levels. What the challenge is in terms of the level of equality that we experience and representation they keep continuing to be a challenge,” Harris said.

The West African activist also noted that her nation has had a female president and vice president, but the present legislature lacks representation.

“We only have two women senators and 28 men, and in the House of Representatives we have seven women and 64 men,” said Harris. “So if you do the calculations you would know that Liberian women continue to be under represented.”

Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said last year women in her country experience similar challenges.

“There is no argument, whatsoever, that men have dominated leadership positions for years in all spheres of the economy, with women playing a supportive role,” Mutsvangwa said.

Despite challenges faced by Zimbabwean women, the information minister said she applauds her peers for being torch bearers in fields dominated by men.

“I am happy that as women we have not waited for men to tilt the table in our favor, but we have taken the bull by the horns to ensure women empowerment and dominance is driven by us and true to the adage,” she said.

The East African nation of Rwanda is a standout with 61% of its parliament occupied by women in 2021, according to the World Bank, the highest rate in the world.

This report was compiled by VOA's Mike Hove with contributions from VOA’s James Butty and Mugume Davis Rwakaringi.