They say that opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor, but for the past decades in Africa, young women and girls have not been allowed to step on the dance floor itself, let alone dance. It is only in recent times that we have been able to see a paradigm shift, where women and girls have been invited to the table to be part of the discussions, or rather to be able to dance to the tune of decision making in top leadership, education and employment as well as social and economic opportunities, together with the men.
During his trip to the Republic of Kenya in 2015, the President of the United States of America Barrack Obama stated that;
"There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century. These are issues of right and wrong -- in any culture. But they’re also issues of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allowing them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind in a global economy."
While over time it is good to appreciate the ways that we’ve continued to work in eliminating these challenges, it’s worth reflecting on the path that we have forged as a continent and the long way that we still have to go.
Today, women, and especially young women are central to every aspect of the African continents’ development work – from production of the continent’s food where it is reported that women make up 80% of the food producers in some African nations, according to an ILO Report dubbed ‘Women Work More, But are Still Paid Less’ ILO/95/22, education, health, employment and participation in economic, social and political life.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, the statistics on women in parliament places 4 African Countries in the top 10 number of countries with high percentage of women representation in Parliament. They are Rwanda with 63.8%, Seychelles with 43.8%, Senegal with 42.7% and South Africa with 41.9%. The report also reveals that there are now only two countries in the world with more women than men in parliament, one of them being Rwanda which is still an African country.
With the above statistics, the public’s perception of women’s role in government and public service has also shifted where more young women in Africa are taking part in political and government leadership. Examples include Proscovia Alengot Oromait, Africa’s youngest ever elected Member of Parliament (MP) who was elected (MP) for Usuk County, Katakwi District at 19 years of age in September 2012; Claire Akamanzi from Rwanda who became the Chief Operating Officer, Rwanda Development Board at 32; Lindiwe Mazibuko, who at 33 years of age was a Parliamentary Leader for the Democratic Alliance (MP for North Durban); Hon. Angellah Mbelwa Kairuki who became a Member of Parliament with the at age 32 in Tanzania; Fatima-Zahra Mansouri who at age 38, is the Mayor of Marrakech, the third largest city in Morocco with a population of more than 1 million people and; Naisula Lesuuda who at 30 years old became the youngest female member of the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament of Kenya.
This examples provides a chance to reflect on the progress achieved and the challenges that remain for young women in political spaces who are and want to work in leadership of the continent. As enshrined in Article 11 (1) of the African Youth Charter, Every young person shall have the right to participate in all spheres of society and (2) (a), State parties shall guarantee the participation of youth in Parliament and other- decision making bodies in accordance with prescribed laws. Further, the same Article, 11 (c), requires State parties to ensure equal access to young men and women to participate in decision-making and in fulfilling civic duties. Of course, even as we strive to protect the rights and dignity of women and to promote diversity and equality within our own countries, we still have a long way to go in ensuring that young women are included at all levels of decision making and are able to claim their rights as well.
Legislation is a key driver of female representation in Africa. Article 12(f) of the African Youth Charter requires all state parties to develop a comprehensive and coherent National Youth Policy that shall advocate equal opportunities for young men and for young women. Drawing from the Rwanda experience which is by far the best performer of women representation in Parliament in the world with 64 women (to 36 men) in parliament, their performance is enabled by a law stipulating that 30% of all parliamentary seats should be held by women. Another example is South Africa, where the African National Congress upped its quota of women in government from 30% to 50% in 2009.
The struggle for gender equality and inclusion of women and young girls in social, economic and political levels in Africa is clear that our journey towards full equality is far from over. Despite the real and undeniable gains that women have made, the continent has more work to do. Our problems will not be solved overnight, and our challenges will not be fixed by laws and policies alone.
Upholding and protecting the rights of young women and girls to work in, and contribute to all aspects of their countries is still something that can be achieved. If the African Nations commit to supporting, protecting and empowering young women and girls to work, our countries will flourish. As one of our founding fathers clearly put it, it always seems impossible until it is done. – Nelson Mandela.