ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF

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International Women’s Day 2024: inspiring inclusion during the biggest year for democracy

This year is a year like no other for democracy. More than half of the world’s population will head to the polls in 2024. Votes will be cast in local and national elections that have the power to shape political systems across the globe for years to come or cement already existing power structures.

For Africa, the stakes could not be higher. Millions of Africans in 19 nations across the continent will be given the opportunity to have a say in how their countries are run and who best represents their aspirations and values. Voters and candidates alike will be able to test the resilience of democratic systems in their countries, as well as their ability to influence the trajectory of progress and development. Most importantly, the elections this year represent a golden opportunity for meaningful progress toward more inclusive governance and equity in political leadership.

Emphasizing the importance of inspiring inclusion through the promotion of equity in leadership and decision-making roles, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder that women’s voices – both as voters and public leaders – are integral to democracy and sustainable development. 

The recent decades have witnessed considerable progress in women’s representation in politics. Between 2000 and 2021, the proportion of seats occupied by women in lower houses of parliaments increased from 12% to 26% worldwide. Africa witnessed an increase from 8% to 15% for the same period. Women candidates in countries such as Namibia are also in prime position to achieve unprecedented victory in upcoming presidential and legislative elections.

However, despite these positive changes, the challenges that hinder democracy and inclusive governance remain daunting. A string of coups have imposed military rule in various African countries, putting the brake on democratic progress and reform. In other countries, delays in the electoral process threaten to thwart democracy and the rule of law. In Liberia, the representation of women in the House of Representatives registered a decline in recent years, indicating an urgent need for inclusive reforms across the political spectrum. And in Nigeria, only around 7% of political positions are occupied by women.

These challenges require collective action and tireless efforts to ensure that inclusive reforms are implemented, political and party systems are overhauled, and transparent and fair elections are held free from gender-based intimidation, harassment, and threats. Across the continent, leaders, decision-makers, and activists must pave the way for women to have equal access to voting, representation, and economic support in order to achieve inclusive politics.

In her op-ed published in the Guardian on International Women’s Day, our founder former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf draws a roadmap for women’s equal participation in politics in Africa and across the globe. She also stresses the positive change that equity in governance creates:

 

“Women’s inclusion in politics is not merely an expression of equity; it is a vital necessity for the progress and sustainable development of nations.”

 

The 2024 elections across Africa, such as the December elections in Ghana, can mark a turning point in how women are perceived in public leadership spaces. Several African women – including Amujae Leaders Peggy Onkutlwile Serame of Botswana, Emma Theofelus of Namibia, and Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings and Dr. Grace Ayensu-Danquah of Ghana – have already shaped the political landscape in their countries. They are now poised to take part in elections and continue to inspire women and girls to be active members of society.

The determination and achievements of these women compel us to increase all efforts toward ensuring that the upcoming elections across Africa are inclusive and equitable. By doing so, “we can make 2024 a historic year for democracy and equity in leadership,” in the words of Madam Sirleaf. 

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