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Women in parliament 2023 report: great progress and lingering challenges for Africa

Solid and inclusive democratic systems are built on equal representation in all branches of government, with provisions allowing women’s voices to be heard across the political arena.

The representation of women in houses of parliament is particularly crucial for the development and implementation of policies and regulations that safeguard gender equality and the rights of women and girls in every aspect of life. 

A recent report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has revealed that the share of women in national parliaments improved marginally over the last year, rising by only 0.4% between January 2023 and January 2024.

The Women in Parliament in 2023 report pinpoints the progress achieved across the globe for women’s representation. Exploring the results of parliamentary elections, the report shows that women accounted for 27.6% of elected or appointed MPs in the 52 countries that held elections – an improvement of 1.4% as compared to the previous polls in these countries.

Although progress remains “slow and mixed,” the sub-Saharan region achieved a significant breakthrough as it recorded an increase of 3.9% women elected in 2023 – the highest improvement among all regions. Benin, Eswatini, and Sierra Leone stood out as the countries achieving the greatest gains, while Rwanda maintained its position as the world’s leading country in women’s parliamentary representation with 61.3% of seats in the Chamber of Deputies occupied by women.

This progress is in no small part due to the impact of quotas on women’s representation, according to the report. It states that, on average, the 43 chambers that had some form of quotas elected 28.8% women over the past year, compared to 23.2% in chambers with no quotas. The impact of quotas on women’s representation in African countries can clearly be felt in Benin and Sierra Leone. Both countries held their first elections since the introduction of new quota laws and recorded significant gains in women’s representation in parliament as a result.

Complementing the positive impact of inclusive reforms and policies is African women’s potential as powerful public leaders in the political arena. Several Amujae Leaders, including Liberia’s Sona Traore Sesay; Ghana’s Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings; Gambia’s Fatoumatta Njai; Malawi’s Joyce Chitsulo; Namibia’s Emma Theofelus; and Zimbabwe’s Joanah Mamombe are prominent members of their countries’ parliaments and national assemblies and stand as prime examples of the importance of advancing women’s public leadership through high-level mentorship and networking.

Yet, despite this progress, women continue to face overwhelming challenges in their endeavor to achieve meaningful participation in political and public life across Africa. In one instance, Nigeria’s extremely low representation of women shrank further by 3.7% in 2023, and the country now ranks among the bottom five countries globally for women in parliament.

Several factors play a major role in undermining women’s representation in politics in Nigeria and other countries across the continent. These include institutional and sociocultural factors such as patriarchal social norms, gatekeeping by political parties, high candidate registration fees, political violence and sexual harassment, and clientelism. Research conducted by the IPU further indicates that these obstacles remain prevalent across the globe. Women parliamentarians and electoral candidates, the report points out, face hostility and violence both within parliaments and in other political spaces.

To counteract these factors, it is crucial to continue to advance equity in leadership and women’s political representation through initiatives that allow women to overcome challenges and reach the highest echelons of public leadership. The EJS Center’s flagship program – the Amujae Initiative – makes this possible by supporting, nurturing, and expanding a network of accomplished women public leaders across Africa, in order to ensure that, today and in the future, a wealth of female leaders are well-equipped to advance the development, peace, and prosperity of their African nations.

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