Gender equality has improved in Africa, but women still need to stand up for themselves

Discrimination against women has been described as a major obstacle to economic development in emerging and developing countries. But women’s rights are improving in a number of countries, especially in Africa where two countries now belong to the top five countries in the world with the highest proportion of women in parliament.

Rwanda, one of East Africa’s shinning light, leads the world in the proportion of women in parliament. In the country which is fast recovering from genocide during which between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped, women are now at the forefront of development. Parliamentary seats are held majorly by women (63.8 percent). Half of the country’s Supreme Court judges are also women. They are helping President Paul Kagame rebuild and reunite the nation. Kagame’s reason for taking gender rights seriously is simple: “How can we develop our country if we leave half of the population behind?” It’s working. Other African countries are learning and the world has noticed.

South Africa is the fifth country on the ranking of countries with the highest number of female parliamentarians, with 44.8 percent. The sad twist is that this has not translated to entrenching gender equality in the country. Recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović who was in South Africa from December 4 to 11 to get firsthand information about violence against women and girls. Following her stay, she concluded: “The violence inherited from the apartheid still resonate[s] profoundly in today’s South African society dominated by deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards the role of women in society which makes violence against women and children an  almost accepted social phenomenon”. The rate of involvement of women in leadership positions in South Africa shows otherwise. Women are increasingly getting more involved in decision making in the country. They are the ones that probably needs to step up and speak out more on behalf of other women.

Other countries in the top five in terms of proportion of women in parliament are Andorra (50 percent), Cuba (48.9 percent) and Sweden (45 percent).