“Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximise their potential is doomed to fall behind in the global economy. Imagine if you have a team and you don’t let half the team play, that’s stupid! That makes no sense. Evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunity as their sons are more peaceful are more prosperous, they develop faster, are more likely to succeed, giving girls an education.” Barack Obama, President of U.S.A on his maiden visit to Kenya, 2015.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment remain central tenets for development progress on the continent with specific attention given to this in Africa’s 50 year vision and plan for development and integration, Agenda 2063. However, the nagging claws of gender inequality in the continent continue to impede women from contributing to the development agenda and lending their voice as they are precluded from many development-oriented conversations.
Over half of Africa’s population of almost 1 billion people is made up of women and girls making it crucial for the continent’s governments to ensure equal access to the building blocks for structural transformation are available to all. Some of these building blocks such as inclusive financial services, healthcare, education, political participation, peace and security can only be fully achieved with the active engagement of youth and women in Africa.
22 years ago this September, over 30,000 delegates left the historic 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing on a dizzying high. The obvious exuberance was infectious, felt even by women not at the conference. And they had all the reason to be — 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there. Women in Power and Decision-making was identified as one of twelve critical areas of concern in its Beijing Platform for Action (BPA).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to take part in the Government of his/her country. The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women’s social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and administration and sustainable development in all areas of life.
Why more women: Rationale, numbers, and beyond numbers
Both practitioners and scholars agree that it is of utmost importance to have equal numbers of women and men in political office .A 2005 UN report on Equal Participation of Women and Men in Decision-Making Processes, with Particular Emphasis on Political Participation and Leadership enumerates this
1. The justice argument — women account for approximately half the population and therefore have the right to be represented as such.
2. The experience argument — women’s experiences are different from men’s and need to be represented in discussions that result in policy-making and implementation. These different experiences mean that women ‘do politics’ differently from men.
3. The interest argument — the interests of men and women are different and even conflicting and therefore women are needed in representative institutions to articulate the interests of women.
4. The critical mass argument — women are able to achieve solidarity of purpose to represent women’s interests when they achieve certain levels of representation.
5. The symbolic argument — women are attracted to political life if they have role models in the arena.
6. The democracy argument — the equal representation of women and men enhances democratization of governance in both transitional and consolidated democracies.
There has been progress towards the equal representation of men and women in decision-making in the past ten years. According to stats from UN Women, the percentage of women in parliament has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. As of January 2017, 10 women are serving as Head of State and 9 are serving as Head of Government.
Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 63.8 per cent of seats in the lower house. Women in Saudi Arabia voted for the very first time in 2015 and we’re even allowed to run for public office.
France’s newly inaugurated President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his cabinet this past week with women filling half of the 22 positions. These 11 women will take up heavyweight roles such as justice, defence and foreign affairs, and not the ‘soft roles’ that have been traditionally reserved for women.
However, progress has been uneven and slow and in some cases there have been significant setbacks. The slow and sometimes static progress is seen in the Kenyan context as well. The Economic Survey of 2016 tabulates women participation in key decision making positions:
A glance at the Private Sector
Considering the participation of women in strategic decision-making in the private sector, the “glass ceiling” — the barriers that limit the numbers of women reaching the top of the corporate hierarchy — is still evident.
According to Fortune, the number of women leading Fortune 500 companies is the highest ever at 27, whilst this is great progress it is an undeniably paltry number. The Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentages of women corporate officers, yielded higher returns than those with lower percentages of women. (Catalyst, 2006)
According to the International Finance Corporation, Kenya has the highest number of women serving on company boards in Africa at 19.8 percent, above the global average of 15 percent.
Institute of Directors Bill Kenya, passed by Parliament in February 2017 and awaiting presidential assent, addresses the importance of qualifications for board membership by drawing on an array of skills, experience and continuous training. Qualified women, currently make up 30 % of IOD’s membership, enactment of the Bill into law is expected to increase the talent pool of qualified women.
The Africa Development Bank in their 2015 report titled, ‘Where are the women: Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s top listed companies’ propose several policy recommendations. They Include:
1. Baseline Research — Unless data is provided on the status of women on boards, it is impossible to determine what measures must be taken or what policies are needed to improve the numbers of women appointed to board seats.
2. Stock Exchange listing requirements should mandate public reporting of board composition annually and provision of updates after any change of composition. Reporting should extend beyond directors’ names to include year of commencement of board appointment, age, and brief background bios. The same information should be reported on listed companies’ senior officers as well.
3. African Stock Exchanges should consider including board diversity as a listing requirement for member companies.
4. CMAs and SECs can also consider requiring companies to provide sex-disaggregated data on women directors and in senior management in annual reports.
5. Women themselves must be proactive in applying for board positions.
“The Revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution of triumph. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”