In 2006, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female head of state in Africa. Since then, many national and regional gender policies in West Africa have sought to achieve gender equality, increase women’s participation in decision-making and expand women’s economic opportunities. However, women in West Africa – as in many other parts of the world – remain largely underrepresented in the political sphere.
When we look at the national percentages, women occupy only 421 seats in West African parliaments, representing 16.1% of all lawmakers. In West Africa, 12 out of the 17 countries have averages that are below the world average of 23.3%. Senegal is a notable exception. With women making up 42.7% of its parliament, it ranks as number seven, just behind Sweden. Rwanda is the world leader when it comes to women’s representation and 63% of its lawmakers are women. Women occupy on average less than 20% of ministerial posts, and, of those, they are mostly clustered in the ministries covering women’s affairs and social issues.
Men also outnumber women within ministerial administrations. While women generally occupy secretarial, accounting, human resources and other administrative positions, men hold most of the technical and managerial positions.
To encourage more women to participate in politics, the region adopted the ECOWAS Gender and Elections Strategic Framework (GESF) and Action Plan in December 2016. This was followed in February 2017, by a series of recommendations to update the “Supplementary Act relating to Equality of Rights between Men and Women for Sustainable Development in the ECOWAS Region.” In terms of top leadership positions, the Commission of the African Union is setting a good example.
Its newly elected commission maintains the proper gender balance – four out of the eight elected commissioners are women. The previous commission was chaired by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the continent-wide organisation.