What would Africa look like if women rose to positions of power in politics? How would ‘African governance’ change if women were included within governing bodies? Should quotas for including women be drawn up, and legally set, for all African nations?
When discussing women in Africa we are reminded of the gender inequalities prevalent within all societies. In order to counter-act this increasingly countries worldwide have set quotas on including women in politics. Africa has been at the forefront of this trend. Senegal established its women in politics quota in 2010. The quota acts to ensure at least half of local and national candidates are women. National women’s movements played a key factor in prompting the new gender quota, and legal enshrinement of including women in politics. Through the quota system women’s political presence is rising. It is reported 11 out of the 36 houses of parliament where women represent 30% of the political body are based in Africa (The Economist, 2013). Despite such positive figures when considering what countries showcase the highest gender inequalities, African nations represent 10 out of the worst 21 (Global Gender Gap Report, 2011). The worst ranked included Chad, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.
It therefore seems relevant to ask whether the countries in Africa that are lagging behind should follow the lead of the most progressive. What difference does it make to include quotas on women, and should quotas be encouraged across African nation-states? This debate returns to the role of women in politics in Africa – what it means, brings, and presents an opportunity to change. The focus questions whether countries, such as Senegal, are pioneering an innovative system that can change the lives of women and nations?
Quotas are building representative democracies. Through the quota system women are given a voice in society. Quotas mean women are represented in politics. Women are half of the electorate so should be around half of the legislature. Although not there yet the rising numbers symbolise positive change. In 2012, on average, 1/5 of MPs in sub-Saharan Africa were women (The Economist, 2013). In South Africa and Rwanda the number is far above this. Women make up 42% of parliament seats in South Africa, and 64% in Rwanda (ibid.). At present, in Africa we have 2 female presidents (Liberia; Malawi); and 1 prime minister (Aminata Toure, Senegal). Notably Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa all have some form of quota system (quotaProject, 2014).
Having more women does not mean a representative democracy is built as it is not just gender balance that needs to be considered but ethnicity, language groups etc. as well.
Additionally, the bias quota system will cause future problems. In the future men will need to be targeted and receive help. For example in Rwanda the focus on including women has pushed men out of politics. Implementing quotas favours the creation of a certain ‘representative democracy’. The democracy becomes ‘represented’ by what we think democracy should look like.
Including women in politics helps enable poverty to be tackled. Poverty is a women’s issue; women are more likely to live in poverty than men, and women are needed in politics to change this. Women understand each other, and what they need.
Furthermore, although data varies, evidence shows gender inequalities remain intertwined to poverty and impoverishment. Women in positions of power and leadership can put the issues women face on the agenda and apply action. There is clearly a need to get women into politics to counter the current ‘boys club’ that exists in most countries where men help each other into positions of power squeezing out women and other methods of doing things.
See further readings: Gender Inequality Index, 2014.
 See further readings: Chant, 2003.
Suggesting that feminising African politics will stop poverty and provide empowerment returns to the ideas we attach to women. Women are often associated with domesticity, care, and reproductivity. Who’s to say that this is what women are or what they stand for? Basing quota systems on what women are believed to do is dangerous – in reality behaviour cannot be predicted, as women remain diverse and heterogeneous. A study has shown that there is no relationship between the number of women cabinet members and the sex of the executive implying that women don’t really help other women in politics (Jalalzai, p.196).
Additionally who is to say that by having women in political roles they will instantly be able to implement and act on their desired policies? How resources and power are distributed within the political system is key. Resources may remain controlled by men.
African politics remains masculinised and strongly male dominated. Implementing quotas shows a commitment to change gender inequalities by increasing women’s political participation (Bachelet, 2013). More women mean gender imbalances can be changed, women empowered, and the territorial boundaries defining what men and women do will become blurred.
Additionally women in African politics can change the ‘boys club’ of bad governance in Africa. Bad governance can be tackled as the prominence of males controlling decisions will be changed, and internal political relations altered. The least corrupt countries on the continent; Rwanda and Botswana both have some form of quota system(quotaproject, 2014, Transparency International, 2013)
Women become integrated into a man’s world. But the territory may not be changed. First, women may become like men in response to the jobs they take up and how one is expected to act in the given role. When we consider what conditions women are introduced, potentially with limited training in public speaking, confidence or acceptance, how will they fare? Their best way forward is to get help from the men already in parliament.
Secondly, how do women experience work and are they treated at work? Quotas introduce more women, however, they may experience gender-based harassment and unfair treatment at work. In the case of Kenya, a female politician was publicly slapped. Who will ensure their rights are protected and they are treated equally in a political world?
Finally, is power redistributed? Frequent protests in Senegal show that despite quota systems being implemented women do not end up with power despite being in parliament. Women are legally enrolled into local and national parties but do their seats ensure they can lead political parties? Does being a local candidate ensure the potential for national progression?
 African Spotlight, 2013.
 Kabwila, 2012.
International relations debates, and conflict theories, suggest more women in politics makes for a safer world. In Pinker’s (2011) book the feminisation of politics is identified as a key factor to explain the decline in conflict and violence – battle deaths have declined from 20 per 100,000 people to only 1 or 2 today. Women are more inclined to call for peace resolution and being ‘maternal beings’ reflect nurturing behaviours.
When we don’t just consider battle deaths the extent to which violence is declining is questionable. Furthermore, we cannot suggest women in politics will limit war, conflict, or violence, as anomalies are found – such as Margret Thatcher’s use of violence in closing down industries across the UK and willingness to engage in the Falklands conflict. Furthermore the idea returns to a preconceived image and ideal women. The women are represented as the caregiver, submerged within traditional constructions of women as nurturing and empathetic.
 See further readings: WDR, 2011.
How can it be assured the women entering African politics are representative of the women in that African nation? Further, will the leader implement politically popular ideas or required policies?
If we are introducing quotas for women in politics we need to think about what women are entering. The concern with race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and class is fundamental as if we accept the principle that an unrepresented group should get a quota of parliamentarians this should not just apply to women. We need to think about who the women are, what they represent, and who. Even for women simple quotas do not ensure effective representation of what all women want, or ensure the means for change. Women are heterogeneous, as are their challenges in life.
The women’s quota is a vital start to tackle underlying inequalities. Quotas of multiple identities such as race, class, age, sexuality, class and ethnicity will need to be included following the implementation of a women’s quota.
Quotas mean more women are able to enter the political world; however, how is it decided what political jobs and positions they can utilise? The inclusion of women into politics in Africa has mainly been in certain departments i.e. gender and health. More powerful women are needed in positions that remain masculinised – such as defence and security. Therefore the quota may introduce more women in politics, however, how active are they in deciding what area of politics? The quota may well be seen merely a means to introduce women passively into new distinct gender roles.
If women are believed to be granted positions as a result of the quotas, rather than it being a position they have earned, they may be more at risk of marginalisation at work. Having a quota provides a reason to argue that an exceptional woman has received her place no based upon merit but due to the quota. This may be used as an excuse to prevent women reaching the most important positions.
Working within gender departments does not mean a woman will be limited in integrating with departments of security. Politics is integrated, and interconnected, therefore learning how to run one political department shows how to run another. Having a woman represent a department shows them in a position of power regardless of the department. We should not believe that the department of health is somehow less important than Defense.
Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden and Denmark – have high female participation rates in parliament. However, Rwanda is one African nation that has even greater female parliamentary representation. In Scandinavia the quota has been introduced but is only implemented by some parties. Nevertheless there is little difference between parties in Denmark, for example, that utilise the quota and those that do not. This shows that voluntary quotas can work but also that they are not really necessary. This is because the position of women and capability to engage in politics was tackled first. The key thing is the perception of women; if they are perceived equally and voted for on their own merits women will win as often as men. This shows, crucially, political participation by women should not be dependent on quotas. We should not rely on quotas for gender equality.
Women face multiple barriers to political participation; deeper action is required to adjust imbalances rather than simple quotas. Having quotas simply encourages a perception that gender matters in politics when the desired outcome is the opposite; a belief by the electorate that politics is genderless with both as able to perform the role. In Senegal for example, the quota is being criticised as challenging traditional culture and patriarchal society norms it is however those norms that need to be changed not just the number of women in politics.
 See further readings: Hirsch, 2012.
It remains difficult to compare the experiences of women in Scandinavia and Africa. The contexts – history, ideas, and social geographies – are completely different. While Scandinavia may well not need quotas to change perceptions in Africa it may be the best way to do so. Women in Africa need a voice, and therefore politics provides a platform for their empowerment both vocally and in their use of public space. Quotas are a fast-track. It’s not forcing change but guiding and enabling it.
Bachlet, M., in Adewunmi, B., ‘Women in African Politics: A Vote of Confidence’, The Guardian, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/09/women-african-politics-vote-cameroon
The Economist, 2013, ‘Women are Winning: Africa’s Female Politicians’, The Economist Online, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21589490-quota-systems-are-transforming-african-parliaments-women-are-winning
Hausmann, R., Tyson, D, L., and Zahidi, S. The Global Gender Gap Report, 2011, http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-2011/
Jalalzai, F., ‘A Woman in Charge of the Country? Women Prime Ministers and Presidents-A (Not Quite) Global Phenomenon’, The Executive Branch: Women and Leadership, http://www.umsl.edu/~jalalzaif/A_Woman_in_Charge.pdf
Pinker, S., 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
quotaProject, ‘Country overview’, quotaproject.org, accessed 4/3/2014, http://www.quotaproject.org/country.cfm
Transparency International, ‘Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, 2013, http://www.transparency.org/cpi2013/results