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Africa is steadily marching toward gender parity


Africa is steadily marching toward gender parity [Graphics : Hope Mukami]

Africa is making significant strides towards closing gender gaps across key areas: economic participation, education, health, and political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum.


Bonface Orucho, bird story agency


Namibia is among a select group of nine nations globally that have successfully closed over 80% of their gender gap, marking a significant stride towards equality.


According to a 2023 report from the World Economic Forum, Namibia has achieved an impressive 80.2% closure, securing the rank of 8th worldwide in bridging this gap.


Leaders include Iceland (91.2%), Norway (87.9%), Finland (86.3%), New Zealand (85.2%), Sweden (81.5%), Germany (81.5%), and Nicaragua (81.1%), with Namibia next, at 80.2%.

“Sub-Saharan Africa’s parity score is the sixth highest among the eight regions at 68.2%, ranking above Southern Asia, the Middle East and North Africa,” the report finds.


Alongside Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, and 13 other nations in the region have effectively closed more than 70% of their gender gaps. However, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Chad lag behind with scores below 62%.


The Global Gender Gap Report 2023 evaluates economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health, survival, and political empowerment indicators. Notably, excluding North Africa, Africa has made strides in closing its gender gap by over 5% since the inaugural report in 2006.


While progress is described as "uneven" across the continent, specific metrics indicate significant advancements in certain countries.


Liberia, Eswatini and Burundi top the ranking table in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex.


The report highlights encouraging rises in women's representation in key positions across countries like the DRC, Tanzania, and Rwanda.


Josephine Dawuni, a consultant at the Institute for African Women in Law, explained how bridging the gender gap is playing out on the continent, citing developments in the leadership of constitutional courts and the judicial system.


“Several countries across the continent have almost equal numbers of women and men at the bar,” she said in a June article published in The Conversation.


“Some countries, such as Cape Verde, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia and Sierra Leone, have had women as presidents of the bar association or law society,” she adds.


Despite remarkable progress, the report emphasizes the need for further work, particularly in narrowing educational gaps. Excluding North Africa, the continent ranks lowest in closing the educational attainment gap. However, in Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia, the educational gender gap is fully closed, with all three achieving a 100% ranking.


The report highlights disparities in enrollment in primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

“Apart from Mali, Guinea and Chad, all countries have more than 90% parity in enrollment in primary education, and 16 have reached full parity. Ten countries have less than 90% parity in secondary education and 21 countries have less than 90% parity in tertiary education,” the report highlights.


Despite low scores in the African Mediterranean region, there is notable progress based on key signals in some countries, suggesting educational attainment is gaining ground. Egypt, for instance, has registered an increase in both the share of women in senior officer positions and women in technical positions.


Earlier in the year, Nemat Shafik, an Egyptian-born woman economist, was unveiled as the first female to head Columbia University in New York.


The New Arab, an Egypt-based news platform, reported in January that the university’s board of trustees described Shafik as a “brilliant and able global leader, a community builder and a preeminent economist who understands the academy and the world beyond it.”


The Health and Survival subindex ranks Africa third highest at 97.2%, trailing behind Latin America and the Caribbean. However, countries to the north display a substantial gap with an average score of 62.5%.


The political empowerment subindex displays the largest gender gap of all the metrics. Mozambique and Rwanda are the top performers in bridging the gender gap in politics, with scores of just 54.2% and 54.1%, respectively.


Based on the number of seats in parliament, Rwanda is the most gender-equal country on the continent. Alongside Mexico, Nicaragua, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand, Rwanda has attained full parity by this benchmark, meaning that half or more positions in its parliament are held by women.


On the other side of the continent, another small country, Benin, demonstrates rapid growth in this sub-index, improving by 23.2 percentage points. The Beninese general elections held earlier this year saw a record number of women elected into the national assembly with 28 out of 109 parliamentary seats now held by women.


Nevertheless, Dawuni stresses that beyond numerical representation, the primary challenge lies in shifting the focus towards broader gender representation in leadership roles.


“There is no shortage of qualified women... What is needed is a shift in systems, institutional practices, norms and perceptions to accommodate more women in leadership positions,” she added.


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