Africa's Gender Equality Review 2017

Women Breaking the Ceiling in Africa in 2017

Women and girls in the African continent continue to bear disproportionately the triple burdens of poverty, illiteracy and disease. They also continue to be targets of violence and abuse. However, despite the many challenges, some women in various countries of Africa managed to break the glass ceilings in different sectors in 2017.


Women in Politics

In the political sector, by October 2017, there were 11 women serving as Heads of States and 12 women serving as Heads of Governments in Africa. Rwanda had the highest number of female parliamentarians worldwide, with women occupying 63.8% of the seats in the lower house.

However, as of June 2017, in the single, lower and upper houses of Parliament in Sub-Saharan Africa combined, women comprised only 23.6% of the total.

By August, Africa had three female vice-presidents. Before her appointment, Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang of the Gambia had served with United Nations and as a government minister. She is a pro-democracy activist and is credited as one of the brains behind the coalition that toppled the former president.

Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu held a ministerial portfolios and was serving as a legislator when she was picked by President John Pombe Magufuli. She  joined politics in 2000 after working in the public sector including a stint with World Food Programme (WFP).

Zambia’s Inonge Mutukwa Wina has served as a legislator and was the leader for the ruling Patriotic Front Party. She was appointed by Edgar Lungu as his running mate. She has held many leadership positions in the public and private sectors in Zambia

History was made in Kenya after six women were elected for the first time in the August 8th 2017 elections to gubernatorial and senatorial positions. Both the senate and the gubernatorial seats have been male dominated. The elected governors are Joyce Laboso for Bomet county, Anne Waiguru for Kirinyaga county and Charity Ngilu for Kitui county in the Rift Valley, Central and Eastern regions of the country.

Joyce Laboso, who won the seat with a huge margin, was previously the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. Anne Waiguru is a former Cabinet Secretary for Devolution while Charity Ngilu is a seasoned politician. She was the first woman to vie, unsuccessfully,  for the presidential seat in 1997. Since then she has held several cabinet positions under different governments.

The senators who were elected are Margaret Kamar for Uasin Gishu county, Susan Kihika for Nakuru county and Fatuma Dullo for Isiolo county.

The women representation in the parliament also increased by 6 from 16 female members of Parliament in 2013 to 22 in 2017.

Earlier in February, Egypt got its first woman governor when Nadia Ahmed Abdou Saleh was appointed to lead the Nile Delta Governorate of Beheira in Egypt. She was previously appointed a deputy governor in 2013. A trained engineer, Governor Nadia Ahmed has worked with UNESCO on an International Hydrological Programme project on groundwater governance. She is a member of National Council for Women’s Rights and a member of Businesswomen’s Association in Alexandria. Nadia is an advocate for women’s rights and has been very vocal in encouraging women to participate in the state’s politics and as she talked about the discrimination women face in politics, she stated that “ can cut through discrimination via personal behaviour and example.”

Women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged. In the Gambia, Ndey Yassin Secka-Sallah made news by being appointed as the first visually impaired female MP by president Adama Barrow. Ndey Yassin who is a former broadcaster at the Gambia Radio and Television Services and was appointed early April with five other as per the Gambia’s constitution requires. Ndey Yassin is one of three women appointed to the National Assembly, including the current speaker and lawyer Mariam Jack Denton and lawyer Kumba Jaiteh. Gambia’s National Assembly has only one elected female member of parliament Fatoumata Jawara, from  the majority party United Democratic Party.

Ndey Secka has been a key advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and is a member of Gambia’s Organisation for the Visually Impaired.


Female Leadership in the United Nations

In the international arena, Amina Mohammed who is a former minister for Environment in Nigeria was appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General for the United Nations by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Amina Mohammed is the second African Woman to be appointed on this position the first one being Tanzania’s Asha-Rose Migiro who served on the same position between 2007 to 2012.


Women in the Armed Forces

In March 2017, Constance Edjean-Afenu was appointed to the position of Brigadier-General. She joined the Ghanaian armed forces when she was only 18 years of age, rising through the ranks in the armed forces. She was appointed as the Deputy Military Advisor to Ghana’s permanent mission in New York in 2013.In an event to honour her appointment she encouraged young girls to hold on to their dreams and to aspire for greater heights in their chosen professions.


Women and Law

In June, Justice Sofia Abena Baofo Akuffo took oath of office as Chief Justice of Ghana. Justice Sofia Abena was the second female Chief Justice and the 13th holder of that position of head of the judicial systems in Ghana. She succeeded Georgina Theodora Wood, who retired after 10  years of holding the position of Chief Justice. Justice Sofia was among the first judges of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. She has also been in the Supreme Court since 1995.


July 2017


Tunisia is a country regarded as a pioneer for women’s rights in the Arab world. On July 26 2017, the Tunisian parliament approved the law on violence against women including domestic violence. According to a survey done in 2010 from the National Family Office 47% of women experience domestic violence in their lives in Tunisia. This law includes provisions on harassments in public places and economic discrimination. Amna Guellali, Tunisia Office Director at Human Rights Watch said “ The Government should now fund and support institutions to translate the law into genuine protection.”

Women’s rights organisations in Tunisia have campaigned for domestic laws for decades. This led to elimination of a penal code a provision that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim, striking a blow against impunity for rape.


Women in Peacemaking

Empowerment of women in Africa is one of the most important ways of ensuring economic development. Women and children are the most vulnerable across the African continent but in recent years women have been playing major roles in peacemaking.

Women and youth of South Sudan held a peace concert in September aimed at highlighting the positive activities and the efforts to end the ongoing violence in their country.The concert highlighted the challenges that they are facing as a result of the war. This event was supported by United Nations Mission in South Sudan. According to the UN most women in South Sudan have been sexually abused or even gang raped. Almost a quarter of the population flee their homes and are now living as refugees in the neighbouring countries and depending on international aid.


Women and Sports

In November, Farida Osman an Egyptian swimmer won the Best Female Athlete from Africa 2017 at the Association of the National Olympic Committees( ANOC) awards in Prague, Czech Republic.Farida who is nicknamed the golden fish won Egypt’s first medal during the FINA World Aquatics Championships, after she came in third in the 50m butterfly race.

According to a press release Farida said “...i am determined to continue to work hard, improve, and become an inspiration for future athletes.”

The following month, in December, 21 year old Malawian female boxer Anisha Bashir was crowned as the African Boxing Union super lightweight champion. She was awarded 1 million Malawian Kwacha (USD 1,400) cash for winning the title following a technical knockout ninth-round victory over Kenyan Consolata Musanga in Nairobi Kenya.

The money awarded to Anisha Bashir was raised by all Malawian cabinet secretaries after the minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, Francis Kasaila informed them about Anisha’s victory in Kenya.

The cabinet secretary who handed the money to Anisha applauded her success and encouraged her to aim higher in her boxing career, he also requested other athletes and sports officials to continue taking sporting activities seriously.

Kenyan and Ethiopian female athletes continued to break world records in track events. Kenyan Joyciline Jepkoskei broke records for 5, 10 and 15 kilometres (road) in Prague in September and April 2017. She broke the half marathon record in April in Prague, and then broke her own record again a few months later in October in Valencia.

Her compatriot, Mary Jepkosgei Keitany broke the world record at the London Marathon in April 2017.

Compiled by Lucy Kinuthia, Intern Jaslika Consulting