Why Africa leads world in women’s leadership

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Patricia de Lille is sworn in as South Africa's Public Works and Infrastructure Minister by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in Pretoria, South Africa, May 30. She is one of 14 women in the new 28-minister cabinet.

When South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his new Cabinet late Wednesday night, his country joined a rarified global club, becoming just the 11th nation on earth where at least 50% of government ministers are women. By comparison, just three of President Donald Trump’s 15 cabinet members are women, and the most-female Cabinet the U.S. has ever had was 41 percent women, during Bill Clinton’s second term.

But it’s really no surprise to see an African country outpacing the U.S. when it comes to political gender equality. Since the 1990s, sub-Saharan Africa has been a global leader in pushing political gender parity.  Four of the top ten countries in the world with the highest percentage of women in their legislatures are here – including No. 1 Rwanda, whose Parliament is more than 60% female. And just last year, Ethiopia announced its own gender-equal Cabinet – along with a female president and a female chief justice of its Supreme Court.

But political gender equality is also rarely as straightforward as it seems. As I’ve written in the past, many countries see appointing lots of women as a simple way to signal to the world just how progressive they are – without having to do the nitty-gritty work of actually bringing equality to every layer of their society.

Still, few deny the symbolic victory. See enough women in high places, and it’s hard not to begin believing that’s where they belong.

Why We Wrote This

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced 50% of his new cabinet would be women. Since the 1990s, sub-Saharan Africa has led the global push for women's rights in politics.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.