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.

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