South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last week made a key statement when he named a Cabinet composed of 50 per cent women. His announcement followed similar moves by Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last October, appointed a Cabinet of 10 women and 10 men. He also appointed a female chief justice, president and electoral commission chief.
The same month, Rwanda President Paul Kagame unveiled a Cabinet with 13 women out of a total of 26. Rwanda is a global leader in women’s representation in Parliament with 61 per cent women. Notably, six out of 10 gender-balanced cabinets in the world were formed last year.
In January 2014, United Nations Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reported only three countries — Nicaragua, Sweden and Finland — had at least 50 per cent of women ministers.
This figure went up to five countries in 2015 namely Finland, Cape Verde, Sweden, France, and Lichtenstein. In 2017, six countries Bulgaria, France, Nicaragua, Sweden, Canada, and Slovenia achieved gender parity in positions of leadership.
The recent appointment of gender-balanced cabinets in South Africa, Ethiopia, and Rwanda brings the list of countries with at least 50 per cent of female ministers to 11 globally. Worldwide, the average is 18.3 per cent despite women making up half the world’s population.
Here in Kenya, less than 20 women have been appointed to serve in the Cabinet since independence. Last January, only six women made the cut in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second Cabinet.
This is not the only sector where women representation in top leadership positions has been skewed in favour of men. Our representation of women in cabinet and other top positions has been, and remains, low even after putting in place measures such as affirmative action to address such.
Which leads to the question: Are we really starved of qualified women leaders? The answer is an emphatic No!
We have qualified and experienced women. But their rise in top leadership positions has been held by gender stereotyping, patriarchal structures and lack of political goodwill.
Since the inauguration of the new Constitution in 2010, which established a gender quota, the Legislature has made several attempts to implement the two-thirds gender rule to no success.
The role of women in society cannot be underestimated. Gender parity is a mirror of a country’s democratic credentials, its fairness and equitable representation of its population.
Appointing women to top leadership positions sends a powerful message to girls that the status quo is not inevitable. Ensuring gender representation is not just a balancing act, it has a direct impact on the present and future Kenya. —[email protected]