How open are democracies to women?

A democracy is a system in which everyone in the country who is old enough to vote can participate in choosing the next government. But in countries where everyone can vote, and the population is 50% women, why do women appear so little in positions of power?

The average percentage of women in parliament in African countries is less than 25%. This means issues that are relevant to women might often be ignored.

How are some governments structured against women’s participation?

Some countries have core issues within their systems of government which often prevent women gaining positions of power. These countries tend to have a system of patronage (this means that government ministers can put their supporters in positions of power).

Also, in order to seem more open to different groups, some governments give women positions in which they have a title, but are unable to exercise any real power. This often does not let these women push for more structural changes to government which could solve these issues. These problems mean that in countries such as Nigeria women make up just 6% of parliament. 

Why do countries with well-functioning democracies still not have many women in power?

Even countries which welcome change struggle to elect many women. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, the attitudes of voters are not always so welcome to change. Sometimes there are even violent reactions against women standing in elections, such as in Ghana. This leads to women being too scared to try and access positions of power.

Secondly, many African countries use a voting system called ‘first-past-the-post.’ This means that the political candidate who wins the most votes in a certain region will go on to represent this region in government, even if they do not win the majority of votes. This makes it difficult to implement quotas (rules for the minimum representation of a certain group.)

Finally, there are still fewer women who receive a full education in many countries, and expectations that women have duties in the home mean they are less likely to seek a job.

Where has progress been made?

Nevertheless, across Africa there has been an overall increase in the average percentage of women in government over the last 20 years.

Some special efforts have been made by Uganda. This is because a group called the Ugandan Women Parliamentarian Association managed to campaign and make changes to the Ugandan constitution (a body of rules according to which a state is governed.) There is now a quota that ⅓ of the government should be made up of women.

An organisation called FOWODE (Forum for Women in Democracy) also actively encourages women across Africa to participate in government, educating them in speech-making and other important skills.

One of the most noteworthy examples is Rwanda, whose parliament is made up of 62% women, and therefore has the largest participation of women in the world!

We can therefore look positively towards the future, with more and more governments taking up measures to make sure more women are involved in democracy.



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