While Africa leads the world in the number of women appointed to important positions in government, reality for most women, outside the rarefied atmosphere of high-level politics and business, remains entrenched in old habits, especially when it comes to violence. Can the #MeToo movement which has revolutionised gender discourse in the West also sweep across the continent? Thomas Collins discusses.
When, late last year, women began to make their sexual abuse allegations against former
Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, the events set in motion a movement which empowered women across the globe as they articulated and decried similar shared experiences. Almost one year on, the momentum looks set to have irreversibly progressed the gender debate in Western Europe and North America, but the many issues around equality in Africa remain.
On the one hand, the continent is witnessing a high-level empowerment push with governments and leading businesses opening their doors to more women. On the other, strict gender roles elsewhere in society continue to be accompanied by not uncommon cases of gender-based violence.
Positions of power
The recent appointment of Sahle-Work Zwede as Ethiopia's President follows on from a string of African women reaching top administrative positions, including the former Presidents of both Mauritius and Liberia.
Africa, in fact, scores relatively well when it comes to a global comparison of gender equality in politics. As a case in point, Rwanda leads the rest of the world, with women accounting for a staggering 61.2% of its legislators. This is over double the minimum 'critical mass' figure needed for women to achieve meaningful influence within an administrative system, which stands at around 33%.
Although the continent as a whole scores just below this figure, Sub-Saharan Africa convincingly trumps Asia, Arabia and the Pacific Islands with an average of 23.5% of women in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
These achievements have been spurred on by top-level engagement from multilateral organisations like the UN and AU. Similarly, most humanitarian bodies, for instance the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have marked gender as a top priority.
Yet at times progress can be slow. Kenya, for example, adopted a new constitution in 2010, which legislated for the 'critical mass' by stipulating that no more than two-thirds of any appointed or elected body can be of the same gender.
Yet eight years...