For the last decade, Africa has been a hotbed of innovation in a variety of fields: design, social businesses, and healthcare, for example. That is why it is unsurprising that Africa is at the forefront of gender equality in political representation. According to Dayo Olopade’s New York Times article on July 10, 2012, “The Fairer Leaders,” 20 sub-Saharan countries have passed quota systems for gender equality in governmental representation.
One of the more recent examples is the new constitutional mandate in Kenya that requires one-third of Parliament seats to be held by women. Heading the top six countries dominant in female leadership is Rwanda, with 56% female parliament members. After enduring years of corruption, famine, disease and high crime rates, these governments recognize that fairer and more diverse political representation is one key to real progress.
This all goes to show that we here in the “advanced” Western world have a thing or two to learn from these developing countries. Contrast Rwanda’s 56% with the 17% of female senators currently serving in the US Senate and the meager number of female senators over the course of our country’s entire history–thirty nine–and we will see that in terms of political representation, America is still far from advanced in this respect.
Regardless of your stance on quota systems, Africa’s inclusive approach to leadership, in opening up seats of power to previously silent populations, has undeniably paved the way towards a more humanitarian and progressive political process. Central to this approach to leadership is the extraordinary recognition that to change the world, we must invite all members of society to speak and to lead.
We here at the OEP are inspired by these political shifts in Africa, by women such as Liberian president (and Nobel laureate) Ellen Johnson and Malawian chief executive Joyce Banda. As 88.8% of the world’s 197 self-governing countries have male heads of state, these 20 sub-Saharan countries are true pioneers and visionaries. They dared to open up the door to a future generation of leaders, to imagine and realize a society where the governing voices are diverse and dynamic, to bring forth new voices and carry out real political and social change.
- Xueli Wang and Taryn Yaeger
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