Women in Political Parties in Africa

  • Antonia Taiye Okoosi-SimbineEmail author
  • Ndifon Neji Obi
Living reference work entry


This chapter examines women in political parties in Africa. It provides a conceptual background to explore the historicity, constraints, and participation of women in politics in Africa and sketches the growing visibility of Africa as the beacon of women participation in politics in the world. The chapter argues that women are critical, invincible, and integral actors in the sustenance of democracy. It identifies the structure of the political system, the patriarchal nature of society, inadequate access to education and means of production, inadequate social capital, and the “Hobbesian” political environment (thuggery, gang wars, kidnappings, and political assassinations) as some of the factors militating against the full expression and visibility of women in partisan politics. The thesis proposed by this chapter is that although, women are weighed down by political, social, cultural, and religious factors; the gendered glass ceiling of male dominated political space can be smashed through relevant policy framework and commensurate political will to implement policies.


Africa African Charter Election Electoral quotas Gender Participation Partisan politics Politics Political party United Nations Charter Women 


The conversation about women in politics has gained traction in the last three decades particularly with post-conflict Rwanda distorting the patriarchal political ecology of Africa, and indeed, the world with 61% of women in its Chambers of Deputies. There is a burgeoning consensus around the evidence that higher numbers of women in politics and specifically, the parliament contribute to stronger attention to women’s issues. Women’s political participation is therefore, fundamental to gender equality and genuine democracy. It facilitates women’s direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of ensuring better accountability to women. Political parties generally, provide the platform through which women, like their male counterparts, can be mobilized for political participation. Since the third wave of democratization in 1974 (Huntington 1991), different genres of multiparty political system have emerged. Today, more than ever before, people essentially elect their leaders through a system of multiparty elections contested by both men and women.

Political parties are therefore “indispensable voluntary and informal associations of society, where people share commonly understood values, customs and attitudes to their role in politics. They are products of and operate within economic structures, and in a context of interests that are affected by and respond to the accumulation and distribution of goodwill and resources, including the wealth of society” (Leiserson 1955). Weiner (1967, pp. 1–2) notes that “in competitive political systems, parties are organized by politicians to win elections; in authoritarian systems, parties are organized to affect the attitudes and behaviour of the population. In both instances, an organizational structure must be forged, money must be raised, cadres recruited, officers elected or selected, and procedures for internal governing established and agreed upon.” The existence of political parties is however, no guarantee for women participation in politics as the system is inadvertently structured to favor men than women. Across Africa, there are indications of structural roadblocks that seem to challenge women participation in party politics. To this end, Dahlerup (2018) cited in Bauer (2019, p. 13) asks whether “democracy has failed women in not bringing them into political office in proportion to their presence in the overall population”. One of the many hurdles for women in the “old democracies,” according to Dahlerup, may be that women are seen as “intruders” in male dominated spaces. A point is further made when consideration is given to the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir who according to her “Anatomy as Destiny” (Puechguirbal 2005) viewpoint, defined women according to “what they are, not what they do.” Women are constructed as passive elements subordinated to a male power always apprehended within a more active dynamics. As a result, women are very often associated with maternal capacity only, thus keeping them secluded from outside political activities (Obi 2017) even though the “biological fate” of women is considered a major asset for strengthening democracy. Bauer (2019) makes the point that the assumption that women would access key political positions as countries become more democratic has failed, and this, according to Tripp (2005, p. 49), is because “women’s ability to participate effectively in the key institutions of governance is constrained or facilitated by the broader political framework in which they find themselves.”

It is appropriate to ask at this point if women participation in party politics in Africa is a product of the weakness of women or the weakness and seeming invisibility of women in politics is itself a product of party politics. In other words, women cannot effectively participate in politics because they are weak, and they are weak because political parties have inherent elements/processes that are not conducive to the effective participation of women in party politics. This converse relationship highlights the following from the literature:
  • Essentialist perspectives suggest that there are innate biological attributes of women (maternal capacity) that seem to support and sustain the narrative of women indisposition to effectively and actively participate in party politics even though this position has been overwhelmingly challenged by feminists.

  • Feminist perspectives rather assert that there are structural roadblocks in the polity that essentially makes effective women participation in politics difficult.

  • The society is essentially patriarchal in nature which clearly creates and sustains conditions conducive to male dominance in party politics.

  • Despite these hurdles to effective participation in party politics, women in the words of Tamale (2000) are “smashing the gendered ‘glass ceiling’ in a bid to overcome cultural and structural barriers that impede their political careers.”

Across Africa therefore, women have demonstrated strength and are significantly seen occupying key elective executive and parliamentary positions despite obvious challenges. Within this context, this chapter examines women in political parties in Africa by providing a conceptual background to explore the barriers faced by women in effective participation in politics and sketches their growing involvement and visibility in party politics. The chapter is therefore, organized around ten subtitles. The introduction is followed by topics which include an x-ray of the history of women participation in politics in Africa, identification of international and regional instruments supportive of women participation in politics, snapshots of women participation in party politics in Africa, review of women as party and parliamentary executives in Africa, examination of the percentage of women in parliament across regions, highlight of lessons that can be drawn from Africa on women participation in political parties/politics, review of the factors that limit women participation in politics, and strategies for promoting women participation in political parties and politics. The chapter rounds up with a statement of conclusion and references.

Is Women Participation in Party Politics in Africa: A Recent Development?

Research on women and politics in Africa (Tripp 2017) indicate that women participation in politics is indeed, not a recent development. A few examples of the historicity of women participation in politics in Africa can be cited. On the auspices of Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), as early as 1938, Constance Cummings-John, at the age of 20, became the first female and the youngest politician to win an election in African colonies in a modern legislative structure. She served for 28 years from 1938 to 1942 and from 1952 to 1966 as Municipal Councilor of Freetown and later won a seat in the House of Representatives in the pre-independence 1957 elections, and in 1966 she was elected mayor of Freetown. She became the first African mayor of a major African city (Falola and Amponsah 2012; Adi and Sherwood 2003).

On the platform of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), Mkamangi Elifuraha Marealle became the first African member of the Legislative Council (LEGCO) in 1955, while Ndigwako Bertha Akim King’ori was the first nominated woman to the Legislative Council in 1957. Leading up to independence in 1961, Tanganyika had the largest percentage of women in any African parliament in 1960 with 10% (6) of the seats held by women (Tripp 2017; Yoon 2008). Ghana came a close second at the time with 10 women (8.7%) filling specially elected seats in a parliament of 114 members. On the political platform of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Dove Danquah became the first woman elected to parliament in Ghana in 1954. Beyond women presenting themselves for elective positions on the auspices of different political parties across Africa, the consciousness, mobilization, and advocacy of women organizations paid off when some African women were recognized and appointed into Legislative Councils (LEGCO) in Ugandan. Through the efforts of the African Women’s League in Uganda, for instance, Pumla Kisosonkole (of South African origin but married to a Ugandan) and Sarah Nyendwoha (Ntiro) were, in 1956 and 1958, respectively, appointed into parliament (Tripp 2000). They joined Barbara Saben and Alice Boase (of British origin) the first two women representatives in Uganda who were elected in 1954 as members of LEGCO out of a total of 60 members.

Senedu Gebru became the first women to be elected into parliament in Ethiopia in 1957 (Tripp 2017; Sheldon 2016; New York Times 1957). In Nigeria, under the auspices of the Action Group (AG), Wuraola Adepeju Esan won a seat on the Ibadan Urban City Council in 1958 and in 1960 and became the first female senator representing Ibadan West in the Nigerian National Assembly (Tripp 2017; Sheldon 2016; Dunbar 1993). Through advocacy by the Kenya African Women’s League, a similar feat was achieved in Kenya when Priscilla Ingasiani Abwao was appointed as the first African woman into the Legislative Council in 1961. In Zambia, Princess Wina Nakatindi was elected as the first female Member of Parliament in 1964. In Sudan, on the platform of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim became the first woman to be elected into parliament in 1965 and later became a leader of the SCP and founder of the Sudanese Women’s Union (Tripp 2017; Sudan Tribune 2007). It is evident from the foregoing that women’s active participation in party politics preceded independence in most Africa states.

International Instruments Supportive of Women’s Participation in Politics

Over the years, the issues regarding women political rights and equal participation in electoral politics have become prominent in world politics and received varied treatment by the United Nations and its specialized agencies. The principle of equality of men and women was recognized in the United Nations Charter (1945) and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (NEC 2017). More recently, the right to the full participation of women in politics is also supported by international political commitment in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goals 5 and 10 of the SDGs are specifically directed at addressing gender equality and reduction of inequalities. Other international binding and nonbinding legal instruments include: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (Articles 2, 13, 14); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (Article 2); Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW – 1979) (Article 10); Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) (Article 142b); Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000); and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women (2003) (Obi 2017). These instruments provide impetus for women participation in politics generally, and particularly in Africa.

Women’s Participation in Party Politics in Africa

While it is easy to see a deluge of literature on women participation in politics in Africa, it is not as easy to specifically establish the level of women’s participation in political parties. Under this subtheme, the study would attempt to examine women’s participation in political parties in some countries in Africa.

Across Africa, women participate in political parties at different levels. In Liberia specifically, although party politics like in several other countries is male dominated due to politico-economic and sociocultural factors, findings from a research on women’s participation as candidates in elections from 2005 to 2015 conducted by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Liberia in 2017 indicate that women have consistently participated in partisan politics. This is highlighted in the table below.

The first observable deduction from Table 1 is the evidence that women participate in partisan politics despite obvious challenges. The NEC research further demonstrates that from 2005 to 2015 (2 general elections, 14 by-elections, and 1 special senatorial election) the highest number of women (16.9) who participated in party politics as candidates ran on the Unity Party platform that produced Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first elected female president of Liberia. Other salient deductions could be further made from the NEC research. The research indicated that 80.2% of the female candidates were working class elites, while 19.8% were nonworking class elites. The age bracket of 47–51 years constituted the highest number of women participants in politics with candidates from 2005 to 2015 representing 23.7%. The research also shows that 85.5% of the women candidates contested the general elections, 7.9% the special senatorial election, and 5.5% in by-elections out of which 2.0% contested as President, 1.6% as Vice President, 24.1% as Senators, and 72.3% as Representatives. Overall, the NEC (2017) research uncovered that an aggregate of 45.8% of female candidates contested 2005 general elections, while 42.7% contested 2011 general elections. In 2014, NEC (2017) further noted that 7.9% of the 139 candidates who contested the 20th December election to fill the 15 vacant seats in the Senate were women, while 1.2% of the 10 candidates who contested by-elections into the Upper House of the National Legislature in 2009 in Montserrado County and in 2015 in Lofa County were women (FrontPage Africa 2015; BBC News 2014; The Informer 2009). The total number of males who contested was 2,341, while females who contested were 576 in total. A total of 30 female candidates won election into different positions representing 11.9%.
Table 1

Female candidates’ representation by political party in Liberia (2005–2015)


Number of candidates


All Liberian Coalition Party



Alliance for Peace and Democracy



Alternative National Congress



Congress for Democratic Change



Citizens Unification Party



Coalition for Transformation of Liberia



Free Alliance Party of Liberia



Free Democratic Party



Grassroots Democratic Party of Liberia



Labor Party of Liberia



Liberia Destiny Party



Liberia Empowerment Party



Liberia National Union



Liberia Reformation Party



Liberia Transformation Party



Liberty Party



Movement for Progressive Change



National Democratic Coalition



National Patriotic Party



National Reformation Party



National Union for Democratic Progress



National Democratic Party of Liberia



Original Congress Party of Liberia



People’s Unification Party



Progressive Democratic Party



Progressive People’s Party



Reformed United Liberia Party



Union of Liberian Democrats



United Democratic Alliance



Unity Party



Victory for Change









Source: NEC (2017)

In Ghana, there is evidence of women participation in nation building during the period leading to the independence of Ghana especially through the Convention People’s Party (CPP) (Tsikata 1989). With the return to democratic rule after years of military rule, 53 women contested for parliamentary positions on the platforms of National Democratic Congress (NDC) Party and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1996. An aggregate of 18 women won seats into parliament out of the 53 who contested representing about 32%. Thirteen won on the platform of NDC and five on the auspices of NPP (Allah-Mensah 2005).

Women participation in partisan politics in Ghana further received expression during the 2000 election. Record has it that the NDC was the party that fielded the highest number of female candidates (approximately 23.2% of total – 95) at the close of nominations on September 13, 2000, followed by the National Reform Party (NRP) with 21%; the New Patriotic Party (NPP), 17.9%; and the Convention People’s Party (CPP), 16.8%. The United Ghana Movement (UGM) fielded the lowest number of female candidates, which is 4.2% (Allah-Mensah 2001). It would be noted that between 1996 and 2000, there was a significant increase in women’s participation in partisan politics, as the number of women who contested elections into various positions on the auspices of the CPP, NDC, NPP, and NRP increased from 53 women in 1996 to 1995 and in 2000 representing 56% increase. In 2012, 23 out of the 64 women who participated in the New Patriotic Party (NPP) primaries contested the parliamentary election in 2012 (Public Agenda 2011). In the 7th Parliament of the 4th Republic of Ghana, 2017, the number of women who contested and won election between 2012 and 2016 increased from 29 in the 6th Parliament to 37 in the 7th Parliament. Of the 37 women that were elected, 24 were on the ticket of NPP and 13 on the ticket of NDC (Ghana General Elections 2016). In all, 1,158 parliamentary candidates contested the 275 parliamentary seats, and only 137 of the aspirants were women (General News 2016).

In Nigeria, records of women participation in partisan politics to the extent of vying for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria exist. One name that resonates around this sort of discussion is Sarah Jubril. In 2003, she contested for the presidency on the ticket of Progressive Action Congress (PAC) and again contested the party primaries for presidential election on the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007. In addition to the above, only 6 among the 91 political parties fielded female presidential candidates during the 2019 general elections. They include Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Alliance for a United Nigeria (AUN), MAJA, National Action Council (NAC), NIP, and Nigeria People’s Congress (NPC) (Simbine 2019).

“For National Assembly elections, a total of 1,848 candidates (1,615 male and 233 female) vied for 109 Senatorial seats while 4,635 candidates (4,066 male and 569 female) competed for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives” (Ugwu 2018). As for state elections, a total of 1,068 candidates, 980 male and 88 female, contested for 29 governorship positions with 805 male and 263 female deputy governorship candidates (Ugwu 2018). 2018 data shows that women’s rate of participation in formal decision-making remains one of the lowest on the continent and across the world with women occupying an abysmal 5.6% (86 out of 1,534) of all elective positions at both the national and subnational levels (Nwankwor and Nkereuwem 2019). As gender issues and women’s political and economic empowerment take center stage on the global arena, Nigeria appears intent on maintaining its position at the bottom of the ladder of women’s political empowerment. The table below highlights the number of women who contested election versus those who got elected over three election circles from 2007 to 2015 (Table 2).
Table 2

Number of elected women from 2007–2011 to 2011–2015 and 2015–2019 in Nigeria

Elected offices

Female candidates (2007)

Women elected (2007)

Female candidates (2011)

Women elected (2011)

Female candidates (2015)

Women elected (2015)

Women elected (2019)


1 (25)


1 (20)


1 (14)



Vice President

5 (25)


3 (20)


4 (14)




14 (474)


13 (353)

0 (36)

23 (380)



Deputy Governor

21 (474)

6 (36)

58 (347)

1 (36)

64 (380)

4 (29)

4 (29)


59 (799)

9 (109)

90 (890)

7 (109)

128 (746)

8 (109)

5 (109)

House of Representatives

150 (2,342)

26 (360)

220 (2,408)

26 (360)

270 (1,772)

17 (360)

11 (360)

Sources: Nigeria National Elections (2015) and Simbine (2019)

Simbine (2019) informs that no woman won election into the positions of president, vice president, and governor in 2019 as in other years, that women won only 4 of the 29 slots as deputy governors (representing 3.8%), 5 of the 109 senatorial slots (representing 4.59%), and 11 of the 360 House of Representatives slots (representing 3.1%).The point should, however, be made here that beyond women participation in politics at the national level, there are indications of their participation at other levels such as the local government council. The Table 3 below shows the number and percentage of women who participated in elective politics at the local government level from 2007 to 2015 in Nigeria. It should be noted that Nigeria has 774 Local Government Area (LGA) councils divided within the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), but it is not in all the states/LGAs that elections are held regularly or at the same time. Moreover, the tenure of LGA officials is not the same for other state or national level elective offices. Therefore, the NBS (2015) and Quadri (2019) figures regarding total aspirants in the table below are only for locations where such elections held and in the specified years (2007, 2011, and 2015)
Table 3

Percentage of elected female councilors/chairpersons from 2007 to 2015 in Nigeria


Total aspirants (male and female)

Total female aspirants

Percentage of total female elected (%)



























Sources: Statistical Report (2015), Country Profile (2017–2018), and Quadri (2019)

Following the 2015 local government election, 9.8% councilors were female and 4.4% chairpersons were also female, down from 12.5–3.9% in 2011 to 10.2–9.9% in 2007, respectively. All of these statistics imply not just low but reduced female political participation, disempowerment and by extension, lack of ability to bargain, negotiate, and contribute effectively to national development at critical moments. Clearly, there is no equity in gender representation in politics and the democratic process. This point is aptly captured in Simbine (2019) where it was suggested that “if we still cannot find women in political offices, it means that their participation is still largely in the areas of voting during election, dancing for entertainment at political rallies and provision of foods and drinks, as in the past.”

Located in Central/Eastern Africa, Rwanda is credited as being the country with the highest proportion of women in Parliament than any other country in the world. The Rwanda model holds very instructive lessons for countries desirous of “smashing the gendered glass ceiling” of male dominance in politics. Record shows that 537 aspirants contested the September 3, 2018, Parliamentary election with 61% of them being women (Kagire 2018). Political parties submitted 136 female candidates while 179 submitted their bids to contest for the 24 seats available in parliament for women. For the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), 58% of the names it submitted were women, while 41% of the Parti Liberal (PL) candidates were women. Forty-seven percent of Green Party candidates were female, while Parti Sociale Imberakuri (PS Imberakuri) had 37% female candidates. The Social Democratic Party (PSD) submitted the lowest number of women on its list, representing 31% (Kagire 2018). Although, Rwanda is a one-party dominant state with the Rwandan Patriotic Front as the party in power, efforts by opposition parties and gender-friendly policies have created conditions conducive to the active participation of women in partisan politics.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2018), as in November 2018, there were 29 countries globally in which women constituted less than 10% of its parliamentarians including 4 parliaments without women representation. The Union also revealed that, as in November 2018, only 24% of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995. The centrality of the African continent in setting the template for women participation in politics is further enhanced when consideration is given to the evidence that Africa makes up three of the top ten countries with the highest numbers of female parliamentarians in the world. At the top of this global ranking is Rwanda with 61.3%. Others include Namibia with 46.2% and South Africa with 42.7%, while Senegal with 41.8%, Mozambique with 39.6%, and Ethiopia with 38.8% make the top 20 global ranking (Thornton 2019; IPU 2019). To further cement the primacy of the African continent in providing leadership in female participation in politics, the point is reinforced by the additional evidence that African countries like Burundi, 36.4%, Tunisia, 35.9%, Uganda, 34.9%, Zimbabwe, 31.9%, South Sudan, 28.5%, Sudan, 27.7%, Djibouti, 26.2%, and Algeria, 25.8% all exceeded the global average of 24.5% women representation in parliaments (IPU 2019a, b).

While this feat makes Africa the centerpiece of women participation in politics, a survey on women’s participation in politics in 34 African countries by Afrobarometer (a research group that measures public perceptions of socio-economic and political issues in Africa) declares that while countries such as Rwanda and South Africa may have numerically significant women’s parliamentary representation, some of the world’s worst performers are also on the continent. The survey noted, for example, that women have only 6.2% representation in Swaziland, 6.7% in Nigeria, and 8.4% in Benin (Ighobor 2015).

Women as Party and Parliamentary Executives in Africa

Beyond African women participating in politics as candidates for elective positions, there is a deluge of evidence that suggests that they also participate as party and parliamentary executives. A few examples can be cited in this regard. During the 1990s in Morocco, for instance, Nadia Yassine served as the spokesperson of the Movement for Justice and Charity, Nezha Skalli served as Chairperson of the Parliamentary Group of the Socialist Alliance Group in 2003, and Zhour Chkaf as Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in 2007 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2007). Around 1935–1941 in Ethiopia, Woizero Schewareged Gedlie served as leader of the opposition; in 1986, Yeharerwerk Gashaw served as Leader of the Ethiopian Unity People’s Voice Congress Political Party and in 2008, Bertukan Mideksa served as Chairperson of Kinijit/Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2010). From 1999 to 2004, in Namibia, Nora Schimming-Chase served as National President of Congress of Democrats (CoD), Deputy Chief Whip in the National Assembly in 2000, and Deputy Party Leader in 2004, while Carola Engelbrecht served as Secretary General of the Republican Party (RP) in 2003 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2005).

In Nigeria from 1999 to 2000, Florence Ita-Giwa served as Deputy Senate Leader on the auspices of All People’s Party (APP); around 2000, Sarah Nnadwa Jibril served as Deputy National Chairperson of Progressive Liberation Party, Grace Bent served as Deputy National Chairperson of Progressive Liberation Party around 2002, and Patricia Olubunmi Foluke Etteh served as Deputy Chief Whip of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the House of Representatives around 2002 and as Speaker, House of Representatives from June to October 2007 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, 2008). In South Africa, Helen Suzman served as Parliamentary leader of the Progressive Party from 1970 to 1989; Albertina Sisulu served as President of United Democratic Front from 1988 to 1992; Patricia de Lille as Chief Whip of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) from 1994 to 1999 and 2003 as leader of the Independent Democrats; Baleka Mbete as Chairperson of the (ANC) Parliamentary caucus (1995–1996); Thenjiwe Mtintso as Deputy Secretary General of African National Congress, ANC (1998–2007); and Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi as Chairperson of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) (2006–2011) and president of the National Freedom Party (NFP) in 2011 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2014).

In Uganda, Cecilia Atim Ogwal served as Leader of Uganda People’s Congress around 1996, Stella Nambuya as Leader of the Republican Women and Youth Party in 2004, Miria Kalule Obote in 2005 served as President of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Alice Alaso Asianut as Secretary General of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in 2005, and Reiner Kaffire as Deputy President of the Democratic Party in 2005 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2006a). In Zambia, Dr. Chamba Gwendoline G. Konie served as the founding chairperson of the Social Democratic Party in 2000, and Edith Zewelani Nawakwi as Secretary General of the Forum for Democracy and Development, (FDD) in 2001 and in 2001–2005 as Vice President and in 2005 as president. In 2001 Dr. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika served as President of Agenda for Zambia (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2006b). In Zimbabwe, Isabel Shanangurai Madangure served as Leader of Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party around 1991, Margaret Dongo as Chairperson of the Movement for Independent Candidates MP around 1999, Co-Leader of Union Democrats, and Joyce Wachunu Mujuru as Vice-President of ZANU-P from 2004 to 2014 and Party Leader of Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) in 2016 (Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 2006c).

It could be gleaned from the above account that party politics and indeed, management of political parties is not the exclusive preserve of men as African women have demonstrated capacity and consistency in party and parliamentary leadership. Sourcing data for Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Election and Party Monitoring and Legal Departments, Simbine (2019) observed that of the 91 political parties that participated in the 2019 General Election (GE) in Nigeria, 20 or 22% had women in Senior Party Executive positions which include Chairman, National Secretary, and Deputy National Secretary.

Percentage of Women in Parliament Across Regions

The most outstanding gauge for measuring women in political parties is perhaps, the legislature. This is because the legislature provides the largest opportunity for women mobilization and participation in elective politics unlike executive positions like president and governor that are represented by one person. Moreover, legislative positions (along with an enabling environment such as support of male legislators, relationships between female legislators and key actors in civil society, and aid community) give women greater policy influencing opportunity to legislate social and other pro-women policies that tend to positively affect their fellow women more. This position, however, incorporates the understanding that there are women who actively participate in political party politics at different levels other than elective positions. The visibility of such women is however, difficult to measure. Using the legislature, it is therefore, instructive in the context to examine the percentage of women in parliaments across regions with the intent of extrapolation.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2018), wide variations remain in the average percentages of women parliamentarians in each region. As of November 2018, the percentage of women representation in parliament in single, lower, and upper houses combined across regions was identified to include: Nordic countries, 42.3%; Americas, 30%; Europe including Nordic countries, 27.7%; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 26.6%; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.6%; Asia, 19.4%; Arab States, 17.8%; and the Pacific, 17%. Existing record, however, shows that only three countries have 50% or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda as stated earlier tops the list with 61.3%, Cuba with 53.2% and Bolivia with 53.1% and a significant number of countries have attained 30% women representation in parliament. These statistics, however, demonstrate that women even in the most advanced democracies of the world and indeed, on every continent are weighed down by exactly similar challenges as African women. On certain indicators, however, Africa has proven to be ahead of other continents. For instance, while Liberia has produced an elected female president, despite its longer democratic history, the United States has not. While Africa currently has 16 female speakers of national parliaments, the United States has only one, Pelosi, in its entire history. Asia, with three times the population of Africa has only eight currently, and one only in the MENA region. Only Europe (Western Europe) has consistently been an exception of sorts.

According to UN Women (2018), as of November 2018, “49 single or lower houses were composed of 30% or more women, including 21 countries in Europe, 13 in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 in the Pacific and 1 each in Asia and Arab States". The reason for the 30% women representation across the regions is noted by the UN Women to include, legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats, and opening space for women’s political participation in national parliaments.

Are There Lessons to Be Learnt from Africa on Women’s Participation in Political Parties and Politics?

Africa has come to be associated with setting the standard for creating conditions conducive to the growth and active participation of women in partisan politics. Literature on women and politics highlight the spectacular rise, visibility, and impact of women participation in politics in Rwanda to the extent that the country is now adjudged the world leader in women participation in politics. Across Africa, Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, and Senegal feature rates of 61.3%, 46.2%, 42.7%, and 41.8% of women representation in parliament, respectively. This certainly holds useful lessons for other countries in Africa in particular, and the world in general. Electoral gender quotas is often implicated in explaining the feat achieved in Rwanda but it should be noted that the lesson to be learnt from the sustained visibility of women on the political space in Rwanda and indeed, other African countries is better explained by the political will of leadership not only of proposing electoral gender quotas but creating the right framework that enables its implementation.

Generally, research on women in politics in Africa has generated a deluge of literature and contributed to the general discourse on the subject matter. Findings from such Africa-entered researches have advanced explanation of issues concerning increasing rate of female participation in partisan politics. Much of the literature on women and politics in Africa was generated after 1990 around issues of representation, quotas, and institutions, adoption of women’s-rights policies, democratization, and women’s movements. Although, women are traditionally encumbered with and weighed down by a number of factors including inadequate access to means of production, inadequate access to quality education, inadequate social capital, and the cultural assumption that women should legitimately be confined to the domestic sphere, the increasing level of woman participation in politics in Africa demonstrates that these strictures can actually be surmounted not just through relevant policy framework but also through a commensurate political will to implement such policies. Africa, therefore, offers a relevant template for the sustained actualization of women participation in politics. Although, Africa has recorded amiable heights in this direction, the sustained visibility of women in politics in Africa is, however, constrained by a lot of factors.

What Factors Limit Women’s Participation in Partisan Politics?

Women’s exclusion from partisan politics and politics in general is a product of wide-ranging structural, historical, functional, and cultural factors across different sociocultural contexts. It is argued that the capitalist system essentially creates development that rather than release women from oppressive social, economic, and political institutions, merely defines “new conditions of constraints” (Leacock 1977, p. 320). The gendered nature of international capitalism therefore, simply creates conditions conducive to the creation and sustenance of gender disparities. The nature of politics in general and democracy in particular is historically constructed to serve men better than women as depicted in the public-private dichotomy assumption where men are considered to be visible and active in the public sphere and women restrained to private (domestic) life as though men are not part of the domestic life. The public-private dichotomy perspectives cohere with the thoughts of notable political thinkers and philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel, and John Lock, who considered women fit only for domestic roles because of their maternal capacity as mothers and wives (Phillips 1998; Shirin 2000).

Another factor that limits women’s participation in partisan elective politics and politics in general is patriarchy. The world as is seen today is constructed to entrench and sustain male dominance over and above female. It transforms males and females into men and women and construct the hierarchy of gender relations where men are privileged (Eisenstein 1984). The gender role ideology is used as an ideological tool by patriarchy to place women within the private arena of home as mothers and wives and men in the public sphere (Bari 2005). The patriarchal nature of society logically shapes and defines women participation in politics. Although, the gender role/patriarchal ideology is in a state of constant flux, women continue to be known for their maternal capacity in line with what the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir describes as “Anatomy as Destiny” meaning that women are considered for “what they are, not what they do” thus relegating women to the private domestic life of child bearing and away from the public life of politics. For the gendered glass ceiling to be smashed, women would therefore have to renegotiate entry into public life through advocacy. Overall, patriarchy has inadvertently structured the broader perspective of political processes. An obvious factor that limits women participation in this regard is the anatomy and physiology of political parties. Although, some parties have clauses in their constitution that seem to allocate certain percentages of representation to women, in most instances such allotted quotas are hardly filled by women due to internal party politics. Party meetings are in some instances held at such times when women are supposed to be attending to some domestic chores. This obvious insensitivity in political party operations and activities serves as a structural roadblock against women’s full and active participation in party politics. This is often done as a stratagem to reinforce the claim that conflict exists between women supposed public life as party members and their private (domestic) life as caregivers, and even, when they fully participate in politics; they are, however, still seen from the perspective of mothers and wives rather than politicians. This disenabling context limits women participation in partisan politics.

Sociocultural factors are generally implicated in further strengthening the potpourri of issues that place a lid on women participation in party politics. In several cultural settings across regions, cultural norms make women subordinate to men and the female sex is generally valued less than the male sex because of their socially ascribed roles in the reproductive sphere. The gender status quo is maintained through low resource allocation to women’s human development by the state, society, and the family. This is reflected in the social indicators which reflect varying degrees of gender disparities in education, health, employment, ownership of productive resources, and politics in all countries (Bari 2005). This limitation is further deepened when consideration is given to the evidence that women’s primary roles as wives and mothers as well as their official and domestic responsibilities leave them with very little time for active participation in party activities. This is in addition to the fact that politics has become a very expensive enterprise where money is a key determinant of electoral victory. The structure of the society makes it rather difficult for women to have access to and ownership of productive resources, thus, limiting their capacity to effectively participate in partisan politics. This is coupled with the Hobbesian nature of politics where thuggery, gang wars, assassinations, kidnappings, and ritual killings tend to structure political interaction between political actors.

Generally, the level of women’s participation in partisan politics is contingent on a lot of factors including commitment to the attainment of equality of rights and opportunities between men and women in all sectors of the polity, the structure and nature of the electoral process and system, the role of religion as well as the level of commitment to the rule of law. Where these factors are lacking, women visibility and impact in the political process is further threatened. To enhance the active participation of women in the political process, political parties must, therefore, be unbiased gatekeepers granting access to all, irrespective of gender.

Strategies for Promoting Women Participation in Political Parties/Politics

It is obvious by now that the main factor limiting women’s participation in politics is located within the patriarchal nature of the polity which is now almost accepted as a cultural norm. To create conditions conducive to the active participation of women in political parties and politics in general, two broad strategies immediately leap to mind – electoral gender quotas and the symbolic representation of women’s interests. Electoral gender quotas simply imply that a certain percentage of seats are set aside to be filled by women in the electoral process. Electoral gender quotas offer the most explanatory power for women’s increased visibility and participation in the electoral process (Tripp and Kang 2008). Bauer (2019) has identified the quotas system to include: reserved seats, legislated candidate quotas, and voluntary party quotas.

Reserved seats according to Bauer are often used with Single Member District (SMD) electoral systems and typically rely upon elections in which only women are candidates; they usually involve adding seats to a parliamentary chamber. Voluntary quotas are those voluntarily adopted by political parties, while legislated quotas are required by law – typically in constitutions or electoral laws (Bauer 2019). Bauer makes the point when it was declared that in proportional representation (PR) electoral systems; gender quotas are easily adopted by adding women’s names to party lists – and most effective when there are a placement mandate (every second or third person on the list a woman) and sanctions for those parties that do not comply (Bauer 2019).

Women’s active participation in political parties in particular and politics in general can be strengthened if national constitutions guarantee legislated quotas that make it mandatory for political parties to allot a specific percentage of elective and appointive positions (both at the party level and generally) to women. This can be done alongside the deployment of reserved seats for women. Bauer (2019) aptly notes that reserved seats serve as a training ground for women who will one day run for directly elected seats; in the process, they will also help to familiarize voters with women in electoral politics. The second strategy of strengthening women participation in politics is located in what Bauer (2019) refers to as “symbolic representation of women’s interests” and which may be understood as “altering gendered ideas about the roles of women and men in politics, raising awareness of what women can achieve, legitimizing women as political actors, and encouraging women to become more involved in politics themselves as voters, activists, candidates, and leaders” (Franceschet et al. 2012). With this effectively done, the misconception about the domestic domain being the legitimate arena for women while the public space is for men would have been addressed.


This chapter provided a conceptual background to explore the historicity, constraints, and participation of women in politics in Africa and sketched the growing visibility of Africa as the beacon of women participation in politics in the world. Women in Africa, like in other continents of the world face similar cultural, structural, and systemic roadblocks to their effective participation in politics. Although, these challenges are similar, Africa has, however, demonstrated resilience and capacity to break the gendered glass ceiling by producing three of the top ten countries with the highest numbers of female parliamentarians in the world. On the other hand, however, Africa is also the continent with countries with the least numbers of women in parliament. In addressing the exclusion of women from politics, the gender quota was introduced. Although, it is not without criticism, gender quotas are instituted within the context of gender disparities, which are structural and systemic. For Africa and indeed the world to attain a sustained level of women participation in politics, the gender quotas would have to be linked with social and economic redistributive justice in the society because without addressing the cultural, structural, and systemic constraints to women’s political exclusion, their inclusion through gender quotas would hardly lead to their sustained visibility on the political space.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ndifon Neji Obi
    • 2
  1. 1.Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)AbujaNigeria
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CalabarCalabarNigeria

Section editors and affiliations

  • Elsada Diana Cassells

There are no affiliations available

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