February 10, 2015
Gender equality is often pinpointed as a key issue in economic development of emerging economies. The World Economic Forum releases an annual Global Gender Gap Index to rank countries on their progress with regard to achieving gender parity in health, education, political engagement, and economic empowerment. The following are 12 African countries that rank highest for gender equality in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Index.
Numbers reflect countries’ gender equality score. The highest possible score is 1.00 (equality) and the lowest possible score is 0.00 (inequality). Countries’ worldwide rankings out of 142 countries studied, are also listed in parentheses.
12. Botswana – 0.7129 (No 51 worldwide)
In recent years, Botswana has made strides in gender equality. It has ratified and become a supporting member of a number of treaties, including the Beijing Declaration platform for action, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and more. Botswana has seen women elevated to positions previously unobtainable, such as the head of the country’s legislature, the head of the Central Bank, attorney general, and ombudsman.
11. Cape Verde – 0.7133 (No. 50 worldwide)
Cape Verde passed the Gender-Based Violence Law in 2011 to increase the opportunities for redress for victims, and has improved the capacity of law enforcement officials to respond sensitively and promptly to gender violence. The country is also considered proactive in establishing development programs targeted at empowering rural and enterprising women, and enjoys strong participation of women in government at all levels.
10. Tanzania – 0.7182 (No 47 worldwide)
In the past decade, Tanzania has made vast strides in gender equality. For instance, girls’ primary school attendance increased from 60 percent in 2000-2001 to over 83 percent in 2010-2011. Women occupy more than a third of Parliamentary seats, and 47 percent of non-agricultural household enterprises are owned by operated by women. Women still struggle to achieve wages on par with men in the workforce. Articles 12 and 13 of the Tanzanian Constitution guarantee “equality between men and women and supports their full participation in social, economic and political life.”
9. Madagascar – 0.7214 (No. 41 worldwide)
While Madagascar struggles to achieve gender parity in many regards, particularly in education, the country has received aid from international organizations such as UNICEF. The children’s fund aid organization created the Fast Track Initiative to ensure Madagascar’s education system continued to function during political turmoil by providing payment to teachers and securing other technical assistance resources. Additionally, UNESCO launched a program to begin teaching gender equality in Madagascar universities, including teacher training courses and workshops for local women on preventing gender-based violence and increasing political participation
8. Namibia – 0.7219 (No. 40 worldwide)
Namibia’s work on promoting gender equality has been progressing each year, and the country claims to have reached three of its seven targets — gender parity for secondary education, literacy rates for 15 to 24 year olds, and pre-primary education. Namibia is still working to establish parity for wage employment in the non-agricultural sector, primary education, tertiary education, and seats in Parliament. The Namibian Constitution explicitly forbids discrimination based on sex, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare has been active in its efforts since it was established.
7. Lesotho – 0.7255 (No. 38 worldwide)
The Millennium Challenge Account-Lesotho (MCA-Lesotho) has been extremely active in the country to initiate programs that promote gender equality. This includes building awareness of the Legal Capacity of Married Person’s Act of 2006 — a law that gives women more rights than before in business. But even more influential has been the impact of men from Lesotho historically seeking work in bordering South African mines, leaving women to step up in a variety of roles. Although the majority of men have returned, the country remains more female-focused. One in five government ministers are female and there’s a strong culture of learning for women. Literacy rates among women actually exceed those of men – 95 percent compared to 83 percent.
6. Kenya – 0.7258 (No. 37 worldwide)
The new Kenyan Constitution, passed in 2010, gave many new opportunities to women, increasing access to education, land ownership, and employment. The Constitution has been lauded for its strides in the areas of women’s access to institutions, justice, and the ability to control and use property. Laws have been well implemented since their passage. Organizations such as the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners and the Africa Businesswomen’s Network have been hard at work educating women about their new rights. Traditional or customary laws that contradict the new legislation have historically been held responsible for cementing gender inequality in Kenya. These are now considered invalid.
5. Malawi – 0.7281 (No. 34 worldwide)
Kamuzu Banda, the first president of Malawi following its independence, wanted education for all, and has been well embedded into Malawi’s society. The National Gender Policy has been quite successful in raising awareness of food and nutrition matters, women’s legal rights, and economic empowerment opportunities. Malawi has also worked to provide easy access to reproductive health services and family planning for all, especially those in rural areas.
4. Mozambique – 0.7370 (No. 27 worldwide)
Mozambique’s favorable position on the Gender Gap Index comes from its progress in women’s economic participation and political empowerment. There’s a large percentage of women in parliament — 39 percent in 2014, according to World Bank. However, Mozambique falls short in the areas of health and education, with a larger gap in education gender equity than many of its neighbors (including some ranked lower on this list, such as Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia). Mozambique also lacks the infrastructure for accessible health services for all.
3. South Africa – 0.7527 (No. 18 worldwide)
South Africa’s constitution is one of the most progressive in the world, and contains strong guarantees for equality and full rights for all its citizens. Some feel that the country’s position as a powerhouse in sub-Saharan Africa means it should be doing more to ensure gender parity. In fact South Africa has passed some of the strongest legislation on the continent, including the Employment Equity Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act, and legislation on marriage and women’s health issues. South Africa also ranks eighth worldwide for gender equality in political engagement. Nearly half the seats in Parliament (42 percent to 45 percent) have been held by women since 2009.
2. Burundi – 0.7565 (No. 17 worldwide)
Post-conflict Burundi has been making strides in gender equality, and is named on many international treaties that uphold equal rights for men and women. The country’s constitution requires at least 30-percent representation of women in parliament and government. Burundi initiated a Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2012 to ensure women received the bulk of resources allocated. The constitution is clear on its position on gender discrimination, stating, “All citizens are equal before the law which ensures their equal protection. Nobody may be discriminated against because of their origin, race, ethnicity, sex, color, language, social status, religious, philosophical or political beliefs or due to a physical or mental disability, infection with HIV/AIDS or any incurable disease.”
1. Rwanda – 0.7854 (No. 7 worldwide)
In 2014, Rwanda was included for the first time on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. It had been previously left off the list. Much of this has to do with the country’s response to the 1994 genocide in 1994 that resulted in a much more powerful position for women in politics. Following the genocide, the constitution was changed to mandate that at least 30 percent of governmental senior positions were held by women. Today, 64 percent of the Rwandan parliament is female. Usta Kaitesi, a teacher of gender and law at Rwanda University’s Faculty of Law, said, “Many women were left as widows because of the genocide. Others had to work hard in the place of their jailed husbands for allegedly taking part in the genocide. So even young girls got that mentality to perform genuinely to access good jobs, and good jobs mean going to school first.” The high proportion of women in government means pro-women legislation is consistently a priority. Rwanda has seen a reduction in poverty in recent years, which President Paul Kagame largely credits to women’s empowerment initiatives.