By Grace Kenneally
On Sunday night, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected to be the next head of the African Union. Dlamini-Zuma will be the first woman to lead the AU, a fact that has the Women’s League of South Africa "beaming with pride." While representation of a woman’s perspective at such a high post is a significant step for women’s empowerment and gender equality, it is not so surprising. In many respects, Africa has been a leading example for women’s representation in politics for years. While some African countries are still struggling with violence and legal systems that put women at a disadvantage, other countries are role-models in the fight for equality.
To name a few exemplary countries, the incumbent heads of state from Malawi, Mauritius, and Liberia are women, and there have been other women as heads of state in Africa in the past. South Africa was ranked fourth in the SIGI Index, which ranks non-OECD countries based on discrimination against women. Currently, 17 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have quotas to ensure that women are represented in government, and Rwanda leads the world, with women making up 56.3% of their parliament. Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa all have parliaments with made of at least 30% women, a key recommendation from the Beijing Platform (women hold only 16.8% of seats in the U.S. Congress).
Burundi was a country critical to passing the SCR 1325 back in 2000, which was a critical step for gender equality worldwide. When Burundian women were excluded from the Arusha Peace Accords, they banded together through grassroots organizations to hold the All-Party Burundi Women’s Peace Conference right beside the official peace talks. The women convinced Nelson Mandela (the head mediator) that lasting peace could only be found if women were included, and as a result the final Accord included many recommendations from the Women’s Peace Conference. The women in Burundi were so convincing, the United Nations resolved to recognize that women need to be included in peace processes through SCR 1325.
Women in Africa have been working hard towards equality for years. Maybe it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and follow their lead. Dlamini-Zuma’s election is not just an important step for South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, English-speaking Africa, or Africa as a whole—it is an important step for women throughout the world. Dlamini-Zuma is a reminder of the progress made, and the road ahead. In the interest of all, the world’s leaders need to continue to strive for equality.