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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: January 2011

1 - Introduction


In the past decade, women have become visible in African politics in unexpected ways, setting new precedents. In 2003, Rwanda elected a new parliament with the highest percentage of women in the world (close to 49 percent). Africa has some of the highest rates of female legislative representation in the world, with women claiming over 30 percent of the parliamentary seats in Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi. In November 2005, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first elected woman president in Africa. Specioza Wandera Kazibwe served as vice president in Uganda for a decade (1994–2003). There have been six female prime ministers in Africa since the mid-1990s, with Luísa Dia Diogo serving as prime minister in Mozambique since 2004. At the regional level, Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania became the first president of the Pan-African Parliament of the African Union, and half the parliamentarians are women.

Women's new engagement with politics is evident in other ways as well. Women's movements have successfully lobbied for constitutional reforms to include gender equity and antidiscrimination clauses. They have sought the passage of new legislation to expand women's rights. Women are for the first time making bids to participate in an official capacity in national-level peace talks in countries where conflicts have come to an end. These are just a few of the dramatic changes in women's status that are under way in Africa today.

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