AS more women continue to venture into politics and government manning highest posts in the world, Tanzania yesterday recorded another milestone by swearing in the first female President, Samia Suluhu Hassan after the sudden death of late President John Magufuli.
Africa has been slow to embrace women leaders in politics, but there is an exclusive group of female presidents who have laid the foundations for future female leadership in Africa. Wielding power, Samia becomes one of two serving female heads of State in Africa, alongside Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde.
Others include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Liberia, Sylvie Kinigi – Burundi, Rose Francine Rogombé – Gabon, Monique Ohsan-Bellepeau – Mauritius, Joyce Banda – Malawi, Catherine Samba-Panza-Central African Republic, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri – South Africa and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim – Mauritius.
Two years ago, in an interview ahead of women’s day commemoration, Ms Samia was quoted as saying Tanzania could have a female president as it has been possible in other nations, especially in the on-going efforts to eliminate oppressive systems and give women the opportunity to scale up.
President Samia becomes the tenth woman who has held the presidential title in African politics and the first in Tanzanian politics, some women become presidents through the election process and others in an interim capacity at a time of need. All of them have made their mark on politics in their respective countries while their presence as heads of state has been positive for gender equality in Africa.
In July 2015, CCM’s presidential nominee, John Magufuli chose her as his running mate for the 2015 election, making her the first female running mate in the party’s history. She subsequently became the first female vice-president in the history of the country upon Magufuli’s victory in the election.
Due to President Magufuli’s death on 17 March 2021, Samia, as the vice president, was sworn in as President and would serve the balance of Magufuli’s second five-year term. It should be noted that Estonia is the only country where both women leaders are elected by the people.
New Zealand, Barbados, and Denmark are three other countries with female prime ministers and heads of state, but the latter in these countries are monarchs and therefore not elected.
Tanzania has seen recent progress on issues such as girl’s access to primary and secondary education and women’s representation in decision-making spaces. For example, from 2010/11 to 2014/15, the proportion of women in senior positions increased from 33 per cent to 41 per cent.
Although the country is yet to attain a 50/50 gender threshold, it had managed to surpass the Southern African Development Community (SADC) target of having at least 30 per cent of women in decision-making organs and there were 136 women featured in the 11th Parliament formed after the 2015 General Election - then recorded a slight increase, to 139 Member of Parliament after the 28 October 2020 elections.
To prompt further gender equality progress and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the government of Tanzania has made some efforts to align SDG implementation strategies with its national development plan. By engaging civil society organisations, the government has localised the SDG implementation.
Tanzania has ratified both the 2030 SDG Agenda and the long term 2063 Agenda, as well as regional development plans, such as the SADC and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2005- 2020). Yet, current national plans still don’t fully capture gender equality issues and women’s empowerment.
Women’s equality and empowerment is SDG goal number 5, but also integral to all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development. While gender equality is essentially a question of power, in a male-dominated world, equal power will not happen by itself.
According to an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report released recently, the number of women holding the top job — president or prime minister — rose by only two to 22. More than half of countries led by women are in Europe. It further revealed that the number of countries where women hold half or more of ministerial portfolios dropped from 14 to 13.
Twelve countries have no women ministers at all — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brunei, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Yemen.
According to UN Women, as of 2020, women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 22 countries and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.