Primary school enrollment in Sub-Saharan Africa hit 100% in 2011, while North Africa notched rates of 105%. Some countries are, rightly, beating the drums about their achievements.
Thus a recent report by a development and leadership consultancy based in Kigali played up Rwanda’s achievements in increasing girls’ enrolment in school and women’s participation in decision-making and positions – an area where it is a world leader.
In Rwanda, girls’ school enrollment rates have increased from 95.1% in 2008 to 98%, compared to 95% for boys. Rwanda is by no means alone; this is a trend being reflected across several parts of Africa with nearly half the countries on the continent achieving gender parity in primary school (Click here for our info graphic on country gains).
Central Africa the star
According to the 2014 African Development Bank report on Gender, Poverty and Environmental Indicators on African Countries, the top five countries showing the largest increase in girls to boys’ ratio between 1990 and 2010-2013 are:
•Guinea – with an increase of 38 percentage points (from 45% to 83%).
•Benin – with an increase of 37 percentage points (from 51% to 88%).
•Senegal – with an increase of 34 percentage points (from 72% to 106%).
•Mauritania and Chad – both with an increase of 31 percentage points (from 71% to 102%, and 44 points to 75% respectively).
As a whole, the Central African region reflected the highest average increases in girl enrolment, at 17%.
In the case of countries like Rwanda, these girls are not only getting an education but also have a much-improved chance of eventually getting into national decision-making bodies. Women now constitute 50% of the judiciary and are 39% of the cabinet, 40% of provincial governors, 43.2% of district council members, 83.3% of vice mayors in charge of social affairs and 10% of district mayors.
But most impressive is that an African country leads the world in having women as the majority in its legislature - 64% of parliamentarians in Rwanda are women, the highest proportion of any parliament.
A few other nations on the continent are also moving towards similar gender equitability. South Africa, Seychelles and Senegal all have female representation of over 40% in their parliament houses, whilst Mozambique and Angola have 39.2% and 36.8% respectively.
Africa as a whole, according to the UNDP, is making steadier progress on increasing the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament than are other regions. At nearly 20% in 2012, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments in Africa is surpassed only in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Eight other countries in Africa have already hit the target of at least 30% of women in the national parliament, along with Rwanda. These are; Seychelles (43.8%), South Africa (42.3%), Mozambique (39.2%) and Angola (34.1%). Good on MDG goals
In addition, a couple of countries on the continent have also made good press towards achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The 5th goal of the MDGs is about maternal health, a topic intrinsically linked to female empowerment in much the same way access to education for girls is key to reducing maternal mortality.
The UN states that “the risk of maternal death is 2.7 times higher among women with no education”.
In Mauritius, 99.5% of women receive antenatal care from a skilled provider. The figure is 99.1% for Botswana, Seychelles 99% and Algeria 95.2%. In Rwanda 69% of births occur in health facilities. In Africa as a whole, the future of antenatal care is promising as already over two-thirds of pregnant women (69%) have had contact with at least one antenatal worker.
Women’s poverty high
However, despite the progress in female empowerment in countries like Rwanda, poverty still remains high among women. About 47% of women–headed households are poor. This is a trend that is widely spread across Africa except for a few cases in West Africa.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in many African countries, as elsewhere, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of female-headed households (FHH) in recent years. Among the main causes are male migration, the deaths of males in civil conflicts and wars, un-partnered adolescent fertility and family disruption.
IFAD says that FHHs are usually disadvantaged in terms of access to land, livestock, other assets, credit, education, health care and extension services. This is supported by evidence from the 2010 UN World Report, which showed that in four of the 16 countries in Africa with available data, namely Burundi, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe and Zambia, the poverty rates for FHH were higher compared to male-headed households.
The most notable difference was in Malawi where there was a difference of 8%; there 59% of people living in FHH are poor compared to 51% of those living in male-headed households. In West Africa, though, we see a different scenario in which the poverty rates for male-headed households were higher than those for female-headed households.
These countries include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria. What is most encouraging in all these stories is that achieving the MDGs, which lead to increased gender parity, is finally something within the grasp of most of Africa.