MIASA Conference Empowers Women for Increased Political Presence in Africa

A group photo of participants at the Conference

The Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) at the University of Ghana recently hosted a two-day conference aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of women in African politics. The event brought together a diverse group of female stakeholders, including scholars, activists, and policymakers, who deliberated on strategies to enhance women's representation, participation, and political presence in Africa.

In her welcoming remarks, Dr. Susann Baller, the German Director of MIASA, stressed the institute's commitment to promoting female scholarship both on the African continent and beyond. She underlined the significance of the conference theme, "Increasing Women's Political Presence," as it aligns with MIASA's main thematic fields of governance, democracy, migration, and human rights. 

Dr. Baller remarked, “MIASA recognises the urgent need to address the persistent gender disparities in political representation. By bringing together this group of remarkable women from various backgrounds, we aim to foster dialogue, generate innovative ideas, and develop practical solutions that can pave the way for a more inclusive and gender-balanced political landscape in Africa.” 

A cross section of participants at the Conference

Ms. Ayisha Osori, a Director at the Office of the Vice President of the Open Society Foundation in London, and a former consultant for the World Bank, delivered the keynote address. She discussed the importance of women's political power in West Africa and explored the global context of democracy.  

Using Nigeria as a case study, she shed light on the challenges faced by women in politics and the need for effective measures to overcome them. 

Ms. Osori stated that, “the underrepresentation of women in political leadership is a crucial issue that requires urgent attention. By examining the Nigerian experience, we can gain valuable insights into the wider global context of democracy and the discontent it engenders. It is essential to create an inclusive and equitable political landscape that allows women to contribute their unique perspectives and skills to decision-making processes.” 

Director, Office of the Vice President of the Open Society Foundation in London, Ms. Ayisha Osori

During her speech, Ms. Osori gave an insight into the current state of women's political representation in West Africa. While acknowledging that progress has been made in some countries, she highlighted that “the rate of improvement is slow. In fact, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, it could take up to 155 years for women to achieve gender parity in politics at our current pace.” 

She stated that in Africa, a total of 22 female leaders have served as prime ministers or presidents in 17 different countries between 1970 and the present day. However, only two West African countries, Senegal, and Liberia, are included in this data. “Unfortunately, West Africa also has some of the lowest levels of female representation in parliament, with Nigeria having less than 4 percent,” she revealed.  

Ms. Osori voiced her concern about the lack of women elected to lead major political parties in Nigeria. She highlighted the fact that no Nigerian woman has secured the presidential ticket for a major political party since 1960, despite the Beijing Platform for Action's recommendation of 30% affirmative action and Nigeria's National Gender Policy's 35% affirmative action for women’s representation. Additionally, Ms. Osori pointed out that no woman has been elected to lead a region or state in an executive capacity since Nigeria gained independence. 


Drawing on her own experiences, which she chronicled in her book ‘Love Does Not Win Elections,’ after participating in the 2014 primaries, she highlighted a crucial lesson she learned, stating that "as voters, by the time we arrive at the polling units on election day, almost 90% of the fight for inclusive representation and good governance has already been lost. This is because, according to the constitution, political parties determine the candidates we vote for, and party primaries determine who appears on the ballot.”  

If we are not in the parties, as members who become delegates, then, we have little control over who is actually on the ballot. The elections are merely an exercise in endorsing/legitimising the internal processes of the political parties. Party primaries are where the attrition of women becomes more noticeable, but it is not where it starts,” she bemoaned.  

She expressed concern about how political candidates often rely on stirring up ethnic and religious tensions to distract voters from important issues. 

Increasingly, those in power get there by deliberately stoking ethnic, religious and/or nationalist flames, using identity politics as a tool for diverting peoples' attention from the realities of neoliberalism and unchecked capitalism that has contributed in no small way to global warming and the impact on livelihoods, culture and security,” she added.  

Ms. Osori emphasised the importance of women's political participation and representation, citing various reasons such as equity, fairness, democracy, smart economics, and talent contribution. She also highlighted the symbolic significance of having women in decision-making and policy-shaping roles and urged societies to embrace this notion. 

Ms. Osori argued that implementing the recommendations regarding the allocation of seats for women in state and federal elections and governance would be a positive step toward promoting women's involvement in politics and government. 

During the two-day conference, numerous presentations were given by fellows of the Institute. Among them was Prof. Akosua K. Darkwah (University of Ghana & MIASA Fellow), who spoke about the changing leadership models in markets in Ghana in her lecture titled "Tradition Meets Contemporary Governance Structures".  

MIASA Fellow, Prof. Akosua K. Darkwah

Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey from the London School of Economics and Political Science gave a presentation entitled "Women's Political Rights and Representation as Proxies for Citizenship Equality: Lessons from West Africa".  

Dr. Aleida Cristina Borges from the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, Kings College, London discussed "Women's Political Presence in Cabo Verde: The Gender Gap in the Leadership of Community Associations".  

Other presenters included Gertrude Dzifa Torvikey (University of Ghana), Faustina Obeng Adomaa (Wageningen University), and Dr. Adwoa Yeboah Gyapong (University of Ghana), who touched on the Ada Songor Salt Women Association, with their presentation titled "An Account of Feminist Mobilisation in Ada Songor Salt Frontier".  

Panel discussions had Prof. Akua Opokua Britwum (University of Cape Coast), Dr. Marius Kothor (Yale University), Dr. Abena Kyere (University of Ghana), Dr. Ebony Coletu (Pennsylvania State University), among others sharing their perspectives and the findings of their research into women political presence and participation over the years.  

The conference, convened by Prof. Akosua Darkwah of the University of Ghana and Prof. Gretchen Bauer of the University of Delaware, gathered a cohort of fellows from MIASA as well as participants from neighboring countries and international universities. The attendees had the opportunity to visit the University's Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy, as well as the MIASA office, during the event. 

With an overarching goal of empowering women and driving positive change, the MIASA 2023 Conference served as a platform to mobilise collective efforts and forge partnerships in advancing women's political presence across Africa. By fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange, the event aimed to create a ripple effect that will reverberate beyond the conference, empowering women to play a more significant role in shaping the future of African politics.