Building a network of African women leaders in fields ranging from business to politics could galvanise female leadership across the continent and boost peacebuilding efforts and good governance, the head of U.N. Women said on Tuesday.
The African Women Leaders Network, which was launched last week in New York by the United Nations and the African Union Commission, hopes to drive more women into leadership roles, through mentoring, peer learning and harnessing contacts.
By supporting women's leadership in Africa, the platform aims to galvanise their contributions to building and sustaining peace, improving political processes and driving social change, and realising the U.N. global goals, according to U.N. Women.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted in 2015, include targets on eliminating extreme poverty, providing clean energy, and tackling economic and gender inequality by 2030.
"Peace and governance are big issues in Africa ... so we plan to harness women's leadership, experience and capacity to convince, mediate and make a difference in tough situations," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women.
"We invited women from opposing political parties within countries like Zimbabwe, to work on gender issues like violence against women in a united way that goes beyond party politics," Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
While Liberia and Mauritius are the only two African countries led by women, the continent accounts for seven of the world's 20 countries with the highest proportion of women in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament in the world - at 61 percent - while the share of female parliamentarians in sub-Saharan Africa increased to almost a quarter last year, from one in 10 in 1995, the IPU said.
Yet in several African countries, recent elections saw a regression in the number of women elected to parliament, especially in those where there were no temporary special measures for gender equality, like quotas, U.N. Women said.
Women lawmakers in Africa endure abuse, hostility and sexist violence in parliamentary offices and political meetings, as well as the newer arenas created by social media, activists say.
"We will help women to participate in politics, to put themselves forward as candidates at local and national level, and support them in the face of intimidation and violence," said Mlambo-Ngcuka, the former deputy president of South Africa.