Since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975 until 1990, São Tomé was a single-party state, with restricted political rights. In 1990, voters approved a constitution that established a multi-party democracy. Since then, nine elections have taken place, which domestic and international observers have classified as generally free, fair and transparent.

Despite three villages that boycotted the election in protest of poor living standard, overall voter turnout was high with 66%.

The presidential elections that took place on July 17, 2011 (first-round) and August 7, 2011 (run-off) saw two women run: Elsa Pinto and Maria das Neves. Das Neves is a former Prime Minister of São Tomé and was the first African woman to head a governmenti. She held the post of Prime Minister from 3 October 2002 until 18 September 2004 after allegations of corruption were brought against her. Both women are now members of government, which include 4 women out of 14 possible seats.

Furthermore, ten women (out of 55 members) currently sit on the National Assembly, which ranks São Tomé at the 64th place worldwideii and places it higher on the list than numerous other African nations including Botswana and Kenya.

Women’s rights in São Tomé and Principe

While the constitution provides for equality of all citizens regardless of gender, women nevertheless faced some forms of discrimination. Rape, notably spousal rape, occurred occasionally but no statistics on prosecutions were available.iii The main form of violence against women was domestic violence with widespread reports of violence and rape by partners. Despite their rights to legal recourse, few women decided to bring legal action as they were often unaware of their right to do so and tradition prevented them from speaking about what happens inside the family. While contraception is authorized, it is not widely used due to lack of funds, and teenage pregnancy rate remains high.

The overall literacy rate is 84.9% and the female literacy rate (77%) remains a little lower than the male literacy rateiv. Girls have equal access to primary and secondary education as boys and no gender disparities appear in terms of access to health services. Women can also manage their own businesses without the interference of their husband or brother and participate freely in political and economic life.

While the women of São Tomé face similar forms of discrimination than other women across the world, including domestic violence, an unbalance in domestic chores and higher unemployment rate than men, women are also active participants in the social, economic and political life of São Tomé. They have access to education, health care and reproductive choices. In the coming decade, the priorities of São Tomé’s leaders will be to reduce poverty and include an increasing number of women in leadership roles.


Women’s Political Participation Recent Statistics

Political Representation

As per 04.01.12v


Manuel Pinto da Costa (since 03.09.11, elected for five-year term)

Prime Minister

Patrice Trovoada

Number of women in the Council of Ministers

4 (out of 14)

National Assembly


Number of women who ran for presidential election in 2011

2 (out of 10 candidates)

iCouncil of Women World Leaders

iiWomen in National Parliaments, Inter-parliamentary Union

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