AU official hails women's growing parliamentary role

ADDIS ABABA – There has been a marked increase in the number of female representatives in African parliaments, a senior African Union (AU) official said Wednesday.

AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Aisha L. Abdullahi said that the African continent had become a leader in terms of female political representation.

"Africa is a leader in women's parliamentary representation globally," Abdullahi said at a press conference held on the sidelines of the 24th ordinary session of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa.

"African countries have some of the world's highest rates of representation," she added.

She said Rwanda had broken a world record for the number of female representatives in parliament.

She noted that 64 percent of the lawmakers in Rwanda's parliament were women.

"Although women were traditionally excluded from the structures of the state that determine political and legislative priorities, in recent years, Africa has witnessed a rapid escalation in female political representation as compared to the low rates that existed in the 1960s," Abdullahi said.

Nevertheless, Abdullahi lamented that the political emancipation of women had not yet translated into economic empowerment.

She said her commission was making efforts to ensure women's total empowerment.

She said women represented almost 50 percent of the population of the African continent.

"This means that women are a critical cornerstone for the achievement of the AU's vision of a united, integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa," Abdullahi said.

Women make up approximately 70 percent of the labor force in the agricultural sector, according to recent studies cited by Abdullahi.

The same studies found that women also contribute some 90 percent of Africa's food production, according to Abdullahi.

"However, women in Africa continue to be predominantly employed in the informal sector and occupy low-skill jobs," she said.

The year 2015 has already been declared by AU policy organs as "a year for women's empowerment and development" within the context of Africa's 50-year Agenda 2063.

Abdullahi called on Africa's 54 states to push for more female representation in decision-making circles.

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