In recent years, the number of women cabinet ministers, and the importance of the portfolios that they administer, has increased dramatically across SSA. In fact, in 2010, SSA countries had an average of 20% women cabinet members, above the world average of 16,9% -- a quantum leap from 1996 when half of SSA countries ranked below the world average of 6,8% (Bauer 2011).
The historic appointment of one-third women cabinet members in 2011 in Nigeria -- the most populous African country, including traditional male portfolios like the Ministry of Petroleum Resources -- illustrates this phenomenon, given more so that "historically, access to the executive branch -- the highest glass ceiling -- has been considerably more difficult for women than has been access to the legislative branch."
This erosion in the old gendered patterns of ministerial appointments is evidenced in sub-Saharan African countries ministerial portfolios like the current female Minister of Defence in South Africa, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sierra Leone and Kenya, and the Minister of Finance in Tanzania.
As of 2011, South Africa and Nigeria had some of the highest numbers of women in cabinet representation in SSA, with South Africa tops at 41% and Nigeria at 33%. Cape Verde (40%), Burundi (38%), Uganda (36%), Lesotho (31%), and Rwanda (31%), have all achieved up to or above the formal minimally acceptable level of women's inclusion in cabinet membership at 30%, termed "critical mass".
These levels are close to, and in some cases way ahead, of some of the mature and established democracies like the United States at 33,3%, the United Kingdom (22,3%), Australia (23,3%), and Canada at 37%. These impressive figures push us to ask, what is the status of women cabinet ministers in SSA as a whole?
As is the case in other parts of the world, except perhaps in the Nordic countries, women's increased access to cabinet membership is a relatively recent phenomenon. Progress in SSA has been mixed to date and there is marked cross-country variation. Some countries still show very low numbers of women cabinet membership, like Sierra Leone at 4,8%, Somalia (5,4%) and Djibouti (6,3%) respectively. Nonetheless, there is an obvious upward trend in the phenomenon, even though this is not linear.
Last year women's groups responded angrily to President Robert Mugabe's decision to appoint just four women to his 30-seat cabinet after his triumph in the July 31 elections, but Mugabe told journalists women must do better in elections to be eligible for Cabinet posts.