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The gender roles people and societies have come to know have been gradually changing. The notion that men are superior over women has been slowly disregarded, if not altered. For Africa, 2012 has been a good year in the rise and empowerment of African women, especially in the dirty business of politics.
Two nations in Africa currently have powerful women as their head of state. Liberia is under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf while Malawi is under President Joyce Banda. Also, the internationally recognized African Union is now under the leadership of South African Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zum. In the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda is the current female chief prosecutor. Better yet, two Liberian women, President Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. These African women in power have been regarded as signs of changing gender roles in a very patriarchal continent, as well as a start of economic, political, and social development in the women sector.
As the most powerful individual in an African country, a female president is a good start to women empowerment, especially in a continent divided by war where people suffer from injustice, poverty, and violence. An obvious advantage of having an African female president is that this could encourage more and more women to take part in democracy and get into the world of politics. Having a woman in power will also give voice to other African women, who are mostly ignored and neglected. As president, a woman would be able to focus and work on issues of African women such as illiteracy, abuse, poor health, and many more through various advocacies and projects.
Despite all the advantages of having an African woman as the head of state, there are several disadvantages and challenges for a country and population under female rule. The most obvious is the notion that politics and leadership is for men, making a woman in power under great criticism and doubts on her ability to lead as compared to a man. It will always be a matter of political maturity and at the same time humanitarianism and equality, qualities that were still being questioned by traditional politicians of female leaders and political figures until now.
The supposed rise of African women in politics also has its critics from political observers. Firstly, out of 54 countries in the continent, only two (Liberia and Malawi) have a female president. This is quite a big disproportion in terms of the ratio of male and female heads of state in Africa. Secondly, African women in politics mostly belong to the elite class, while millions of African women suffer in poverty. This is an unfortunate fact as only a handful of women are given the chance to become leaders and key figures in their country.