For the first time in South Africa’s history, women now make up half of the government's cabinet, following changes implemented by recently-elected president Cyril Ramaphosa.

One of the women appointed to a ministerial position is the veteran opposition politician Patricia De Lille, who, after standing for the Good party in the country’s 2019 presidential elections, was named head of public works and infrastructure.

The appointment of more women, along with a number of younger politicians, has been described by the ruling African National Congress party as reflecting “a good balance of youth, gender, geographical spread and experience”.

Ramaphosa has also consolidated the number of cabinet posts to 28 from 36, saying: “We have also decided to add other responsibilities to other departments. In the case of public works, we decided to add infrastructure development. In the case of labour, we decided to add employment so that we demonstrate our country is on the way to creating jobs, so it will be called the ministry of employment and labour.”

Image: Statista

South Africa joins a list of 10 other countries that have achieved gender parity - or a female majority - in their cabinets.

The first country to boast of a gender-balanced cabinet was Sweden. In 2014, the country's prime minister, Stefan Löfven, announced the world’s first self-proclaimed feminist government.

The following year, Canada followed suit when prime minister Justin Trudeau compiled its first gender-balanced cabinet. French President Emmanuel Macron joined in by appointing 17 women to his cabinet of 35 ministers in 2017. Then, last year, a Spanish cabinet was sworn in that was comprised of 17 women and just five men.

Other countries that have formed gender-balanced cabinets include:

  • Colombia – August 2018
  • Costa Rica – April 2018
  • Ethiopia – October 2018
  • Nicaragua – January 2017
  • Rwanda – October 2018
  • Seychelles – April 2018

Stronger equity in governments has been recognized as essential for any thriving democracy. “Gender diversity in public institutions is particularly crucial, given that these decision-making bodies create the rules that affect people’s rights, behaviours and life choices," according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A matter of life and death?

Late last year, Canadian researchers even found a direct link between the number of women in senior government positions and the overall health of the population.

Between 1976 and 2009, the percentage of women in Canada's provincial governments rose to more than 25%, up from just over 4%, the study showed. At the same time, mortality rates declined by almost 40%.

Although the cause of the drop in deaths was partly attributed to increased healthcare spending, the researchers said there was more than economics at work. Even with spending differentials factored out, the researchers found that “the effect of women in government remains significantly negative for total, male, and female mortality rates."