Eastern and Southern Africa

Burundi IWD 2022 celebration dance


The Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR) comprises of 25 countries. UN Women has a presence in 13 of these countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa Multi-Country Office (MCO) and Zimbabwe. The South Africa MCO covers the Southern Africa Customs Union countries ie Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. UN Women also has a Somalia Program has recently established a physical presence in the Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Puntland.

The economic outlook for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR) just like for Africa as whole remains favourable in spite of challenging global macro-economic conditions. Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda are among the six world’s fastest-growing economies. Africa’s economic growth is driven by the discovery and exploitation of mineral resources. The high performing countries are dominated by countries rich in oil and gas, and solid minerals. However, this impressive growth has not translated into poverty reduction or increased employment. Africa is still home to 30% of the world’s poor. The countries in Eastern and Southern Africa with high growth rates have the highest income inequality in the world.

The ESAR is politically diverse with some countries experiencing conflicts while others are emerging from conflicts. Women’s leadership is increasingly accepted. Most countries in the region have constitutions guaranteeing equality and election laws that provide for affirmative action measures.

Despite women’s proven abilities as leaders and change- agents they are underrepresented locally and globally as voters, elected officers, civil servants, as well as in the private sector and academia. Across the ESA countries covered by UN Women, there is variation of women’s representation in national parliaments.  

The East and Southern Africa region has the highest representation of women in parliament in sub–Saharan Africa, i.e. 32% as at December 2020.  This compares favourably with the global average of 24.5%.  Four countries in the East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR) are among the 25 countries globally with the highest number of women in parliament and that have achieved gender balance (i.e., over 40% women’s representation). These are Rwanda with 61%, (global lead in women’s representation in parliament), South Africa with 46%, Namibia with 42% and Mozambique with 41%. 12 countries have between 30 and 39%-women’s representation, 5 between 20-29% women’s representation and 2 countries with 11%- and 7%-women’s representation respectively in parliament.  Ten countries in the region also have a female Speaker of Parliament.  9 out of 16 countries (56%) have more than 30% women in their national parliaments. Across the ESA region, 9 countries have enacted either a constitutional or legislative quota for women at national level. Eight countries in the region have below 30% women in parliament, though only three countries have less than 20% women in parliament.  

Violence against women is endemic due to negative cultural norms and practices. Available data indicates that in ESAR, one in four women has experienced physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Violence against girls in school is one of the major contributing factors for high school dropout rates for girls.

ESAR is home to a network of intergovernmental institutions, including the headquarters of the African Union (Ethiopia), the East African Community (Tanzania), the South African Development Community (Botswana), the Intergovernmental Development Authority (Djibouti), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Zambia), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (Burundi). UN Women has developed partnerships with these institutions.

Mainstreaming of women and youth is one of the AUC’s eight priorities in its Strategic Plan, supported by the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa; the African Union Gender Policy and Gender Policies of regional economic communities and inter-governmental bodies.

What We Do

Women Economic Empowerment (WEE)

  • Climate Smart Agriculture programme in 9 countries:  supporting women across various value chains working with women, youth, and their communities to support women’s agency, influence and holistic contributions to sustainable farming methods. This contributes to securing local food supply, nutrition, income and livelihoods across different value chains/sectors. 

  • Gender and Macro-economic frameworks: in 4 countries in the region, UN Women is conducting gender analyses of the COVID-19 fiscal response packages working with IMF to introduce gender responsive targets into IMF Country Programmes (loans) whilst finalizing a Gender and Economics course targeting IMF counterparts. 

  • Care Economy: Rwanda and South Africa are part of the Multi-Country Programme (3R Programmme) on Care Economy in climate-smart agriculture. There has been a study on childcare provision modelled in several countries globally and in Rwanda and Tanzania in the latest iteration (previously in South Africa but with less in-depth data).  

Women Peace and Security

  • Strengthening women’s leadership and visibility in peacebuilding in conflict affected countries (Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan).  

  • Training of member states and national stakeholders on data collection for monitoring and reporting on WPS commitments, viz. 1325 NAPs, using the AU Continental Monitoring Frameworks for Women, Peace and Security.  

  • Addressing the persistence of gender bias and discrimination against women resulting in their exclusion from formal peace talks; low number of women in security sector to engage in relevant reforms; low literacy rates, limited access to productive resources and marginalization in decision-making and planning processes across the humanitarian, peace and security sectors. 

  • Capacity development and technical support to member states and country offices in the development of 1325 NAPs.  

  • Technical support and capacity building to strengthen the leadership of women’s peacebuilding networks in countries in transition (Burundi, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan). 

  • Technical and advisory support to the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region Regional Training Facility to advocate for domestication and implementation of the model framework for fast track of SGBV cases. 

Ending Violence against Women (EVAW)

  • Country programming focus on: a) an enabling legislative and policy environment; b) prevention interventions– some aligned to the RESPECT Framework – e.g. via transforming attitudes and social norms (including through engagement with men and boys), public space interventions (e.g. Safe Cities and adaptations); c) strengthening service provider capacities (especially justice, security and social services) in line with the Joint UN Essential Services Package; d) improving administrative and prevalence VAW data resources and capacities, and e) supporting women’s movements and civil society engagement.  

  • The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative is the largest EVAW programme in the region, covering 4 ESA countries (Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe) and continental-wide regional programme. focuses on implementation of laws, data, evidence generation/sharing on EVAWG, harmful practices (including FGM and child marriage), SRHR and support to women's movement/CSOs.  

Humanitarian Action 

  • Engendering DRR and Humanitarian planning, response and recovery frameworks at regional and national levels. This includes integrating gender into humanitarian needs overviews, response plans (Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan) DRM policies and strategies (Kenya), IGAD regional resilience framework and others. 

  • Capacity development of stakeholders on gender in humanitarian action (GiHA) targeting UN Women staff, UN entities, HCTs, INGOs, women’s organizations and government representatives. 

  • Technical support to country offices focusing on protection, restoration of livelihoods and resilience building for women and girls, affected by crises (in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia- all countries implementing the LEAP programme).   

  • Advocacy and production of knowledge and tools (GiHA pocket guide, training manual on women’s participation and leadership in humanitarian action and a Gender Mainstreaming Guideline for Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction). 

Gender Statistics  

  • UN Women is implementing the programme “Making Every Woman and Girl Count: Supporting the Monitoring and Implementation of the SDGs through Better Production and use of Gender Statistics” to support countries in implementing the 2030 Global Agenda. 

  • Known as Women Count in short, the programme builds on UN Women’s unique normative, policy, programmatic and coordination mandates. It aims to achieve this through a radical shift in the production, availability, accessibility and use of quality data and statistics on key aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

  • The Women Count Flagship Program Phase I providing holistic and comprehensive support to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and limited technical and financial support to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  

Read more about Gender Statistics