Gen­der equal­ity within reach

Africa Renewal - - Front Page - By Zip­po­rah Musau

When the Rwan­dan del­e­ga­tion went to Bei­jing, China, in 1995 for the land­mark women’s con­fer­ence, just a year af­ter the geno­cide in their coun­try, the East African na­tion was cited as one of the worst vi­o­la­tors of women’s rights. To­day, as the world marks 20 years since the Bei­jing Dec­la­ra­tion on gen­der equal­ity, Rwanda leads other coun­tries with women mak­ing up 64% of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

In the words of Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, “No one benefits if women are held back. We have to change mind­sets, not just the laws”. The trend in Rwanda is pos­i­tive. If it con­tin­ues, the coun­try may just meet the new 2030 dead­line for gen­der equal­ity in all sec­tors of the econ­omy.

This year marks the be­gin­ning of a new era for women and girls around the world. In ad­di­tion to be­ing the 20-year mile­stone af­ter the Bei­jing con­fer­ence, the year will see the con­clu­sion of the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals and the launch­ing of a new global devel­op­ment agenda, the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals. It is also 15 years since the ground­break­ing UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion 1325, which rec­og­nized the need to in­crease women’s role in fos­ter­ing peace and se­cu­rity par­tic­u­larly in post-con­flict coun­tries.

At their an­nual sum­mit this year, African Union lead­ers also de­clared 2015 as the Year of Women’s Em­pow­er­ment. All th­ese dec­la­ra­tions should sig­nal to gov­ern­ments the need for speedy change.

Af­ter 20 years of in­tense ad­vo­cacy for women’s rights, there is a pal­pa­ble feel­ing of dis­en­chant­ment with the slow pace of progress. Some of the chal­lenges women faced in 1995 stub­bornly re­main.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of UN Women, the global body ded­i­cated to gen­der equal­ity and women’s em­pow­er­ment, said progress to­wards ful­fill­ing com­mit­ments made in Bei­jing has been painfully slow and un­even. “At this rate it will take us 81 years to achieve gen­der equal­ity… We have a rea­son to be con­cerned,” she told Africa Re­newal in an in­ter­view.

Although the num­ber of women in par­lia­ment has dou­bled glob­ally in the last 20 years, in Africa only one in ev­ery five mem­bers of par­lia­ment is a woman, which is still re­mains be­low the 30% thresh­old for min­i­mum rep­re­sen­ta­tion from ei­ther gen­der. Although Africa has some of the top per­form­ers in women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it also has the high­est num­ber of coun­tries that are un­der-per­form­ing.

In agri­cul­ture, about 70% of the crops are pro­duced by women, yet they still own only 2% of the land, says Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. In ad­di­tion, women earn 30% less than men for the same work. Vi­o­lence against women has reached alarm­ing pro­por­tions, with one in ev­ery three women in Africa experiencing some form of vi­o­lence in her life­time. Many girls still face the threat of fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, early or forced mar­riages and un­wanted preg­nan­cies. Ex­trem­ists also threaten to turn back the few frag­ile gains women have made.

De­spite th­ese ob­sta­cles, im­por­tant ad­vances have been made, in­clud­ing bridg­ing the gen­der gap in pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, im­prov­ing ma­ter­nal health, fight­ing HIV/AIDS and new laws to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion and harm­ful cul­tural prac­tices en­acted. Go­ing for­ward, it is clear that achiev­ing gen­der equal­ity post-2015 will re­quire not just trans­form­ing economies to re­duce in­equal­i­ties, but also get­ting coun­tries to ac­cel­er­ate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of com­mit­ments they made to women 20 years ago.

UN Photo/Al­bert González Far­ran

Stu­dents from the Mid­wifery School of El Fasher, North Dar­fur, com­mem­o­rate In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day.

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