Look­ing be­yond the rhetoric of an African Union year for women

What women want in 2015 - the Year of Women’s Em­pow­er­ment

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Ecoma Alaga and Ndidi Anyaeg­bunam

At this year’s an­nual sum­mit of the African Union, at­tend­ing lead­ers de­clared 2015 the Year of Women’s Em­pow­er­ment in ac­knowl­edge­ment of the in­creas­ing role women are play­ing in Africa’s devel­op­ment. The dec­la­ra­tion comes as the con­ti­nent pre­pares to kick­start the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its 50-year devel­op­ment plan that was launched in 2013. Dubbed Agenda 2063, the plan is a pan-African vi­sion that is ex­pected to steer the con­ti­nent to­wards “an in­te­grated, pros­per­ous and peace­ful Africa, driven by its own cit­i­zens and rep­re­sent­ing a dy­namic force in the global arena”.

The dec­la­ra­tion is also a dis­play of AU’s re­newed po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment and sup­port for the women’s em­pow­er­ment and gen­der equal­ity agenda. Crit­ics have wel­comed the move, but note that Africa must go be­yond talk­ing and match its words with con­crete ac­tion and al­lo­cate ap­pro­pri­ate re­sources if there is go­ing to be any mean­ing­ful change in the lives of African women and girls. This will re­quire a change from sim­ply adopt­ing poli­cies to fully en­forc­ing ex­ist­ing prowomen poli­cies and ini­tia­tives.

A few days be­fore the sum­mit at the AU head­quar­ters in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, more than 200 women and ad­vo­cates of women’s rights from all over Africa gath­ered to re­flect on progress, cur­rent gaps and emerg­ing is­sues in im­ple­ment­ing ex­ist­ing com­mit­ments to gen­der equal­ity and women’s em­pow­er­ment. Par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing AU se­nior of­fi­cials, rec­om­mended that 2015 should be “seized as an op­por­tu­nity to fo­cus on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions that will pro­vide mea­sur­able re­sults for women”.

The em­pha­sis on re­sults is not sur­pris­ing. Most African coun­tries are sig­na­to­ries to many na­tional and in­ter­na­tional poli­cies and frame­works on gen­der equal­ity and women’s em­pow­er­ment, in­clud­ing the 1979 Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of All Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Bei­jing Plat­form for Ac­tion. In ad­di­tion, African coun­tries con­sti­tute a third of the coun­tries with na­tional ac­tion plans de­signed to im­ple­ment UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1325 on women, peace and se­cu­rity. Fur­ther­more, the AU has an in­sti­tu­tion­alised gen­der plat­form that is charged with trans­form­ing gen­der poli­cies into ac­tion.

What African women want

Yet mea­sur­able re­sults from th­ese poli­cies have been un­even, in­con­sis­tent and painfully slow. This poor score­card has been at­trib­uted to ex­ist­ing pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture in African so­ci­eties as well as at­tempts to rene­go­ti­ate ex­ist­ing com­mit­ments and poli­cies on gen­der, and more im­por­tantly, lack of re­sources.

Many gen­der ex­perts say that for Africa to achieve its goals on women’s em­pow­er­ment, there has to be ef­fec­tive en­force­ment of cur­rent poli­cies, re­quir­ing a shift­ing of mind sets and the al­lo­ca­tion of more re­sources. The fo­cus should also be on ar­eas where there has been the least progress, in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture, eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment, health and peace and se­cu­rity.

African women want the com­mem­o­ra­tive year to fo­cus on en­hanc­ing women’s own­er­ship of land and ac­cess to en­vi­ron­ment-friendly tech­nol­ogy. They want AU mem­bers, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the African Devel­op­ment Bank and the pri­vate sec­tor, to es­tab­lish a spe­cial in­vest­ment fund for women and young girls to be used for ven­ture cap­i­tal fi­nanc­ing.

Fi­nally, women want the pro­posed roadmap for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Agenda 2063’s flag­ship project of si­lenc­ing all guns by 2020 to in­clude their par­tic­i­pa­tion in con­flict pre­ven­tion, res­o­lu­tion and post-con­flict peace­build­ing, as well as an end to all forms of con­flict-re­lated sex­ual vi­o­lence. And, be­cause their tra­di­tional care giv­ing role ex­poses them to greater pan­demic-re­lated risks, African women are de­mand­ing to be in­cluded in for­mu­lat­ing and im­ple­ment­ing public health pol­icy. Ecoma Alaga and Ndidi Anyaeg­bunam are pro­gramme of­fi­cers in the UN Of­fice of the Spe­cial Ad­viser on Africa.

African Union Com­mis­sion

Women, Peace and Se­cu­rity meet­ing in Ad­dis.

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