Africa needs to make good on its pledges to improve lot of women

These commitments and policies are connected with this year’s International Women’s Day.

Tuesday March 8 2016

Pakistani women sit on a donkey cart after collecting garbage on the outskirts of Islamabad on March 7, 2016 ahead of International Women's Day. Women in Pakistan have fought for their rights for decades, in a country where so-called honour killings and acid attacks remain commonplace. PHOTO | AFP 

By CAROLINE KISIA

In the past 20 to 30 years, African governments and a number of organisations have made substantial commitments towards creating gender equality and have put in place laws and policies in support of this.

The African Union in January declared 2016 the African Year of Human Rights, with particular focus on the rights of women. It signifies women’s chance to unite, network, and mobilise for meaningful change.

On various occasions, African leaders have agreed to adopt strong instruments such as the Maputo Protocol, the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, the African Women Decade, and the Fund for African Women. Such actions have emboldened the women’s movement to urge Africa to step up action.

These commitments and policies are connected with this year’s International Women’s Day that is being marked this week. The 2016 theme for the occasion is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The UN and other organisations’ observance of the event reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is worth noting that the fifth SDG envisions that gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls will be achieved by 2030.

This year marks important milestones in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment. In Africa, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

In addition, it is the commencement of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, which aims to advance gender equality through the acceleration of the implementation of global and regional decisions on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

TANGIBLE ACTION

The big and pertinent issue is whether the commitments have been translated into tangible action and made the life of the majority of African women better.

Despite some of the gains made, such as bridging the gender gap in primary education, improving maternal health, and fighting HIV/Aids, Africa is still struggling in gender parity and women empowerment. Women are facing economic exclusion, limited participation in political and public life, lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools, violence, and harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation.

About 70 per cent of the crops in Africa are produced by women, yet they still own a meagre two per cent of the land and have limited access to resources.

Violence against women has reached startling levels, with one in every three women in Africa experiencing some form of attack in her lifetime. Women in war-torn areas are sexually abused and since majority of households are headed by women, they are compelled to care for their children under difficult circumstances.

However, it is not too late to solve the imbalance on gender equality and empowerment that entangle African women. Rwanda has made impressive progress gender equality. African countries ought to pick a number of lessons from this landlocked country which has the highest percentage of women parliamentarians globally — at 64 per cent.

There is a need to create and strengthen laws and institutions that will guarantee a more central and involving role for women in spheres such as agriculture, politics, and economics.

African governments and concerned agencies ought to join hands to energise the efforts of women in the continent. They need to guarantee full support for women’s agenda in every undertaking.

Africa must gear up and take firm action in gender equality efforts. The actions should go beyond making declarations and involve taking firm steps. There is an urgent need for acceleration on commitments made in the past few decades. The women also need to amplify their efforts in order to catapult governments into action.

Dr Kisia is the executive director, Action Africa Help International. [email protected]

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