At the on-going African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Women’s Development and Communications Network, Femnet has urged the Africa Union (AU) to undertake a proactive role to eradicate corruption so as to achieve greater gender equality.
Dinah Musindarwezo, Femnet’s executive director speaks about this push at the summit by the Pan-African Women’s organisation.
Q. The African Union’s theme for 2018 is “Winning the fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”, how in your work as Femnet would you clarify corruption in this regard?
Corruption in its complexity is rooted in a range of social, political and economic power relations that allows others to largely benefit at the expense of others and thus fuelling further inequalities. Transparency International reckons that corruption may take the forms of bribery, extortion, nepotism, influences peddling, embezzlement and kickbacks. At Femnet, we opine that all the forms of corruption embody gender discrimination and inequalities which further disempowers women and children.
Q. What are some of the gender-based forms of corruption that women largely experience in Africa?
Apart from the broader impact of corruption in African societies, women are additionally subjected to specific gender-based forms of corruption such as extortion through sexual harassment and sex for services and promotions amongst others.
This approach is sadly rampant right from institutions of higher learning as has been reported in many countries where students are subjected to a “sex for marks” routine where sex corruption is used to attain favourable academic marks.
The same approach continues in the job market where women are compelled and/or forced to exchange their bodies for promotions or to acquire a job. These kind of acts “commodifies” women and deny them equal opportunities on merit.
Q. What are the key gender-based socio-economic areas in most African countries that may be significantly addressed when corruption is curtailed?
Because of corruption, service delivery in the health sector is largely compromised and women are disproportionately affected since it is majority of them that depend on public health services generally and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services in particular.
Because of corruption, budgetary allocation to cover these services and to protect rights dwindles or is sometimes entirely over-looked.
In the broader spectrum, when corruption is rife, government expenditure on essential services is seriously affected and thus delivery of public goods and services to citizen such as in Education, hospitals, roads, supply of water and power all become a scramble.
Due to existing gender inequalities, majority of women have no alternatives when the public services are unavailable as they cannot afford private services that the rich people access.
In addition, studies have shown that corruption has a significant, negative effect on health indicators such as infant and child mortality, maternal mortality and access to family planning services.
According to WHO approximately two billion people lack regular access to medicines. The main contributing factor is corruption within the procurement of drugs.
The situation in Africa is grim.
The African Union estimates that 25 percent of the GDP of African countries [is] lost to corruption every year.
If this prevalence is left unchecked then the impact of corruption in Africa and, by extension, on Africa’s Women and girls, will explode into unmanageable proportions.
The fight against corruption has to go hand in hand with the fight against illicit financial flow if Africa is to achieve transformation, especially transformation in the lives of all its people.
Q. Why is the Abuja Declaration a defining pointer towards tackling corruption and enhancing health care provision for women and children in Africa?
To understand the implications of the Abuja Declaration on eradicating corruption in Africa, we must internalise the reality of the glaring inequalities that exist.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa have about five children over their reproductive lifetime, compared to a global average of 2.5 children.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest rate of early and forced marriage with Niger, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and South Sudan leading.
In Niger, high fertility rates are accompanied by marriage at a very young age.
Sixty percent of young girls are married by age 19 and this figure increases alongside a reduction in age in rural communities where the majority are married at 12 or 13 years.
Every year, an estimated 74 million unintended pregnancies occur in developing regions, the great majority of which are among women using no contraception or a traditional method.
If all unmet needs for modern methods of contraception were met, 52 million of these unintended pregnancies could be averted, thereby preventing the deaths of 70,000 women from pregnancy-related causes.
Violence against women has a significant impact on the health and life expectancy of women, with rape and domestic abuse accounting for five percent of deaths of women of reproductive age in developing countries.
In The Abuja Declaration, African governments committed to spend 15 percent of GDP on health. This largely touches on the health of women and girls.
It would be extremely important that African countries committed to the Abuja Declaration ensure that the government budget is adequately allocated to health and even more specifically targeted at bridging the gaps on sexual and reproductive health and rights to address the specific needs for women and girls.
Increasing 15 percent of a country’s GDP to the health sector will contribute to rectifying the imbalance created by the fact that the majority of reproductive and sexual rights funding is drawn from external funding.
Considering that external funding compromises the country’s policy space and is unpredictable with many conditions, African governments must show commitment to their own citizens by making investments in key sectors such as health in general and SRHR in particular.
Q. What role does inadequate social and physical infrastructure play in shaping gender inequality in Africa?
Some of the most glaring but under-reported scenarios of gender inequality in Africa is unpaid care work.
Unpaid care work which includes fetching water, collecting firewood, caring for the sick and elderly and taking care of the home and children, and often the male adults, is predominately done by women and girls and yet is hardly ever recognised or valued as work.
It is assumed by culture and the society that women should and must indeed take up these roles.
These roles, which are allocated by society due to stereotypes about men and women’s work, are time consuming and take way time for women to participate in paid work and for leisure.
The time spent by women and girls on unpaid care work is increased by limited access and inadequate provision of key infrastructure such as energy and water and sanitation facilities.
Seventy-one percent of the burden of collecting water for households falls on women and girls who spend in total 40 billion hours in a year collecting water.
Q. Were Africa to account for the 40 billion loss of un-paid care work every year, what are the possible poverty and inequality gaps that could be closed?
Forty billion dollars could improve accessible water infrastructure thus redistributing the 40 billion hours spent by women and girls fetching water across long distances.
This has an automatic impact on women’s and girls’ ability to engage in other socio-economic activities including educational and leadership opportunities, paid work as well as improve health and well-being through finding time for rest and leisure .
Forty billion dollars could enhance transport infrastructure within member states thus not only improving easy access to health facilities, markets and schools but also increasing the safety and security of women who bear the brunt of gender based violence due to poor infrastructure such as roads, street lighting and security services.
Forty billion dollars could Improve transport infrastructure thus increasing intra and inter country trade that provides 60 percent of non-agricultural self-employment for women in sub Saharan Africa, with women constituting 70 percent of informal cross-border traders in the SADC region.
There could also be massive investments in time saving technologies that reduce and redistribute women and girls’ unpaid care work.
Q. What must the Africa Union do to ensure that corruption in Africa is fully addressed?
The Africa Union is at a pivotal time to take the bull of corruption by the horns and galvanise the continent towards eradicating the vice.
That the union has seen it worthy to make corruption a specific focus this year is in itself a bold step towards the direction of solving the crisis.
It must now take critical steps to curb corruption at all levels.
It must urge its member states to ensure that open-governance systems are in place and further ensure that existing platforms allow women to participate equally in effective delivery and resource utilisation.
The AU must proactively address issues of power imbalances and pursue the lack of accountability and transparency for the ultimate benefit of Africa’s populations.
2018 must be the year that the AU makes substantive strides towards combating corruption in Africa without fail.
At regional level, commitments to address corruption already exist. For example AU has a convention on preventing and combating corruption adopted in 2003 and went into force in 2006.
Currently 38 African governments have ratified it. I urge the countries that have not yet ratified to ratify and those that have ratified to implement the actions outlined in the convention.