The 24th summit of the heads of state and government ended in January with a strong call to all concerned about Africa to prioritise women and the youth. The summit declared this year the year for women’s empowerment and development towards achieving Agenda 2063. This is a 50-year plan for Africa to achieve her place in global relations as a peaceful and prosperous region.
This call by the African Union (AU) is timely given that the continent in general and in particular women are commemorating this year; it is 20 years since the Beijing Declaration, which identified 12 critical areas of action. These areas are still as relevant now as they were when the declaration was made.
They are: women and the environment; women in power and decision-making; the girl child; women and the economy; women and poverty; violence against women; human rights of women; education and training of women; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women; women and health, women and media and women and conflict.
The AU is correct in observing that focusing genuinely on women empowerment and development is one of the most important foundations for achieving the objectives of agenda 2063 and those of the post-2015 sustainable development framework.
This year is also 20 years since the 31st session of the then Organisation of African Unity, now the AU, endorsed a recommendation and resolution for the Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Africa to elaborate a protocol on the rights of women, which resulted in the adoption of the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women as well as the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.
Closer to home in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, the Protocol on Gender and Development was signed in 2008 and only came into force in 2013.
There is evidence that the status of women has improved in many respects, but challenges still abound around the 12 areas that the Beijing Platform identified and in others that have since emerged, for example, women and technology and women and the skills revolution. In the agricultural sector, for example, women perform about 80% of smallholder farming. Sadly even here women still lack access and control.
The same applies to all sectors of the economy. In the financial sector, women still lack access to financial support. They struggle to access credit, insurance products and the majority are still not banked. In Africa, only 21.5% of women hold accounts at formal financial institutions.
This deeply concerns the members of the Trust. In line therefore with the AU theme, the Investing in the Future & Drivers of Change Awards will this year focus on celebrating efforts aimed at empowering women.
We are inviting nominations from across Southern Africa for individuals, civil society organisations, governments and the private sector whose efforts have demonstrated a genuine commitment towards empowering women.
The Trust has also begun reviewing its own approaches and processes to make sure women and gender are integrated thoroughly across programming and institutional operations.
This is very important if we are to truly achieve sustainable development. There is no substitute for addressing women’s conditions. Our economies and political systems need to reflect this.
But this starts at the family level. As a family of non-state actors, we are urging ourselves and our partners to embrace wholeheartedly this year’s clarion-call: to address the issues that have for so long plagued the lives of women.