Enough talk about women, it’s time to act

The two-pronged theme of this week’s Johannesburg meeting of African Union leaders is the Year of Women’s Empowerment and the progress made towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. The summit also marks the end of the first phase of the African Women’s Decade, which continues until 2020.

The meeting aims to accelerate the implementation of the decisions and commitments made in Dakar and Beijing, and at the AU Assembly, relating to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to review the third United Nations millennium development goal, which sought the same.

Agenda 2063 is the continental vision and action plan adopted on the AU’s 50th anniversary. It is a 50-year plan to make Africa prosperous, peaceful and unified.

It is to be hoped that the gathering will not be distracted by military crises and the like, and that it comes up with a common position for the post-2015 plan for gender and women empowerment.

So far, the necessary legal frameworks have been developed in some countries. Eight countries (South Africa, Rwanda, Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique, Burundi, Lesotho and Uganda) have managed to achieve the target of 30% women parliamentarians.

In other countries, it seems the significant strides once made by women in the political arena are coming to an end. And even in those nations that have made the numbers, the influence of women on policymaking and issues such as the economy, governance, democracy and elections remains largely marginal.

In most African countries’ development policies there is a large disparity in income between men and women. Women still lack protection from family and civil violence, access to land, formal employment, education, as well as reproductive and other forms of healthcare.

An eyesore case remains the kidnappings by West African terrorist group Boko Haram, which has used girls as young as 10 as suicide bombers. Women have also suffered many atrocities in the ongoing war against rebel groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as they have in South Sudan and now possibly in Burundi.

Dehumanising cultural practices, such as forced marriages and female genital mutilation, are also insufficiently condemned.

Economically, access to credit remains out of reach for many women, stifling their hopes of starting businesses. The majority of the continent’s women are employed in the informal sector, which is mainly characterised by low earnings, a lack of social protection and susceptibility to economic meltdowns.

Although access to education has increased in most countries, many women continue to be segregated, with fewer employment and advancement opportunities. In addition, their contributions to national and continental developments in agriculture are at times neither recognised nor rewarded.

If it is to live up to its theme, the current AU summit has its work clearly cut out. It should look critically at the reality on the ground and assess the progress made, and seriously review the gender disparities that exist.

If women largely continue to be only discussed, and many of the nationally and regionally established gender-mainstreaming mechanisms lack implementation, capacity and funding, Agenda 2063 runs the risk of becoming yet another pipe dream.

Tracy Viriri-Zambara is a master’s student at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of the Western Cape

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