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African Union gender investigation is ‘window dressing’

The African Union’s promised investigation into systemic gender discrimination risks becoming nothing more than “window dressing”, say staffers.

Last month, a Mail & Guardian investigation revealed that at least 37 women employees at the African Union Commission (AUC) had complained of a “professional apartheid” that sidelines women, as well as routine “ill-treatment and humiliation”.

READ MORE: Exclusive: The ‘professional apartheid’ sidelining women at the African Union

In response, AUC Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat promised to launch an investigation into these issues. “I want to make clear — I will not allow discrimination against women under my watch. I have ordered an investigation to get to the heart of these allegations. Gender parity is at the heart of this Administration. This is my personal conviction and professional duty to all staff,” he said.

However, three weeks later, there is no sign that the investigation has got underway, or whether it will be genuinely independent. No terms of reference have been made public, nor has the identity of anyone on the investigating panel.

“We don’t know what’s going on. They say they will investigate but then nothing happens. We are worried this is all just window dressing,” said one female employee, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution. Several sources confirmed this account.

This fear of retribution appears to be well-founded. Smaïl Chergui, the Commissioner for Peace and Security has dismissed complaints as “fabricated”, and has threatened to launch a very different type of investigation. He told the East African newspaper: “An inquiry is on to determine who is behind this. The commission will communicate in total transparency on this issue where we have zero tolerance.”

READ MORE: M&G sexism exposé prompts African Union investigation

Chergui is accused of favouring male employees over female, and ignoring established recruitment procedure. Senior staff within his own department penned a memo accusing him of abusing his powers to ensure his the appointment of his preferred candidates. He denies the allegations.

The African Union Commission acknowledged receipt of repeated requests for comment and further information, but declined to respond.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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