The recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, afforded various platforms to rally support and advance actions towards the implementation of commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
According to various reports , African women and girls were keen to build the momentum and consolidate the gains realised over the years in its efforts to close the existing gender gaps. In recommitting to scale up actions for the progressive gender inclusion towards sustainable development, African leaders declared 2020 to 2030 the new Decade of Women’s and Financial Economic Inclusion.
The report on the “Status of Gender and Development in Africa” presented to the Assembly of Heads of States and Government by Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of the Republic of Ghana and the African Union Leader on Gender and Development Issues in Africa, shows that the continent has made considerable progress in implementing commitments towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
African Union member states such as Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa and Senegal, are among the top ten (10) countries in the world with the highest level of women representation in their Parliaments. Others, such as Ethiopia have, for the first time, achieved a parity government, with women fifty percent (50%) of its Cabinet. Sixteen (16) Member States have surpassed the thirty percent (30%) threshold of women’s representation in national Parliaments, with significant progress made in advancing women’s participation in holding elective offices and in positions of leadership. Further, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Burkina’s Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia and Mali, have reduced significantly, the gender gap in terms of access and attainment of education.
Despite these laudable achievements, the President of Ghana however observed that the continent still needs to do more and urged leaders to place more emphasis and efforts towards achieving gender equality in all spheres of life. “Our women and girls still face a multitude of barriers, cultural, religious, financial, social and others, and I urge Your Excellencies, to take appropriate actions to implement fully and efficiently the commitments we have made to advance the welfare of women and girls on the continent. With forty-two (42) out of fifty-five (55) Member States having ratified the Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights, I urge the remaining thirteen (13) Member States, who are yet to ratify the Maputo Protocol, to do so as a matter of urgency.”, he stated.
Adopted in 2003, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) remains one of the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights for African women. The protocol comprehensively covers a diverse spectrum of civil and political, economic, social and cultural as well as environmental rights for women. It challenges the old stereotypes about the role of women in society and places women as full, effective and equal partners with men in the development of their communities and places a moral obligation on African Union Member States to promote equal opportunities for men and women to play meaningful roles in society.
In declaring 2020 to 2030, the Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion, the African Union is keen to move forward the recommendations on the expansion of opportunities, particularly with the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The continental market promises to provide prospects for the meaningful contribution of women and particularly improve the situation of women traders across the continent. African women are keen on strengthened financial services and capacity building, especially for women living in rural areas, to gain access to technology and to use it to increase productivity in all industrious sectors.
In his statement to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission Chairperson, stated that gender equality and parity remained a central priority for the Commission and the Union as a whole. “Our member States have made great strides on women empowerment. This is through access by women entrepreneurs, to procurement contracts, the agricultural value chain and through laws promulgated including solutions proposed to eradicate violence against women. To succeed in this struggle, I will support Member States to declare the 2020-2030 the decade of the financial inclusion of African women. Women are rightfully demanding it and I fully support them.”
These commitments are timely as women account for 70 per cent of the informal cross border traders and have hitherto been vulnerable to harassment, violence, confiscation of goods and even imprisonment. By reducing tariffs and implementing the simplified trade regimes, the AfCFTA will make it more affordable for informal traders to operate through formal channels, which offer more protection. Women can also benefit from initiatives to connect female agricultural workers to export food markets. This potential will not be realized in a vacuum but through purposed financial policies, a sound business environment and political commitment.
Victoria Maloka, the African Union Commission Acting Director of Women, Gender and Development Directorate says going forward in 2020, the women and girls are keen on, not only managing funds at the various public and private institutional set-ups, but also in owning the funds. This, she says has been the motivation over the years that led to the establishment of the “Fund for African women”. She adds, “African women and girls convened on the margins of the African Union Summit and what we agreed upon was presented on our behalf by the former President of Liberia and Patron of the African Women Leaders Network, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who handed the declaration to the African Union Chairperson and President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. What the women clearly expressed in that declaration is a call to our leaders’ to fast-track the implementation of gender-responsive policies and programmes at the national, regional and continental levels. We must close this gender gap”.
In his inaugural speech as the African Union Chairperson, President Ramaphosa underscored the need for the continent to find more practical and sustainable ways of empowering the women that go beyond what he termed as clichés and pronouncements made from podiums. He stated, “Agenda 2063 calls for the allocation of at least 25 per cent of public procurement to be for women-owned businesses, yet women owned-businesses are given less than 1% of procurement. We have to change this. It is not unreasonable to advocate for preferential public procurement legislation to advantage women-owned businesses, and for the establishment of preferential trade and customs regimes for women. The empowerment of women on our continent can be done. It must be done.”
The commitments to scale up actions at the Summit were echoed by different leaders who spoke at the High level meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment held on the margins of the African Union Summit. Here is a highlight of their observations on the need for implementation of legislation and proper financing of gender actions at the national, regional, continental and global levels.
“Investing in African women fund managers is a smart and innovative approach. Female investors have been found to get great returns and we all get better results in investing in women” said Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of the Rwanda.
“Gender inequality is a question of power. And something I’ve learned over time is that power is not given, it must be taken” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. He emphasized on the need for more inclusion of women in economic spheres and the male dominated Silicon Valley, to boost African economies.
“Women and girls continue to shoulder the global and continental burden of poverty, and in many ways, poverty on our continent wears the face of a woman. We need to take all action to increase efforts for women empowerment”, said President Ramaphosa.
“We must admit that the world and we as leaders, did not keep our promise to ensure every woman enjoys her full potential. We need to go to the grassroots away from the boardrooms and seminars to address the obstacles that continue to hinder women”, said Ethiopia’s President Sahle Work Zewde.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged USD 10M towards capacity building at African Union Commission to advance gender equality, trade, security and integration. “As I have seen in my cabinet, having many women in leadership positions leads to better decisions.”
“There’s a strong correlation between gender equality and economic development. The economic value of including women in the workforce exceeds the value of oil and gas. We must support and encourage women entrepreneurship”, said Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister.
The African Women Leaders Network launched the African Women Leaders Fund, demonstrating their commitment to move from commitment to action. With a target of USD 100M, the launch pooled over USD 20M from the leaders present and the private sector. President Kagame pledged USD500,000 matched by Senegal’s President Macky Sall who committed USD500,000. President Ramaphosa committed to contribute more to the fund while various private sector outfits pledged different amounts.