Africa is committed to reach a consensus and adopt a common position that will advance Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE), at the national, regional and global levels. Ahead of the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) set from 15 to 26 March 2021, at the United Nations, New York, the African Union Commission in collaboration with the UN Women and UN Economic Commission of Africa, are convening the Africa Regional Consultations that will enable the continent speak with one voice at the New York meeting. The Common African Position is a framework that will detail the realization of inclusive, irreversible and measurable progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In this regard, technical experts from across the continent, led by experts from the Ministries of Gender and Women’s Affairs in all AU Member States, Regional Economic communities (RECs), the AU Commission, AU Organs and specialized Agencies, the UN Agencies, Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders, convened at a two – days meeting to take stock of the progress made in Africa on women’s participation in public life and the elimination of violence at the institutional and societal levels. The experts also shared experiences, challenges, achievements and emerging issues on the CSW65 theme, reaching a consensus on key messages and issues to inform discussions prior to, and during the session in New York. The CSW theme for 2021 is “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”
Speaking at the opening of the Experts meeting held on the 22nd -23rd February 2021, Madam Memouna Baboni Yacoubou, Expert from the Republic of Benin and Chairperson of the African Union Specialised Technical Committee on GEWE, challenged the participants to relentlessly positively engage through practical suggestions to Governments, innovative measures and actions to improve the status of the legal framework for the promotion and participation of women in public life and effective strategies to remove the main obstacles to women’s full and effective participation in decision-making including measures to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women in public life. “When we are given the opportunity to reflect and act for the emancipation of African women, it is important that we have in mind the image of our sisters in the countryside and in the cities, resigned in the face of hunger, disease, violence, physical and moral suffering, poverty, fear, rejection, social exclusion and all other forms of injustice. We must be the voice of these voiceless beings. For, as we all know, it is in us, the African elites, that they place all their hope”, she added.
Reflecting on the centrality of women’s leadership in the development, peace and integration efforts of the continent, the African Union Commission Directorate of Women, Gender and Youth underlined that for Africa to realize an impactful, lasting and genuine equality for women and men in the societies and communities, African Union Member States must resolve to realize Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life. Victoria Maloka, the Acting Director in a statement delivered on her behalf by Dr. Tapiwa Uchizi Nyasulu Rweyemamu, the Head of Gender Policy and Development Division, noted that the CSW is an opportunity to recommit and galvanize greater commitment put to action, drawing from the evidence of the immense leadership and contributions provided by women and girls to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their homes, in the workplaces and businesses. “There is ample evidence to show that the limited recognition of women’s leadership and role, has affected African economies and political governance. The uneven progress our continent has made around this key priority area requires unprecedented commitment to harness women’s potential in economic, political, social and environmental affairs of the continent”, she stated.
While women make up about 50 per cent of the African population, they remain largely underrepresented in leadership roles across financial, investment and entrepreneurial markets. As a result of these longstanding gender gaps, the continent loses over 20 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year. The CSW theme provides the continent with an opportunity to reflect on progress and persisting challenges that prevent women and girls from full and effective participation in decision-making processes and public life.
Thokozile Ruzvidzo, Director, Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa observed the importance of the Africa Regional Consultations stating that, “our success will be measured by how well we highlight the best practices on the implementation of legal and policy frameworks which contribute to women’s effective participation in public life; how clearly we identify persistent barriers which prevent women’s full and effective participation in decision-making processes across public life; and how precisely we suggest policy, legislative and programmatic measures which can be put in place if they don’t exist or implemented to prevent, address and eradicate violence against women and girls.”
No country has fully achieved gender equality. Significant levels of inequality persist globally, and many women and girls continue to experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, vulnerability and marginalization. In 2020, in what was supposed to be a major year of commemoration, the CSW expressed concern that, overall, progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment has not been fast or deep enough and that in some areas progress has been uneven, major gaps and obstacles remain, including structural barriers, discriminatory practices and the feminization of poverty, persist. Roberta Clarke, UN Women Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, called upon States that have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to honor their obligations.
She added “CSW is important. It strengthens, if we let it, our political will to equality, justice and human rights. We know that there is resistance to this agenda and that resistance is often offered up in the name of tradition, custom and religion. But it is now well established that culture cannot be invoked to justify discrimination. Multilateralism is our best bet for addressing existential challenges, whether it is the pandemic; indebtedness; conflict; environmental degradation; or the climate crisis, all of which affect women and girls in particular and specific ways.”
The Experts meeting will be followed by the Ministerial meeting on the 26th February 2021, which will be crucial to review, deliberate on and adopt the Common Africa Position (CAP) for the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The Ministers will deliberate and agree on modalities for CSW65 including reaching agreement on how Africa will be organized to speak with one voice at the Global CSW65. The CSW remains instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Commission takes a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and challenges in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, among others.