AU and gender: To transform or conform?

Virginia Muwanigwa Correspondent
Over 400 hundred delegates from across the continent and beyond met at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week. The meeting sought to bring together and amplify the voices of key stakeholders in gender equality and women’s empowerment to inform and influence decisions of the AU 26th Summit.

The 8th African Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with Particular focus on the Rights of Women reiterated that African women and girls still face various challenges despite a plethora of frameworks that guarantee gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Under the presidency of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission, the 2016 Gender Pre-Summit was jointly organised by the AUC Directorate of Women Gender and Development; the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) and AU part- ners.

Following on from 2015 which was declared the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063, the 2016 theme marks a second consecutive year that gender equality and women’s empowerment dominate highest priority on the continental agenda.

An assessment of the AU Agenda 2063, upon which implementation will be monitored, addresses gender by committing to people-driven, inclusive development. Inclusivity ensures women, among other groups, participate in decision-making regardless of political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors.

Key messages coming out of the Gender Pre-Summit, including by Dlamini- Zuma, are that Africa’s women and girls “… should be the change we want to see . . . Women should be change agents . . . to transform, not to con- form …”

She reiterates that “it is time for a radical transformative campaign for change and implementation of all the legal frameworks already in place to enhance women’s empowerment particularly under Agenda 2063”.

The Agenda also commits to fully empowering women in all spheres through equal social, political and economic rights. This includes the rights to own and inherit property, sign contracts in their own right, register and manage businesses; and access to productive assets such as land, credit, inputs and financial services.

Another aspiration is to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls in its various forms; attain full gender parity, with women occupying at least 50 percent of elected public offices at all levels and half of managerial positions in the public and the private sectors.

However, these aspirations, according to Inter Press Service (IPS), fly in the face of economic exclusion and financial systems that are discriminatory; marginalisation from political and public life; persistent disparities in access to education seen by poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence among other harmful cultural practices and exclusion of women from peace pro- cesses.

GIMAC’s objective is to lobby for the integration of gender within Africa’s development agenda. As such, the campaign body’s representative, Ruth Ocheng, commended the African Union for declaring 2016 the year of Human Rights with particular focus on the rights of women and the adoption of the Agenda 2063.

One of the key indicators of transformation beyond inclusion of women is the integration of youths within the agenda of the AU. To that end, the delegates to the pre-summit meeting, from 45 African countries, urged the domestication and implementation at national level, of the recommendations of the Addis Ababa Communiqué on women and youths development.

The annual pre-summit meetings are in line with the decision of the Ministerial Consultation with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) held on June 24 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, that the AU Commission should facilitate inclusive consultative processes for stakeholders within the gender equality and women’s empowerment movement.

Ministers of Gender and Womens Affairs of AU member states; AU organs; gender units of Regional Economic Communities (RECs); women’s network sfrom GIMAC; civil society organisations (CSOs); UN agencies; AU partners; officials from the AU Commission and the private sector attended.

On peace and security, Bineta Diop, AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, noted that year 2016 offered another opportunity for the African women to demand for their rights to be recognised as human rights as espoused in Agenda 2063.

Globally, the year 2016 marks the 36th anniversary of the adoption of the blueprint Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), seen as the Bill of Rights for women. It also marks the 21st anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995 and which continues to determine policy on gender and development.

Internal to the AU, 2016 is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in 1986, and the beginning of the second part of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020. The decade is the continental body’s implementation framework to advance gender equality through catalysing women’s empowerment.

The African Union has thus developed an extensive and progressive body of legal instruments to promote gender equality and women’s rights. These are the AU Constitutive Act which is the foundational constitutional framework promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment; Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa better known as the AU Women’s Protocol, which outlines the AU legal framework on gender and women’s rights; Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA), which is the AU reporting framework; the AU Gender Policy which provides a policy basis for gender and women’s rights; and the Fund for African Women which provides the financial resources needed for implementation.

Reports on the closing ceremony are that “two children (a boy and a girl) presented a poem at the closing ceremony, calling on the women leaders and decision-makers to honour their promise as they endorse the final communiqué to pave the way for the younger generation to find a more prosperous and peaceful Africa, free of wars, hunger, disease, poverty and conflicts”.

It now remains to be seen whether Africa as a continent, and through its member states, reflects steps towards gender equality, through social transformation, according to the letter and the spirit of Agenda 2063, among other instruments.

 Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. She is also the Director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).

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