Nyarai Kampilipili and Kizito Sikuka Correspondents
The event had nothing to do with the annual Women’s Month that is celebrated here in South Africa every August to remember the sacrifices and contribution of women to the struggle for social equality.
Rather, the sight of Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax addressing the media ahead of the 37th SADC Summit in South Africa was a clear affirmation that women continue to make a positive contribution towards deepening regional integration and sustainable development in southern Africa.
Nkoana-Mashabane is the incoming chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers, while Dr Tax is the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
In fact, Dr Tax is the first woman to assume the top post at the SADC Secretariat, and since her appointment at a summit in August 2013 in Lilongwe, Malawi has exhibited that “performance is key and not gender” in holding key decision-making positions.
Based in Gaborone, Botswana, the SADC Secretariat is the principal executive institution of SADC, responsible for strategic planning, facilitation and coordination and management of all SADC programmes, activities and projects. The SADC Council of Ministers oversees the functioning and development of SADC by ensuring that regional policies are properly implemented.
In this regard, both Nkoana-Mashabane, who is the South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister and Dr Tax carry the responsibility of making sure the benefits of belonging to a shared community in southern Africa continue to be enjoyed and impact on the lives of SADC citizens.
During her one-year tenure as Council of Ministers chair, Nkoana-Mashabane is expected to provide guidance to the SADC Secretariat on the implementation of regional programmes, while Dr Tax will ensure that the decisions of the 37th SADC Summit are implemented over the next 12 months.
This will include making sure that the momentum built since 2014 in terms of the implementation of the industrialisation agenda is maintained as part of regional efforts to transform from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based one that is able to add value to its own natural resources and compete strongly on global markets.
SADC has over the years made significant progress towards promoting gender equality and equity in the region.
In fact, gender equality is firmly rooted in the Declaration and Treaty that established the shared community of SADC, and member states fully realise that equality and empowerment of both women and men is crucial for the attainment of sustainable development.
This is clearly reflected in the constitutions of most SADC countries that provide for the creation of legal frameworks that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and other differences.
Some countries have also legislated affirmative action and quota systems that guarantee the participation and representation of women in political and other decision-making positions.
According to the SADC Gender and Development Monitor 2016, four member states are among the top 20 countries in the world with the highest number of women in parliament and other key decision-making positions.
These are Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique, followed closely by Angola, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
In the education sector, gender gaps in literacy levels continue to close, with Botswana, Lesotho, Seychelles and Swaziland having higher literacy rates for women compared to men.
The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which was approved at the 36th SADC Summit held in the Kingdom of Swaziland in August 2016, aims to align the protocol with provisions of other instruments such as those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.
The revised protocol provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and attainment of gender equality and equity through enactment of gender-responsive legislation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects.
The 37th SADC Heads of State and Government Summit is scheduled for 19-20 August, and will deliberate on a wide range of issues, including exploring ways of harnessing the potential of the private sector to contribute to the industrialisation agenda and sustainable economic development in the region.
The theme for the summit is “Partnering with the private sector in developing industry and regional value-chains”.
At the summit, South African President Jacob Zuma will assume the rotating SADC chair from King Mswati III of Swaziland.
Prior to the SADC Summit, there will be a Double Troika meeting on August 18 to discuss the general political situation in the region. — sardc.net