Challenges for a better future for African Women; Political Commitment or Institutional Capacity?

By Alem Asmelash*

The 23rd Ordinary session of the summit of the African Union (AU) in Malabo in 2014, decided that the 2015 theme for the ordinary session would be  ‘2015 year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’. The time has now come for the AU heads of state and governments summit to take on the challenge of providing the necessary mechanism to empower and develop women as per the aspirations of Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063’s latest version presented to the 23rd ordinary session of the summit provides that the continent aspires to attain full gender parity in 2063. Moreover it also provides the following aspirations: Women to hold 50% of elected public offices, women to hold half of managerial positions in the public and private sector, Women to be path breakers of the African knowledge society and contribute significantly to innovation and entrepreneurship in 2063.

However the problems women in Africa face and the lack of political commitment as well as institutional incapacity, both at states and continental level, could leave the realization of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 in doubt. In an interview with Ms. Dudziro Nhengu, Programme Associate: Gender, Peace-building and Security at the United Nations Women, highlighting the problems women in Africa go through, stipulates that Violence Against Women (VAW), in conflict, poverty and gender discrimination are ugly triplets hampering sustainable development and positive peace on the continent. She further elaborates that VAW reflected through gender discrimination perpetuates bad governance and misrepresentation of the needs of the other half of the population in policy formulation and implementation, leading to abortive processes and poverty in Africa. In this regard it is noted that Africa holds 30% of the world’s poor, and those are mainly women. In Malawi 53% live under the poverty datum line of USD1.25 – the majority of these are women. In addition in Zambia 69% live under the poverty datum line – and again the majority are women. Although there are high levels of economic growth in Angola and Mozambique, citizens are plagued by hunger and poverty.

Leaving women out of the economic and social development process has also created a gender gap that costs Africa close to $255 billion a year. The Democratic Republic of Congo is teeming with natural resources yet women do not own land and use in their own right, and worse still the violent conflict in the Eastern DRC, South Sudan, Somalia and Libya is not conducive for women to engage in sustainable and enriching economic activities. Moreover the majority of the African women live in the rural areas where cultural beliefs and customary rules still affect them negatively. Dudziro in this regard cited ‘the age of marriage in Malawi is still 15, and forced child marriages are still a force to reckon with in many African countries, pushing girl children out of school and sentencing them to death through disease and maternal mortality’.

In the process of tackling the problems women in Africa face; political leadership, institutional capacity and collaborative endeavours between stakeholders is an important attribute. However, Dudziro argues that the African continent at the moment lacks the political leadership required in this regard. She maintains ‘some African leaders who are mainly men have not shown a deliberate commitment to ending poverty, discrimination and violence against women, and continue to start and sponsor wars that are literally fought on women’s bodies. External actors are also more concerned about resource interest and other personal agendas at the expense of ending violence against women in conflict’.

The lack of leadership insight towards the perilous situations women in Africa are faced with is not only leaving its mark at times of conflict but also in the development process. A FAO study posits that equal investment in Agriculture could have increased production by 22% in 2004 in Kenya, yet the majority of the subsistence farmers, women, remain with no access to meaningful farming implements. Thus African leaders must gear resources towards educating women and providing the necessary means to bring about closer gender equality in the ownership of important resources such as lands, agricultural supplements and access to credit services to engage women in businesses. In this regard Dudziro calls for the rise of transformative leaders in Africa, who live by transformation principles and good stewardship over resources, take accountability over resources and channel them all towards the benefit of many.

But of course all is not bleak for the continent. It should be noted that the African continent is now on a relatively better path that is pushing it towards consecutive growth years. The continent has a 5.5% growth rate well above the global average. Moreover  there is a rise in the number of constitutions that are realizing women’s rights in different states, and the women’s movement across the continent is also rising up to the occasion of challenging violence and war. Dudziro said ‘recent talks on the South Sudanese conflict have witnessed the presence of the women’s block as observers for the first time, and the presentations to the AU PSC of demands to end VAW in conflict by the office of the Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security on 16 November 2014 at the PSC Open Session in Addis Ababa is also a sign that women are ready to rise up for action against violence, poverty and discrimination towards the realization of Agenda 2063’. Moreover the political commitment that is seen in Rwanda in fostering women participation in the parliament is positive step towards women empowerment and development. Rwanda has now the highest women representation of any parliament in the world, constituting an unprecedented 64 per cent of the Lower House. Thus Africa with the correct policies and visionary leadership can be able to meet the aspirations that are set in Agenda 2063 but should also be cognizant of the challenges that are posed which perhaps require a transformative path to pursue devoid of the historical and customary beliefs that have belittled women’s engagement and enables them to equally participate in the political, economic and social spheres.

*Alem Asmelash (alem.a@ipss-addis.org)  is a Communication Assistant at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org

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3 thoughts on “Challenges for a better future for African Women; Political Commitment or Institutional Capacity?

  1. Your argument that political will is key for the achievement of ‘a better future for African women’ is very insightful. However, we cannot expect gender, like all other governance issues in Africa to be free of absent and weak institutions in Africa. So isn’t asking gender to take a front seat without addressing issues like corruption and bad bureaucracy like saying ‘ladies first’ to mal-governance?

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  2. In-fact, ignoring issues of women is part of the bad governance, corruption and bad bureaucracy. Bad bureaucracy thrives on ensuring that the voices of those considered to be ‘THE people’ heard and followed first even if what they are going to say or even if the rules they have set are counter-development. No one is arguing for putting gender at the front seat, but for putting it on the front rows together with the other most important issues to be upheld because it is a key aspect of democratic governance and sustainable peace. Ignoring issues of 51% of the population is as corrupt as converting funds for maternity needs of those same women to budgets for guns for illegitimate militias.

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