Taking gender equality beyond Africa

via Taking gender equality beyond Africa | The Herald April 30, 2015

This is the 13th in a series of articles analysing progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in SADC, Africa and beyond. Among some of the issues up for consideration during the SADC Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Harare, Zimbabwe yesterday, was gender equality.

This was in the context of the Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) which provided the overarching regional framework guiding SADC in its efforts to achieve its regional integration, development and poverty eradication agenda.

Gender equality, among other issues, has been cited as a sector intervention area in the revised plan.

While at face value, it would appear that the objectives of the SADC Gender Protocol, gender equality and women’s empowerment, remain largely unmet, there is general consensus that the protocol is one of the better performing legal instruments in the southern Africa regional economic bloc.

Against evidence that since 1992, the SADC region has adopted 35 legal instruments, including the SADC Treaty giving effect to the Community, protocols such as the SGP (2008), Free Movement of People and Goods, charters, declarations, and memoranda of understanding (MOUs) cementing the SADC regional integration agenda.

Once protocols are signed and ratified, they are legally binding on state parties, thereby providing a framework for accelerating and strengthening policy, legislation and other measures in SADC member states.

They set regional norms and standards for enhancing measurable change in the lives of SADC citizens.

The RISDP framework, before revision, outlined the priorities for the SADC Gender Unit whose mandate is facilitate, coordinate and monitor the implementation of SADC Gender commitments at national and regional levels.

These relate to policy development and harmonisation; gender mainstreaming; institutional strengthening; strengthening and capacity building; women’s empowerment programmes including:

Women’s human rights; women and girl child education; violence against women and children; sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV and AIDS, women’s economic empowerment; media and information; and women in politics and decision making; communication, information sharing and networking; and research, monitoring and evaluation.

With 2015 being the year in which the targets for the SADC Gender Protocol come up for review, it is necessary to tick off areas that have been implemented, outcomes and more importantly, those which remain untouched.

Commemorating the 2015 International Women’s Day, Dr Stergomena Tax, first female Executive Secretary for SADC, noted that the event coincided with, among others, important global processes in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment, the 20 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Tax highlighted that this is an opportune moment for SADC to join the global community to reflect on progress made towards the implementation of the commitments made in these important instruments.

She also noted that this also comes at a time when the review of the Millennium Development Goals and targets set for 2015 is almost completed and the goals are due to be replaced with the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be deliberated upon and approved by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

Against a target of 15 countries expected to have signed the protocol by 2015, in 2009, nine countries had done so, rising to 13 in 2014.

Ratification of the protocol was not so easy with only two countries having done so in 2010, this rose to nine in 2011, 11 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and in 2014, only three countries remained outstanding.

These were Botswana, Madagascar and Mauritius.

Although Mauritius has not signed the protocol, it has adopted a clause that requires at least 30 percent representation of either sex in local government.

Of the 13 countries that have signed, Madagascar is still to ratify the protocol. The DRC in 2014 remained the only country to have ratified but was yet to deposit its instruments. Mauritius expressed reservation with the proposal for affirmative action, which was contrary to their constitution.

Botswana was not comfortable with the peremptory and mandatory language in the protocol, as well as the time-frames, which it felt were not realistic.

There is general consensus that the two countries should be respected for taking the issues of gender equality and equity seriously enough to not commit to what they know to be unachievable. This comes against a context in which most of those countries acclaimed for having ratified, have failed to meet the targets, and in some cases, have even retrogressed.

“The SADC Gender and Development Index (SGDI), a measure of progress made by the 15 countries against 23 indicators in six sectors (education, political participation, the economy, health, HIV and AIDS, and the media) increased slightly to 67 percent regionally but dropped in five countries, Botswana, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi and Zambia,” notes the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2014.

While acknowledging the advances made in putting gender equality on the national, sub-regional and international agenda, it is an indictment that the narrative of the preamble to the Beijing Platform for Action, back in 1995, bears an uncanny resemblance to that of today.

Back then and now, priorities include the need to redress feminisation of poverty; ensure gender parity education and training of women; increase women’s access to health; eradicate violence against women; address impact of armed conflict on women; protect, advance and promote women’s participation in the economy; increase women’s representation in power and decision making; set up and strengthen institutional mechanisms to advancement women; recognise human rights of women; improve women’s voice, choice and control over the media; acknowledge women’s agency over the environment; and pay close attention to the Girl Child.

What may be different in the gender mainstreaming strategies of today may be the integration of gender equality in key regional strategies such as the RISDP.

The potential effect is captured by Tax, who noted, that, ‘… we should all endeavour to integrate a gender perspective in our different policies, programmes and activities across all sectors of regional integration so that we can realise the SADC vision of ensuring economic well-being and improvement of the standards of living and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa.”

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe which is the focal point to the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance. She is also the Director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).