Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Women Demand Major Say in Africa’s Development

Nilla Ahmed

JOHANNESBURG, Apr 7 2003 (IPS) - As African leaders and business executives gather in South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg on Monday for a three-day dialogue within the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), African businesswomen say the “gender blind” blueprint needs a major overhaul to benefit women.

The three-day annual African Investment Forum (AIF) is hosted by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), the South African government and the NEPAD Secretariat. Apart from President Thabo Mbeki other African leaders expected to attend include Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.

This year the forum is expected to focus on key investment issues including financing and implementing private sector infrastructure development; expanding regional markets; information and communications technology and adding value in agriculture.

As a curtain raiser to the forum, the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network (CBWN) held a one-day meeting in Johannesburg focussing on Gender and NEPAD.

The gathering, which was attended by African businesswomen and non-governmental organisations, expressed the concern that women in Africa have little knowledge about the issues, implementation or implications of NEPAD.

Participants also noted that the NEPAD framework does not accurately reflect women’s contributions to African nations in the economic, agricultural, social, political or security arenas. “Women are the major agricultural producers and are active in trade and the informal economy and yet they represent the majority of the illiterate and poor. They are profoundly affected by conflict and displacement and are at the greatest risk of HIV/AIDS while they continue to shoulder the burden of their families during war.”

Peter Longworth, Director of Corporate and Government Relations for the CBWN, says the discussion would provide input, which the AIF would need to ensure that the gender implications, particularly the concerns of African businesswomen, were not overlooked.

Mohau Pheko, a South African businesswoman, says it is “necessary to challenge the gender blind approach to NEPAD with passion and revolutionary zeal and to transform the power relations it presents us with.”

NEPAD, a programme to kick-start Africa’s development, aims, among others, “to promote the role of women in social and economic development by reinforcing their capacity in the domains of education and training by the development of revenue-generating activities by facilitating access to credit”. It also “assures their participation in the political and economic life of African countries,” she says.

Pheko says other development summits like the Beijing Platform of Action, adopted the call for the participation of women as equal partners in economic, social and political development as well as in all sectors of economy in decision-making and in the areas of science and technology.

“NEPAD is far behind when it keeps women in areas of the economy that perpetuate exclusion from the macro economy. NEPAD’s lack of reference in terms of analysis and experience of the African women and people regarding these policies is a glaring omission,” she says.

Pheko also regrets that NEPAD treats Globalisation as a ‘fact’ and ‘reality’ without a deeper probing of the experience of globalisation, which has existed for centuries in various forms in Africa. She says women need to clearly define globalisation as a new world for ‘imperialism’ and the manner in which is served to consolidate economic and political domination to the west.

“The relationship between the spread of markets and the changing nature of poverty is not examined in NEPAD. It ignores the fact that women’s poverty in Africa is shaped by gender, class, ethnicity and religion and by unequal relations in the international economy.

“We have to clearly articulate our vision of globalisation. We have to interrogate the type to globalisation that allows some to dominate the economic spaces leaving millions without hope, and without the opportunity to participate in the market place,” she adds.

However, Jessie Duarte, Chief Director of the Africa Multilateral with the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the role of African women in the continent’s development process is critical to the attainment of the primary objectives of NEPAD which are poverty eradication, socio-economic development and growth.

She says the NEPAD Initial Action Plan states that “the marginalisation of women remains real despite the progress of recent years” and that a major effort will be made to “ensure gender equality and ensure the full and effective integration of women in political and socio-economic development”.

The AIF, which will be officially opened by President Mbeki, is designed to create opportunities for partnerships between the public and private sectors, to provide new opportunities for business networking, trade and investment, and supports the Commonwealth’s initiatives on good governance and the economic and social development of its member countries.

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