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GENDER-AFRICA: "Where Is The Money?"

Joyce Mulama

ADDIS ABABA, Nov 22 2008 (IPS) - "Investing in women pays off. It is an effective means to reduce poverty and accelerate the achievement of the rest of the MDGs," says Danish minister for development cooperation Ulla Tørnæs.

Rwandan MP Odette Nyiramilimo -- Women's representation in government is changing women's lives for the better. Credit:  Joyce Mulama/IPS

Rwandan MP Odette Nyiramilimo -- Women's representation in government is changing women's lives for the better. Credit: Joyce Mulama/IPS

Statistics from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international body helping governments tackle development indicate that its disbursements for gender equality in developing countries were three times higher in 2006 than in 2002, up from 2.5 billion dollars to 7.2 billion dollars.

The idea that grass-root women's organisations are the drivers of change in the community in Africa was a commonly-heard statement at the just-concluded African Development Forum in Addis Ababa.

But these organisations are asking "where is the money?" Most of them attending the ADF VI say the funds remain insignificant and negligible, even untraceable.

"I am sure you will agree with me that there are white elephants and a lot of money going to the wrong places," Laeticia Mukurasi, chief gender specialist at the African Development Bank said. The continent has lost over 140 billion dollars due to corruption, according to Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog.

"It is our duty to find the money. With political will, and if we identify right priorities, we can find the money to elevate the status of women in all spheres," Ngarmbatina Soukate, Chad's minister for social action, national solidarity and family said.

It is this political will that is crucial for implementation of commitments promoting equal participation of women and men in politics. these include the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa reaffirmed by the African Union in 2004, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Plan for Action.

Under these instruments, governments are mandated to incorporate gender perspectives in all their development processes, including action to ensure increased women participation in all spheres. Despite making this commitment 13 years ago, most countries on the continent still lag behind in women representation at the decision-making level.

The situation is perpetuated largely by the lack of funds for women to campaign during elections, given that politics is an expensive affair. This year's United Nations statistics indicate that despite some improvement in women's share of national parliamentary seats, Sub-Saharan Africa averages 16 percent, way below the 30 percent quota expected by 2015. With the current trend, the UN says, it will take 40 years for women to comprise 40 percent of parliamentary representation.

Rwanda singled out for praise

Rwanda was lauded for having achieved 50 percent of women in parliament, making it the first country in Africa to reach such a target. "Rwanda has demonstrated that with the right legal framework promoting participation of women, and political will, gender parity in parliament can be achieved," said Bience Gawanas, the AU commissioner for social affairs.

The country's constitution stipulates 30 percent women at every decision-making level. In addition, the electoral law also reserves 30 slots for women and there are resources to help women campaign for elections, according to Odette Nyiramilimo, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly and a former Rwandese member of parliament.

In an interview with IPS, she said: "We have seen a lot of transformation with the increased number of women in parliament. Lives of women in the communities have changed because we are able to generate laws that improve the well being of women," she told IPS.

"At least once a month, every woman parliamentarian must go to her constituency and talk about reproductive health, telling women in the villages about the advantage of giving birth in medical facility and using modern contraceptives." Such activities have seen the percentage of hospital deliveries increase from 28 percent in 2003 to over 40 percent in 2007, as well as an increase in the uptake of contraceptives from 10 to 38 percent the same year."

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) agrees that having higher number of women in parliament contributes to stronger attention to problem's affecting women.

Its report, Progress of the World Women 2008/2009, Who Answers to Women, says "Women bring different views perspectives and talents to politics, and they give priority to those issues believed to be women's issues."

The document, launched at the meeting Nov. 20, calls on the donor community to meet its part of the bargain by intensifying aid to propel more women in Africa to decision making positions.

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