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AFRICA: “Women’s Decade”: Greater Attention to Implementation

Omer Redi

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 22 2010 (IPS) - Fears that the impact of the global economic meltdown would affect funding to various development areas have been rife. Already, several governments have cut their budgets for HIV and AIDS and bilateral and multilateral funding partners have done likewise.

The promise of Africa's Decade for Women is action on the various declarations and conventions which have not yet delivered gender equality. Credit:  Mercedes Sayagues/PlusNews

The promise of Africa's Decade for Women is action on the various declarations and conventions which have not yet delivered gender equality. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/PlusNews

Tanzania was the first to announce a a 25 percent budget cut early in 2009. Gender, which already receives the lowest budget allocation in most African countries, will suffer more.

According to UNIFEM’s 2008 Progress of the World’s Women report, government budgets are the largest single source of financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment in most countries.

But even with overseas development assistance (ODA) accounting for five to 10 percent of national budgets, the amounts actually allocated to gender equality are negligible and often hard to quantify because of a lack of sex disaggregated data.

Decade in defence of women’s rights

This has prompted the Women and Gender Development Directorate at the African Union (AU) to initiate the African Women’s Decade – to rescue gender issues from being dropped from member states’ budget lines altogether.

“We looked at the financial crisis and realised that if we don’t generate attention again, we will not be able to get financial support; we are going to be lost, our budgets are going to vanish at national level and we won’t be able to implement the initiatives,” said Litha Musyimi-Ogana, Director of the Directorate.

According to Ogana, the African Decade for Women, which will span the years 2010 – 2020, is also a mechanism to accelerate the implementation and attainment of the goals stated in the various, declarations, protocols and conventions the AU has adopted. Among them, four key documents – Section 4/L of the AU Constitutive Act; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality; and the African Union Gender Policy – as well as the African Fund for Women define the AU “gender architecture”.

The Solemn Declaration calls on member states to launch campaigns to end violence against women and on Jan. 30, the AU launched the Africa Unite Campaign to end Violence against Women. In line with Article 5 of the Declaration and the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, the AU has given member states up to 2020 to achieve 50/50 representation of women and men  in politics and decision-making.

But even before the gloom possible budget cuts cast over the gender agenda, Ogana said having these rights incorporated in member states’ policies has been a challenge for the AU.

“We want to use the launch of the decade to push governments to work hard on women’s issues; those who have not ratified the various documents to ratify, those who have already ratified to put money aside for implementation,” Ogana stated.

The African Women’s Decade will be launched on Oct. 15, which is World Rural Women’s Day. According to Ogana, about 80 per cent of women in rural Africa are expected to benefit from works in the decade.

Spelling equality

Special focus will be on ten areas. These include women’s economic empowerment; increased access to agricultural land, farm inputs, credit, technology, market and water access to achieve food security; improved women’s health to reduce maternal mortality and address HIV/AIDS; as well as parity in education at all levels and in political and electoral processes.

In anticipation of the launch, the African Fund for Women was announced on Feb. 2 at the recent AU Assembly in Addis Ababa. The Fund is meant to support the implementation of the various initiatives and protocols African countries have already ratified. Resources from the fund would go to a series of capacity building activities the AU plans to hold to help member states implement women’s rights enshrined in the various policy instruments.

Major financing sources for the Fund will be member state contributions and donor funding, according to AU Communications and Information Division.

Preparations for the launch of the African Women’s Decade began in March 2009. During this period, the AU Commission consulted with various women activist networks on what they want achieved during this decade.

“The decade presents a new chance for taking women’s rights in Africa to a higher level.” Roselynn Musa, Information and Documentation Officer with the African Women’s Development Fund told IPS. The Accra-based nonprofit grant-making foundation supports organisations working towards women’s empowerment.

Broken promises

A November 2009 Africa review of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing +15) paints a grim picture of African countries failing to meet their commitments on gender equality. Progress on the Millennium Development Goals will also be reviewed at a high level meeting in September this year and indications so far are that Africa is doing poorly on MDG3 goal of promoting gender and empowering women.

According to Musa, Africa has “reached a stage where implementation has to be given greater attention”.

In an email interview, Bineta Diop, Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarité, told IPS that in order to implement the declarations and different instruments, efforts have to be made in education, health and the struggle to end violence against grassroots women.

“It is necessary to go from theory to practice by implementing all the instruments and commitments adopted by the AU and thus to fill the numerous gaps existing,” she said.

Despite the promises of progress the decade could bring, gender equality and women’s empowerment were not among the priorities the new AU Chairperson, Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika, outlined for the continental body for his 12-month term. He justified the exclusion saying that women’s issues would be mainstreamed in all AU programmes.

“We have gender issues in all aspects… in food security, in health. So it is a crosscutting issue and that is why we didn’t raise it,” he told IPS. “But it is there as a top priority.”

Mutharika also said he is committed to the realization of the goals of the Decade.

“I have confidence in the women and we will do everything to support them,” he said.

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