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EAST AFRICA: Women Want Visibility in Regional Union

Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi

KAMPALA, Feb 17 2010 (IPS) - As the East Africa Community (EAC) gradually moves towards a political confederation, women’s rights groups from the five member states are pushing for an East African Protocol on Gender and Development to bridge the gender gaps within the integration process.

The protocol, which is currently in draft form, aims to create equal opportunities for women and address the implications of the EAC Treaty – including the formation of a customs union, common market, monetary union and free movement of persons – from a gender perspective.

Established in November 1999, the regional grouping seeks to deepen social, economic and political cooperation among its five member states – Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. EAC members established a customs union in 2005 and are looking towards a common market this year, a monetary union by 2012 and a political confederation by 2015.

Although the Treaty recognises gender as one of the cornerstones of the EAC integration, many gender gaps still exist, says Marren Akatsa-Bukachi, Executive Director East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), a women’s organisation that is spearheading civil society activities in drafting of the Protocol in the five member states.

“The EAC is coming to federate in politics, trade and customs, but in terms of human rights, they are not talking about those issues. And especially on women’s rights, there is a lot of disparity among the East African countries. On women’s participation in political decision-making, for example, Rwanda has already achieved 56 percent women representation, Uganda stands at 33 percent and Kenya at 18 percent.

Bridging the gaps

“That (disparity) motivated us to see if we could have a unitary document that could be used to lobby for uniform treatment of women in all the five countries. We want every country to be like Rwanda. That is our ideal,” Akatsa-Bukachi says. The protocol aims to come up with a regional commitment to 50-50 percent representation of women in leadership.

The gender gaps in the EAC’s decision making organs is another area of concern. The summit of the Heads of State and the East African Court of Justice are male dominated and although the council of ministers for East African affairs is headed by a woman, the rest of its members are male.

“It is notable that no woman was appointed judge to the EAC Court of Justice despite the fact that there are qualified female judges in the member countries,” Akatsa-Bukachi says.

Other issues common to the EAC member states the protocol seeks to address include violence against women, economic empowerment and food security. It will also focus on women’s health issues, marginalised groups – including people with disabilities, the youth and the media.

A binding agreement

Once approved, the protocol will become a binding legal agreement which all member states commit to implement.

“Our binding agreements in terms of the gender responsive and integration process will be bound by international instruments which we are all signatory to but also our national gender policies and our constitutions. We are going to work within the frameworks that exist but improve them to meet the standards of EAC integration process,” says member of parliament and chairperson of the Gender Committee and the General Purposes Committee at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Lydia Wanyoto.

While East African countries are lagging behind in terms of gender responsive legislation, Wanyoto is optimistic that this will not affect the aims and objectives of the Protocol because policies are more vital than laws.

“The biggest gaps are actually not in the laws,” she says. “The grounding strategic interventions on gender really are policies. It is the policy that is going to do the implementation of what you want. Therefore, the laws you put in place are just to enable that policy to do its work.”

Mainstreaming Gender in the EAC

Wanyoto says there is need for a gender audit at all the four stages of the EAC integration process so as to avoid missing out on women’s rights: “We do not want to have the traditional gender mainstreaming where everything has already been done. Therefore, at every phase, we do a gender audit, to check whether we are meeting the national and international legal requirements of gender parity in the integration process.

“We have been doing things the other way round and that is why we have not been achieving. So, for every stage, we must have an audit,” she told IPS.


So far, governments of all the five partner states are supportive of the protocol drafting process and committed to ensuring equal opportunities for women in all sectors. They have also taken note of the need to mainstream gender issues in the development agenda, says Alphonse Ojja-Andira, representative of the Common Market Protocol at the EAC on behalf of the Ugandan government.

Wanyoto agrees: “The Ugandan government is very responsive. Of course like any other governments they are a bit slow. That is why it our responsibility as Members of Parliament is to push it (the Protocol) and make it our priority… If the will is there and the mindsets are right, there is no doubt that we will get things right. I am not only hopeful. I am working on it. I am an activist on that matter.”

Akatsa-Bukachi acknowledges that the EAC protocol was inspired by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development that was approved in August 2008.

Wanyoto feels the legislative powers contained in the EAC draft make it more definitive and direct than SADC’s protocol.

According to Akatsa-Bukachi, the target is to have the EAC protocol approved during the Heads of State meeting in November this year.

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