By ROSEMARY OKELLO
The launch of the African Women’s Decade this week marks yet another beginning for women in the continent.
The decade has been lauded by gender experts as the greatest achievement by African Governments to focus on issues affecting the African woman and how they can use it to accelerate gender equality in the region.
The more than 3,000 delegates with diverse representations from the 53 African Union member states, governments, international community, the UN and NGOs that have come to witness the launch of the Decade are hopeful that this time it will not be business as usual.
Unlike in the previous women’s decade that was spearheaded and championed by the United Nations, the 2010-2020 African Decade was a consultative process between the governments and civil societies spearheaded by the African Union.
The Decade’s objective is the ratification of the Maputo Protocol and setting aside of resources for the implementation of existing instruments. Even though various countries have put in place institutional mechanism to address issues of gender equality, women’s rights and the issue of women in leadership and decision-making positions, the status of women in Africa is still worse off compared to other regions.
This was evident in November 2009 during the Africa review of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing +15) which showed African countries had failed to meet their commitment to gender equality. Progress on the Millennium Development Goals also indicates that the continent is doing poorly on MDG 3 that seeks to promote gender equality and empowering of women.
According to Ms Litha Musyimi Ogana, Director of Gender in the African Union, the aim of an African Women’s Decade is to scale up the continent’s leadership in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This is why many women are hopeful that the Decade will help in promoting the ability of African governments to generate funds to address gender from women’s economic empowerment perspective and increased access to agricultural land, farm inputs, credit, technology, markets and water as well as improved women’s health to reduce maternal mortality and to address HIV/AIDS as stated in the Decade’s thematic areas.
The ten areas to which the African governments are expected to focus on are; women’s economic empowerment; increased access to agricultural land, farm inputs, credit, technology, market and access to water as well as achieving 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.
However, the success of the Decade will depend on how women become part of its implementation.
Vice President of Gambia and Secretary of State for Women, Ms Isatou Njie-Saidy, who is also in Kenya to witness the launch, is on record challenging women to be part national policies planning, programme implementation as well as resource allocations in their countries.
“If we are not present and speaking from my own experience as the Vice President, general issues will be discussed, but issues affecting women will not be raised unless we are there to remind our male colleagues about them,” she said.
The other problem is lack of gender disaggregated data in the continent on how each country has addressed the issue of gender equality based on the Beijing Platform for Action and other international conventions. This has made it very difficult to assess the impact of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action in the region.
The women of Africa must be part of the process which shall address issues of discriminatory laws, cultural practices and religious attitudes and their impact on women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. They will also have the chance to audit legal frameworks protecting women and children as well as have more women in Africa participate in decision-making.