Yesterday, to commemorate International Women’s Day, the former chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, posted a message for African women on the union’s website. The focus of the update, one which I have pasted below, was to hone in on a political vision and action plan – ‘Agenda 2063‘ – which, among other things, “envisages a non-sexist Africa, an Africa where girls and boys can reach their full potential, where men and women contribute equally to the development of their societies.”
Although it is a well written, authoritative and powerful message, it confirmed one of my premonitions. The dream of gender equality as described in the update is just that, a fantasy. It is unlikely – very, very unlikely – that the vision Dlamini-Zuma and AU stakeholders have articulated will manifest by 2063.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. Initially the update excited me, which is why it then made me wonder about the human, and my own, capacity to self-delude. Why do such utopian visions as Agenda 63 evoke a sense of practical application, particularly from an organisation that has, in its roughly 50 year history thus, bothered little with women’s rights.
I guess we need to escape into the future because the present situation is uninspiring. But we need to stop looking toward some miracle year as the solution. All that encourages is passivity.
I am not saying that we should stop planning ahead. Agenda 2063 is useful but only if it has a relationship to the present. The solution to ending gender inequality, if there is one, is in taking action in the present. Agenda NOW.
Reading the message I was, however, struck by something which I think hints at a realisable transformation. Namely that girls and women in 2063 of whom, if I am very lucky, I will be (an old chirpy 85 year old) one, will have the significant, if delusional, text below as a reference. In other words, they will have something that I, and my generation do not have – a benchmark to contrast vision and reality with in the (then) present. Kind of like how the MDGs can be utilised this year, to show how pointless action plans can be, and to push for actual transformatory strategy. The best use they, too, have produced.
Share your thoughts. What do you think of the statement?
Statement of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Celebration of the International Women’s Day
08 March 2015
“Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa Agenda 2063”
Make It Happens
Ladies and gentlemen,
On this memorable day of March 8, 2015, commemorating International Women’s Day around the world, I would like to add my voice to those of all women worldwide and especially to the women of Africa in acknowledging the fight led by female pioneers for the rights of women throughout the past centuries. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the determination of women around the world to fight for equality and to their social, economic and political rights.
The celebration of March 8 gives us the opportunity to highlight the economic, political and social achievements of women worldwide. Furthermore, it allows us to take stock of the progress made and the challenges we still face in terms of recognizing and protecting the rights of women as stipulated in international and regional instruments.
Today the issue of recognition of women’s rights and their implementation should no longer startle or shock men, nor women themselves, because it has been proven that sustainable development, political stability and economic growth cannot be achieved when a portion of the population is marginalized and excluded in the access and distribution of national resources.
Today, we can point to marked achievements in the representation of women – we have our first women Presidents, increase numbers of women in African parliaments, and we have gender parity in the AU Commission.
This must be celebrated, but much more remains to be done, to increase women’s representation in all spheres – in the judiciary and in parliaments, in the economy and in the security sector. We must also intensify efforts to improve the visibility of African women on the national, regional and international scenes. Indeed, in traditional African society, it is actually women who are often, but discreetly, consulted by men when important decisions have to be taken in the community.
But why is it that women’s decision-making power is not reflected in public? Why the African woman is always relegated to the background in the instances of modern public decisions? Why is the African women excluded during elections in our country? Why is she deprived of access to credit? To land? To education? To employment? To participation in peace negotiations? and so forth. These are existential issues for women who are awaiting concrete answers from all leaders.
This March 8, 2015, let’s try to envision an International Women’s Day in the next 50 years, and know that the world will not celebrate women just for their struggle for gender equality, but will recognize every day as the days of both male and female citizens regardless of gender with equal and equitable rights for women and men to be autonomous, educated, free of movement and living in a stable and prosperous Africa.
Indeed, Agenda 2063 is led by the African people, particularly women and young Africans, considered as the driving force of the continent, the pillars on which the continent must rely on to achieve a sustainable development model for a prosperous and peaceful Africa. Agenda 2063 envisages a non-sexist Africa, an Africa where girls and boys can reach their full potential, where men and women contribute equally to the development of their societies.
It is with a view to successfully complete the Post-2015 Development Agenda, to accelerate Beijing and Dakar Platforms for Action and to implement gender equality and women’s empowerment policies that Heads of State and Government of the African Union have declared 2015 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”
For years, various stakeholders have been developing strategies on the protection and promotion of women’s human rights with capacity building systems for economic, social and political empowerment. Now women are increasingly at the heart of human development policies. The integration of the gender perspective is now an inclusive subject in all public and private spheres.
The choice of this theme is indeed an opportunity that we must seize to demonstrate our commitment to make the empowerment of African women a reality rather than a statement which dates back several decades.
In reference to the Consultation of Stakeholders held from 21st to 23rd January 2015, at the margins of the AU Summit, I wish to recall the five (5) major priorities areas that African women have identified as essential to the empowerment of African women for the realization of Agenda 2063, notably health, education, peace and security, agriculture, and economic empowerment of women.
1. Women’s health is still a major concern in our African countries since the sexual health and reproductive rights of women are still not sufficiently respected and that discrimination against women continues to be the source of high maternal and infant mortality. This is why I commend the national launches of the CAARMA (Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa) so that its effective implementation contributes to strengthening the healthcare system for the benefit of women and their social empowerment. We should invest in quality health services for all women and girls. I take this opportunity to recall the vulnerability and courage of women in countries affected by the Ebola virus. Women are paying the heaviest price for this epidemic and special measures for their physical and mental recovery must be consider in time to protect them against the resurgence of the disease and to also compensate the affected women for the loss of their families and their economic occupations.
2. Quality education for all girls so that they do not become brides. This concern is one that’s shared today by many mothers and fathers in Africa, especially after the abduction of the Chibok Girls, in Nigeria. Africa needs a well-educated and prepared child and youth to take over for the elders. Agenda 2063 calls for the mobilization of an education revolution on the continent and I would like to demonstrate this as evidence with the Pan-African University which is an educational Institution that provides access to education in science and new technologies to girls. Moreover, the private and public sectors of ICT give the vast majority of their training to girls and women, an effort which should continue to be encouraged and promoted.
3. Peace and security on the continent is another priority of the African Union. It is an essential condition for an effective empowerment of women. Generally regarded as the most vulnerable people during armed conflict and during the post-conflict period, women should not only be seen in this light. It is rather necessary to see the contribution of African women in the peacekeeping process and the post-conflict period, and even in the transitional phase of justice and the drafting of a new Constitution. In the implementation of the AU program “Silencing the Guns by 2020”, the African Union is committed to mainstream gender in its Peace and Security Architecture and its African Governance Architecture (AGA). Henceforward, African should be strongly engaged in policy decision making, reaching 50/50 gender parity, and especially during the presidential and legislative elections on the continent. Women’s voices should not count anymore as those of mere voters, but as candidates in instances relating to the highest decision-making bodies.
4. Agriculture is indeed one of the priorities that, if properly taken into account, will be the catalyst for the economic and social empowerment of African women. It is this vision that our African leaders had in 2014, when they declared it as the “Year of Agriculture” with the objective of inclusive growth and sustainable development. It is in the same dynamic of this inclusion that the theme of 2015 “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” finds its meaning and its interest. Indeed how can we speak of inclusive growth and sustainable development without recognition of the work of some of our African population, consisting mostly of women in rural areas? African women constitute more than 70 percent of small farmers that help to feed the majority of the growing population of Africa. They are mainly present in the agricultural sector and the informal sector of the Agribusiness. Despite this critical role, rural African women continue to work the land with archaic working methods such as the HANDHELD HOE!
“THIS HOE, WE DO NOT WANT IT ANY MORE!! IT MUST HENCEFORTH BE PLACED AT THE MUSEUM AS AN ARTIFACT! / A SUBJECT OF ART FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS!”
Each male and female farmer should now have a “Tiller”, a modern agricultural working tool that gives more dignity to the human being in his function as a farmer by reducing his heavy labor load and by contributing to increased yields in agriculture, fisheries, livestock and poultry. It also helps to address arising issues related to climate change while reducing hunger and malnutrition in Africa and around the world.
5. Economic empowerment of women essentially aims for the creation of a Bank for African women as has been done in some of African countries such as Ethiopia, as an example of a good practice which should be replicated throughout Africa. As well as Ethiopia, I congratulate all those African countries that have gone beyond microfinance and microcredit by including gender in the financial mechanisms. Indeed, we must harness the power of female entrepreneurship with effective access and control over resources by African women. Our continent is rich in natural resources but our people, and in particular women remain poor.
I would like to conclude my message of this day, 08 March 2015, by emphasizing that the effective implementation of the theme of 2015 requires a joint effort including all stakeholders, RECs, Civil Society Organizations, and of course our Development Partners.
We need all of you men and women as actors and actresses to achieve the Africa we want!!
I thank you and wish all of you a Happy International Women’s Day