2015 – A defining year in the drive for women’s empowerment in Africa

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN's Beijing Declaration and the 15th anniversary of Declaration 1325.

2015 - A Defining Year in the Drive for Women's Empowerment in Africa
Maesda Hassan Ali, a lawyer from Nyala, Sudan, participates in a dialogue between officers of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and Darfur women on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (UN PHOTO/Olivier Chassot)

Women’s Month in South Africa gives us an opportunity to reflect on the efforts globally, and on the continent, to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality. These efforts have borne fruit and are accelerating. In Africa the initiatives have reached Head of State level, driven by statistics such as the fact that women produce more than 80% of food in Africa but own only approximately 1% of productive lands. To advance their efforts, earlier this year the leaders of Africa participated in the 25th African Union (AU) Summit in Sandton, Johannesburg, under the theme ‘Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’. South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women, Susan Shabangu, highlighted South Africa’s commitment to the theme, noting on behalf of the host country that the empowerment of women is not an act of charity, but a push for a country to operate at full capacity.

For African women’s empowerment and development, this AU Summit was no ordinary Summit, and it is hoped that this summit will be remembered for the ongoing leadership of the first woman AU Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her calls for the attention of the continent and world to remain fixed on women’s empowerment and development. The issues of women’s empowerment and development have been woven throughout the AU’s much discussed continental vision, Agenda 2063, adopted in January 2015. At the same time, we have witnessed much progress in the appointing of women to key AU positions to accompany the vision for women’s empowerment.

As the 25th Summit got underway there was no uncertainty that the meeting was discussing women. From flag masts lining the street around Sandton, banners with the silhouette of an African woman capturing the theme fluttered in the wind. Inside the venue, banner after banner echoed the theme boldly, making the silhouette the symbol of the business of this Summit.

2015 marks a defining year. It is the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which focused on women’s empowerment, and 15 years since the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on women peace and security. This week, after a long journey, 193 countries agreed to a set of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), replacing the UN Millennium Development Goals. The role and significance of women features strongly in these fresh SDG’s. Continentally we are at the midpoint of the African Women’s Decade and just over a decade has passed since the AU adopted a Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, which for the first time placed ownership of gender mainstreaming at the highest level, calling for the implementation of gender parity in the AU and at national level, the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the protection of women against violence and discrimination.

A better future for women in Africa and for the voice of women to be heard at AU summits is championed by the Gender is My Agenda (GiMAC) campaign. Launched in 2006, the civil society campaign holds pre-AU Summit consultative meetings which then feed into the Heads of State deliberations. GiMAC recommendations have been reflected in numerous Summit outcomes. The GiMAC platform bring together African CSOs, the diaspora and policy makers in an effort to propose solution-oriented measures towards women empowerment and gender equality, for example in the areas of governance, human rights, peace and security, education, health and economic empowerment. The Durban based African Centre for the Constructive Resolution for Disputes (ACCORD) remains one of the founding members of GiMAC.

The Johannesburg Summit was strategically preceded by such a GiMAC meeting, and having had the privilege, as ACCORD, to chair a GiMAC panel and attend a few events within the summit, I share some reflections that I hope illustrate the richness of the African responses to the innumerable challenges that African women face.

The efforts of civil society and policymakers are paying off – every year sees another incremental step forward for women’s empowerment in Africa. ACCORD is honoured to be contributing to these efforts through dialogue forums, training women as mediators, and generating knowledge for practice. As it addresses its own challenges, the continent is generating not only national solutions but global solutions. Numerous best practices across Africa are created, led, owned, and implemented by women. These solutions must be harnessed. A values driven framework for women’s equity and empowerment has been built, now the work continues to implement what has been achieved. The momentum is growing.

As part of its programmes, ACCORD works closely with the AU and UN to mainstream gender in peace and security policy and practice. The article first appeared in the Sunday Tribune of 9 August 2015.