Women’s Rights Organizations must persist in overhauling Africa’s gender discrimination trail

Dinah Musindarwezo is the Executive Director of the African Women’s Development & Communications Network, FEMNET/director@femnet.co.ke (Photo/Courtesy)

It would be extremely disheartening if fifteen years from now, African women and girls would still find themselves agitating for equality and justice.

It would be an enormous generational betrayal and catastrophically a global failure if ten years from now, Africa’s women and girls, boxed into the doldrums of discrimination are still pursuing basic rights and pushing governments to adhere to policies that guarantee them.

Today, almost similar to three decades ago, women in Africa and in the world in general are finding themselves struggling to re-define struggles and re-invigorate efforts to end them at a time when the world should have bridged the gaps and realized gender equality.

Increasing threats to women’s bodily integrity and autonomy, denial of access to productive resources including land,  the rise in religious fundamentalism, morality legislations, escalating military spending and democratic deficits as well as dwindling resources for Women’s Rights Organisations especially in the global South have all exacerbated gender inequalities rather than erode them.

Africa still lagging behind

There remains significant gender inequality across Africa, though the extent differs greatly in different contexts.  Twenty two years since Beijing Platform for Action was adopted and fourteen years since our own home grown Women’s Rights Instrument- the Maputo Protocol was adopted, there are still serious challenges in making the rights contained in these instruments accessible to all women and girls. Where there were gaps for women in leadership and decision-making positions, it seems the divide has widened.

Where endemic conflicts had begun waning in the past few years, it now seems that a few have suddenly become more potent and women and girls continue to bear the brunt with intensity. The suffering women of the South Sudan conflict and the Democratic Republic of Congo can attest to this.

Today in Africa, we are still agitating for an end to harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation, forced marriages and widow cleansing rituals, persisting threats to women that should have ended years ago.

It is even embarrassing to imagine that in our countries we are still pushing our governments, in this time and age to provide sanitary towels for vulnerable girls within the education system so that they may not have to skip school because of a purely biological process.

It is actually an outrage that this still happens today!  That post-colonial Africa has made considerable development cannot be disputed since we have countries that have moved into the Middle Income category.

This however, does not reflect positively on its efforts in bridging the gender gap. Statistics still display a mere blotch of progress when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality.

This is despite the fact of reports such as the McKinsey Global Institute Report attesting that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing gender equality.

Africa’s statistics of shame

The Inter-parliamentary Union for instance states that currently, only 2 women are sitting presidents out of Africa’s 54 countries.  There have been only 7 female presidents so far in Africa’s “entire history”.

With exception of Rwanda, women representation in parliament in all African countries is below AU’s threshold of 50 percent and majority of countries are still below the UN’s threshold of 30 percent.

It is not that the women’s movement is not agitating for political leaderships, infact, currently with about 28% parliamentary representation in the region; it is evident that despite the patriarchal, cultural, social and religious challenges that have barred women from these spaces, the push to overturn the tables exists.

It is a push that extends across the economic front where the gender pay gaps in the work force and existing labour laws are so glaring to the detriment of Women.  Statistics from the International Labour Laws and the UN-Women outline that in developing countries, women work for about 50 minutes longer than men. 74% of women in the African workforce are in informal employment.

African women are far more likely than men to be in vulnerable employment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 30- 55% of employed women are contributing family workers which are about 20 % higher than men in the same regions.

African women also contribute to at least 50% of the agricultural workforce, yet they own 1% of land. They have less control over land, input, seeds and credit facilities for entrepreneurship.

Furthermore, in 25 sub-Saharan African countries, it is estimated that women spent at least 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water; men spend 6 million hours; and children, 4 million hours.

In most of Africa’s rural areas, many women derive their livelihoods from small-scale farming. This takes the form of informal and unpaid work. However, even in the formal sector, women still earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages.

The list of discrepancies is endless and extremely disturbing especially in this age when the world should be bridging the gaps of inequalities.

We must change the rhetoric of discrimination

With the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs)  setting the world’s agenda to ending poverty, promoting equalities and improving the quality of life for the world 6 billion + people, Africa must not be left behind especially when it comes to lifting the status of  women and girls.

As Women’s Rights Organizations, we continue to amplify our voices through landmark processes like adaptation and implementation of the Convention to end all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, the Cairo Conference and the Maputo Protocol.

Now the SDGs 2030 and the African Agenda 2063 are also beckoning us to reinvigorate our efforts and push our governments to remain fully committed to their implementation.

Women’s Rights Organizations are, despite the many rising challenges we face today called upon to remain even more vigilant than ever.

This is why this week in Nairobi (3rd – 5th May) , the African Women’s Development & Communications Network (FEMNET) will convene a Pan-African conference of over 150 women’s right organizations to deliberate on these issues affecting women and girls in Africa and strategize on how to hold governments and other stakeholders accountable to overcoming them.

Where governments have become averse to prioritizing issues of equality and rights for women and girls, we must steadily push them to redefine their priorities to focus on these rights.

Where governments have failed to allocate credible budgets to ensure that gender equality and women’s emancipation becomes a reality, we must interrogate their financial plans and ensure there is budgetary allocation.

Where decision-making processes are devoid of women’s voices and representation, we must tear through the status quo and force inclusivity.  This is largely what the Pan-African Women’s Conference with the theme, “Safeguarding our gains: African Women collective action on defining the pathway to achieve Sustainable Development” is determined to achieve.

The rights and equality terrain for Africa’s women and girls must be positively transformed. This is a vision that we must pursue with intense urgency if we want to see tangible change in the coming years.

By Dinah Musindarwezo

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