During the week of the 22nd African Union Heads of States and Governments Summit held from 29 January to 1 February 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I had occasion to participate in an interview with Mr Alem Asmelash of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) Addis Ababa University on the aspirations of Agenda 2063 towards empowering and developing women. Part of the interview is captured below:
ALEM ASMELASH (AA): What are the current issues women of Africa go through?
DDUDZIRO NHENGU (DN): The horrors of violence against women (VAW) both in conflict and in peace, poverty and gender discrimination are ugly triplets hampering sustainable development and positive peace on the continent, even 20 years after Beijing.
VAW denies women equality with men, while also imposing high social, health and economic costs on the continent’s budgets that are already strained by war and disease. Gender discrimination perpetuates bad governance and misrepresentation of the needs of the other half of the population in policy formulation and implementation, leading to abortive processes and poverty. Africa holds 30% of the world’s poor, and those are mainly women. In Malawi 72% live under the poverty datum line of USD1.25, and 1.9 million require aid – the majority of these are women. (Musisi: 2004) In Zambia 69% live under the poverty datum line – and again the majority are women. Although there are high levels of economic growth in Angola and Mozambique, citizens are plagued by hunger and poverty, and women bear the brunt of struggling to feed families owing to prescribed gender roles. Leaving women out of the economic and social development process has in reality created a gender gap that costs Africa close to $255 billion a year. The Democratic Republic of Congo is teeming with natural resources yet women do not own land and use in their own right, and worse still the violent conflict in the Eastern DRC is not conducive for women to engage in sustainable and enriching economic activities. A FAO study posits that equal investment in Agriculture could have increased production by 22% in 2004 in Kenya, (FAO: 2013) yet the majority of the subsistence farmers, women, remain with no access to meaningful farming implements.
Continentally, women have less access to productive resources such as land, seeds, fertilizers, technology, finance and services, and all stakeholders including member states, UN agencies and international development partners, civil society and the private sector must coalesce efforts for accelerated provision of women’s rights and needs so that they can realise their full potential as key game changers of the continent’s economy to ensure food and nutrition security. (UN WOMEN: 2014)
Discriminatory laws and cultural beliefs also affect women negatively in Africa. The age of marriage in Malawi is still 15, and forced child marriages are still a force to reckon with in countries like Zimbabwe, pushing girl children out of school and sentencing them to death through disease and maternal mortality. Some African leaders who are mainly men have not shown a deliberate commitment to ending poverty, discrimination and violence against women, and continue to start and sponsor wars that are literally fought on women’s bodies. External actors are also more concerned about resource interest and other personal agendas at the expense of ending violence against women in conflict, and their presence on the conflict scene in Africa also increases violence against women.
AA: How do you think the UN and AU should collaborate in achieving the objectives of Agenda 2063 towards women?
DN: For the UN and the AU the current situation is the “…moment of reflection where the two bodies must work together to ensure stronger prevention of and accountability for GBV.” (Ban Ki Moon: 2014) An opportunity exists through two historical developments on the continent regarding the women’s rights agenda. In 2010 the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), was created by the mandate of the UN Secretary General to specifically address gender equality and women’s empowerment issues. In similar and complimentary manner the Office of the AU Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, also created with a deliberate intention to address issues of violence against women in conflict was established in the AU Commissioner’s office in 2011.
UN Women and the AU Commissioner’s Office must work hand in hand to support continuity the AU Special Envoy Madame Benata Diop’s effort through ensuring adequate resource mobilisation for effective programmes. Initiatives undertaken by Madame Diop so far to undertake on sight assessments of effects of violent conflict on the ground are an indicator of the possibility of strong commitments to implement practical solutions to eliminate VAW in conflict, with practical baselines to provide concrete indicators even for the work of the continental early warning unit. Many a time research on women’s suffering in conflict is glazed over by mainstream conflict assessments, and statics often misrepresent reality on the ground. While figures of IDPs may only reflect the figures of those in camps and shelters, the numbers of women who suffer and die in the bush remain unknown and unattended to. It is only through the Special Envoy on women Peace and Security’s office that such meticulous details obtaining in women’s situations in conflict can be addressed.
Together the AU and UN Women must raise a network of female and male policy makers that are committed to apply approaches that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in all spheres. UN Women’s African Centre for Conflict Transformation and Inclusive Leadership (ACTIL) should work hand in hand with the AU to facilitate training, mentoring and experiential learning for women leaders and youth, training and mentoring for male and female policy and decisions makers. The two blocks must also invest in strengthening National Gender Machineries, strengthening leadership Institutes and establishing election resource hubs for enriching women politicians’ experiences.
AA: Do you think the aspirations of Agenda 2063 with regards to women are realistic?
DN: I think this vision is realistic because the indicators are that Africa has potential to grow, now with a growth rate of 5.5% compared to 3% global average. Africa also holds 10% of the world oil reserves, 40% gold ore, 95% platinum group metals 60% of unutilized arable land on the continent. There is a rise in the number of Constitutions that are realizing women’s rights in different states, and the women’s movement across the continent is also rising up to the occasion of challenging violence and war. Recent talks on the South Sudanese conflict have witnessed the presence of the women’s block as observers for the first time, and the presentations to the AU PSC of demands to end VAW in conflict by the office of the Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security on 16 November 2014 at the PSC Open Session in Addis Ababa is also a sign that women are ready to rise up for action against violence, poverty and discrimination towards the realization of Agenda 2063.
AA: What should be done by all stakeholders to meet the goals of Agenda 2063 towards empowering and developing women?
DN: Africa has a lot of good leaders, but what we need presently is a crop of transformative leaders who can move away from the norm and embrace a new beginning. Poverty, discrimination, corruption, VAW and rebel politicking and empty political promises have become the norm. Leaders must embrace transformation of the mindset first to be able to transform norm, policies and actions. African leaders must live by transformation principles and good stewardship over resources, take accountability over resources and channel them all towards the benefit of many. Africa must recall back the billions of dollars lost to foreigners through corruption and lack of transparent and accountability in business. Root cause of conflicts must be identified and all commitments to peace agreements followed to end conflict. Home grown solutions must also be focused on because no foreign hand will solve the problems of Africa.
Musisi, Christine. 2014. Presentation Made at the Zimbabwe Training of the G20 on Transformational Leadership on 26 November 2014. Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe.
UN Women. 2014. Beijing +20 Situation Report. UN Women, New York.
Ban Ki Moon. 2014. Beijing +20 Speech in the UN Women Beijing +20 Situation Report. UN Women. New York
FAO. 2013. Monitoring African Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP). Review of Food and Agriculture Policies in the Kenya 2005-2011. Country Report February 2013.