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End gender inequality in Africa

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Picture: African News Agency (ANA) archives – Augustine December shares a relaxed moment with Nomvula Nophanjwa one of a group of young women of the Kliptown community in Johannesburg, South Africa who have taken it upon themselves to look after the elderly and their domestic needs.

By Oulimata Sarr and Rachel Toku-Appiah

Women have borne the brunt of the economic devastation caused by Covid-19 and here in Africa where women make up 58 percent of the self-employed population, women-owned businesses have been particularly sensitive to repeated shocks and crises.

The pandemic has threatened the fragile gains made in recent years towards gender equality by reinforcing and multiplying the precarious situations that women face. Added to this are the consequences of climate change and the war in Ukraine that have further exposed the vulnerabilities of women in Africa.

Our continent needs, more than ever, to strengthen its efforts to end gender-based discrimination and create a wave of positive change across the continent. If things stay at the current pace, it would take another 98 years to end gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot wait any longer. To reverse this trend, we need to focus on three key areas for co-ordination. These are:

  • Representation: women’s voices must be heard in political discussions, peace-keeping processes and decision-making;
  • Rights: egalitarian laws that protect women and girls; and
  • Allocating adequate resources: including financial measures to translate state commitments into action and ensure women’s economic empowerment.

UN Women and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been committed for many years to supporting this progress in partnership with women and men in Africa to build a more equal, peaceful and economically vibrant society.

In many African countries, women continue to be excluded from decision-making spheres. While the representation of women in parliaments has overall increased and is a positive development, there are still countries in West and Central Africa where women represent less than 5 percent of parliamentarians.

As of January 2021, the overall representation of African women was far from reaching parity and the progress made remained uneven. We need to ensure that today, on African Women’s Day, the voices of African women are heard and that they can fully participate in Africa’s decision-making processes.

Quotas have proven to be an effective way to increase women’s participation in politics. Ten countries out of twelve in West and Central Africa now have such laws. For instance, Cape Verde passed a law on parity in 2019 and the number of women elected in local elections rose to 41.5 percent in 2020, up from 26 percent in 2016. This is an example of success that must be urgently duplicated on the continent as the political representation of women in large countries like Nigeria and DRC remains low. It is imperative that we continue on the path of legal and political reforms to endorse these practices that we know work.

The Maputo Protocol, adopted in 2017, provides a legal framework for the protection of women’s rights in Africa. African states have made significant progress toward the goals of the Maputo Protocol including the creation of dedicated ministries and institutional mechanisms to promote these rights.

However, limited access to education and employment for African women reduces the annual per capita growth by 0.8 percent. This level of growth would have allowed the size of African economies to double in 30 years.

In Niger, for example, the World Bank estimates that per capita GDP would be more than 25 percent higher if gender inequality were reduced. Efforts to improve access to education and keep girls in secondary schools, end female genital mutilation (FGM), ensure women’s access to land ownership, end child marriage, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR), will only find success if African women’s opinions and interests are taken into account in government policies.

Thirty years after the Beijing commitments made by the international community, and the Maputo Protocol for gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights, it is urgent that our African countries take bold steps to allocate the adequate resources to spur women’s autonomy and self-determination. South Africa is leading the way by implementing policies and programmes to encourage and support women’s empowerment.

At the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, South African minister of Human Settlements, highlighted three tangible policy examples. First, a strategy focused on empowering women in the energy sector, launched on August 31, 2021. Second, the launch of the “Women Diggers” programme to increase the number of women in the mining sector and last, the “Techno girl” programme to support girls wishing to pursue scientific or technological careers.

There are still too few women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sector even though we know that when women are involved in decision-making, they achieve better results for all in science and research. In countries like Nigeria and Kenya, only 1 in 4 women work in this field.

It is time for action if we want to realise the aspirations of Agenda 2063, the continent’s strategic framework for achieving its goal of inclusive and sustainable development, and thus build the Africa we want: a continent in peace, united, democratic, prosperous, with a strong cultural identity and equality.

As the pandemic recedes, it is imperative that women and girls are placed at the forefront of all recovery efforts. Women must be included in economic recovery plans and their health prioritised. Gender equality is of economic, political and social importance to all of us. Without it, gender disparities will continue to contribute to poverty and will halt the development so necessary and long-awaited by our people. As long as women and girls do not take part in decision-making processes, their future, and that of everyone in Africa, will continue to be mortgaged.

Oulimata Sarr is regional director for UN Women in West and Central Africa and Rachel Toku-Appiah, director of Programme, Advocacy and Communications at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.