Resounding And Renewed Support For Gender Equality

Civil Society organizations from all over Africa met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 14-16th November 2014, to review the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, discuss the status of Gender equality in Africa and give their input and recommendations to governments. I was delighted to have been part of the team that attended the meeting. The civil society meeting was followed by an experts’ meeting and a Ministerial gathering.

It has now been two decades since women first went to Beijing in 1995 with a view to revolutionize how government, society and communities engaged women and girls . In these two decades, remarkable progress has been made. This, I believe, signals that stakeholders are slowly appreciating the transformative role that women and girls play. This progress strengthens my resolve to continue articulating gender equality issues more strongly. I am, however, still strongly convinced that if we got this far, we can go much further. A lot has been done, but more can still be done.

Enough is Enough

I was honored to now be surrounded by the women who 20 years ago decided that enough is enough and embarked on a journey to craft the bold and visionary Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The platform focused on analyzing the obstacles impeding the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights and their empowerment with an aim to propose recommendations to governments, development partners and the UN . Beyond putting forth recommendations, there was a call for governments to show political will and impose legislation and policies that safeguard efforts towards the achievement of gender equality.

The review conference at Addis Ababa echoed the centrality of women’s empowerment and gender equality to sustainable development. This was debuted by sentiments expressed by the delegations that went to Beijing and those that were in Cairo during the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. In Addis Ababa Civil Society, experts and governments ministers emphasized the interdependence of economic development, social development and environmental protection as components required to reinforce sustainable development. All this has been articulated and entrenched in various regional declarations and frameworks, UN resolutions, AU documents and enshrined in individual country constitutions.

Despite the apparent elusiveness of gender equality, the Addis Ababa conference demonstrated that we all agree that Gender Equality is crucial. If we all agree that Gender Equality is some sort of salt for which without development is tasteless, then why is this ‘dish’ still a bit tasteless? What have we done wrong over the past 20 years?

Here’s What

Although we have set clear quotas on representation and gone ahead to implement these said quotas, we have not evaluated the participatory role of women who are elected into political positions. We have not invested sufficiently in capacity building women for leadership. This has bred tokenism. We have unanimously over time continued to push for quotas in political spaces and left the other crucial non elective decision making spaces in government, private sector and academic world.

We have created legislation on harmful practices such as FGM, but failed to press for convictions nor build consensus across societal stratas. In Kenya, for example, we have had an FGM Act for the past 3years, but only 3 successful prosecutions. Moreover, there are communities that are opposed to efforts towards eliminating the harmful practices which continue to undermine the rights and ability of young girls and women to control and exercise their bodily autonomy. This was one of the areas for which we have done poorly, participants at the conference stressed.

Violence against women (especially sexual and gender based violence) continues to rise. This has been exacerbated by cases of armed conflict as well as the rising tide of terrorism and crime in the continent. Rape continues to be used as weapon of war and governments continue to prioritize military spending over funds for basic needs, health, food and sanitary facilities. Girls have been abducted from school, their bodies and freedom used as bargaining chips.

To achieve full gender equality we have to ensure emerging issues, challenges and threats are analyzed from a gender perspective. We have to continuously engender our planning and country aspirations.

The Ebola epidemic has disproportionately affected women & girls due to their natural care giving role and this has curtailed their efforts to engage in economic activities while at the same time putting them “in the line of fire”. This might lead to a future food crisis given that it is women who mostly engage in farming activities. Climate change continues to inflict direct negative impacts on women’s lives. Financing for gender equality and women’s rights has not been adequately featured in our national government budgets and neither has it been prioritized internationally.

No One Left Behind

The resounding voice from the deliberations was one that called for inclusivity; to ensure that economic growth speaks beyond dollars and shillings and captures the typically ignored qualitative variables of development. Those at the table should discuss issues beyond the confines of conference rooms to reflect lived experiences of millions of women and girls.

Twenty years ago there were issues that were not tabled; simply because the one with microphone deemed them controversial or that they would erode gains made, or that it was simply not strategic to use them in our advocacy messages…..20 years later there is no excuse. The fact that issues are deemed controversial does not give any less credence to their impact on human life. Women continue to die from unsafe abortions, and this is the point where I claim my youth—it is young women and adolescents who die from unsafe abortions. Interventions to combat maternal mortality rates in Africa, which are some of the highest in world, should take this into account. Interventions to legislate on violence against women should take into account violence against women of diverse sexual orientation and sexual minorities. Interventions to legislate adolescent health should take into account their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Adolescent health discussions should also feature access to evidence based comprehensive sexuality education that upholds gender equality, reinforces respect for human rights and provides scientific facts on human sexuality. Interventions to deliberate gender equality should include women living with disabilities, those living with HIV, young widows and adolescent and young girls in marriage and those living in the streets and displaced communities.
The fact that the Africa regional Beijing+20 review conference created space for young women to engage and take leadership roles is commendable. However young women being part of 70% of Africa’s youthful population and disproportionately affected by issues such as unemployment and HIV, they should prominently be featured in national , regional and global platforms where discussions affect them are made. We have a lot to offer and acknowledge that we have a lot to learn

Link to the CSO position statement from the Beijing+20 review can be found at:

1. http://femnet.co/index.php/en/beijing-plus-20/item/326-africa-cso-position-statement
2. Access the press release: Governments must re-dedicate themselves to women and girls’ rights commitments http://femnet.co/index.php/en/press/item/327-governments-must-re-dedicate-to-womens-girls-rights-commitments

 

 

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1