LAST week in Banjul, Gambia, women from all shades of life started one of the most significant journey in their struggle to realizing gender equality and women’s human rights by setting into motion the review of Beijing plus 15, a key document used to measure what countries are doping to make the world a better place for women.
This review will culminate with the launch and deliberations on the BPfA status report that is slated to take placed at the UN headquarters in New York, USA, in early 2010.
The events to mark 15 years since the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) was adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in 1995, will take place from March 1st to 12th at the UN complex.
Various governments, which committed themselves to implementing critical provisions of BPfA, will be hosted by the UN Commission on the Status of Women that will assess the progress made by countries in the implementation of BPFA.
Women in Africa who were meeting in Banjul were therefore taking stock of what their governments have done in the past 15 years.
The audit done presents mixed stories of success, failures, or just inertia by the government and other actors. The more than 200 delegates with diverse representations from the governments, international community, the UN Agency and the NGOs were all in agreement that significant changes have been realized in Africa.
While some governments have scored well on the formulation of policies and legislations, or putting in place mechanisms to address gender injustices, they have failed to allocate resources critical to implementation of the policies or legislations or those needed to facilitate the functioning of the mechanisms that exist.
In other scenarios, governments still lag far behind in implementing the BPfA objectives. Hence, gender equality remains a mirage in many instances.
Nevertheless stories of hope dot across the continent. Africa stands tall among the international community in promoting the participation of women in governance and decision making structures.
In Rwanda, for instance, the representation of women in Parliament stands at 56.3%, followed by South Africa at 47%. Africa also has its first female head of state, Her Excellency Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia.
On the grim side, out of the 53 African countries, a paltry 4 percent have attained the 30% minimum representation target set in the Beijing PfA and only 0.5% has achieved the 50/50 parity target set by the Africa Union.
In local governance structures, there has been substantial increase in women representation and participation at this level.
In Namibia, women representation in local government stands at 42%, Ghana at 30% and Uganda at 35%. In Lesotho, the Local Government Act reserves 30% of electoral divisions exclusively for women; Tanzania reserves 33% whereas Namibia and South Africa reserve 50%.
In the SADC region, countries adopted a Protocol in 2008 in which member states made a commitment to achieve the 50/ 50 target representation in governance structure at all levels by 2015.
Isatou Njie-Saidy, the Vice President of Gambia and Secretary of State for Women informed the delegates at the Banjul meeting that some of the barriers to the faster implementation of the BPfA is the traditional and cultural beliefs within the society.
“Change of attitude takes a long time and the women of Africa should not get tired in making the spirit of Beijing alive,” she said.
She challenged the women to be part of the planning of national policies, programme implementations as well as resource allocations in their countries.
“If we are not present and speaking from my own experience as the Vice President, general issues will be discussed, but issues affecting women will not be raised unless we are there to remind our male colleagues about them.”
During one of the side meetings, members of the NGO Forum headed by Femnet, WILSA, WILDA, among others felt that the continent has faced the challenge of harmonization of the laws and the implementations.
Even though various countries have put in place institutional mechanism to address issues of gender equality and women rights, the role of African women in leadership and decisions makings shows little improvements in the past 15 years.
“Lack of gender disaggregated data in the continent on how each country have addressed the issue of gender equality based on the BPfA has not been given a priority in the region and this has made it very difficult to assess the impact of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action at the country and regional levels,” said Isotu, the Director of Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Apart from failures at the government level, women in Africa have borne the brunt of armed conflicts and wars which have been experienced in some countries; economic meltdown; climate change; and HIV/AIDS.
The good news is, several African countries have put in place gender responsive legislation to address human rights of women on critical issues like violence against women, property and economic rights, and other domestic relations.
Gender policies and plan of actions, land reforms, and macroeconomic policy reforms have been undertaken in order to facilitate the implementation of the Beijing commitments.
But even with these achievements, the meeting in Banjul was in agreement that the real work around the Beijing Platform for Action is yet to begin.
These is because majority of the women are still poor, they carry the burden of HIV/AIDS as the infected or affected; and are far away from the economic heartbeat of their countries.
The NGOs present during the Banjul conference in their memorandum to the Government Ministers urged the African Union to integrate in Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) the performance of countries on the implementation of the BPfA and a country that failed to implement BPfA, be removed from being a member state.
African Women and Child Feature Services