Why 2015 will be historical for women

The 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) ended yesterday in New York. It placed a fitting punctuation to a year that is poised to be historical for women of the world, and particularly Africa.

The 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) ended yesterday in New York. It placed a fitting punctuation to a year that is poised to be historical for women of the world, and particularly Africa.

2015 has several interesting coincidences – if, indeed, they can be called coincidences – that have not escaped the exploit of activists and policymakers for the woman’s cause.

The coincidences bear recounting here for their reminder of the way the woman has come, and the distance she is yet to travel to achieve what is rightfully her due.

The African Union has dedicated 2015 as “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” The year also falls mid-way between the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020).

2015 also marks the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20), and the fifteenth anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.

It is also the year that marks the finalization of deliberations on the Post-2015 agenda that will proceed from the Millennium Development Goals.

Let’s start with AU’s Agenda 2063. During the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) in Addis Ababa in May 2013, AU Heads of State and Government made the solemn declaration to make the next 50 years count for the continent in what they dubbed AU Agenda 2063 (i.e., 2013 plus 50 years).

The objective of the AU Agenda 2063 is to chart a development trajectory for Africa for the next 50 years, to make the continent “a prosperous, peaceful, and united continent that assumes its rightful place in the global community of nations.”

The agenda’s strategic aspirations and goals emphasize not only the importance of a peaceful and secure Africa, but also take an emphatic note on the important contributions of the youth and women to the actualization of “The Africa We Want.”

Agenda 2063 recognises the distance yet to be travelled towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.

But the journey has been long, if disappointing, since the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. As someone wondered out loud, if the Beijing Platform has not much to show twenty years down the road, why not change tack?

The question is more rhetorical than substantive. The reality is that it cannot take just one generation to change socio-cultural attitudes that have been stacked against women since humanity realized itself. On the time scale since humanity began, it is only “yesterday” that we have began to appreciate our women.

For this reason it is inherent in the just concluded New York meeting, dubbed CSW59/Beijing+20, there is recognition of the past that has to be acknowledged and the future that has to be reckoned with.

For instance, the CSW59 session on climate justice and gender equality noted the ongoing need for gender responsive and people-centered climate agreement to be mainstreamed in the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) set for later this year in Paris, France, and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

As observed by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and now UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, “Climate change is the most serious human rights issue of the century and we are the last generation able to do something about it.”

It is noted that Africa is already feeling the negative effects, yet this continent is the least responsible for it. Gender inequality and climate change not only leave women to bear a double injustice, but women face the treble injustice of struggling against gender blind climate change instruments since they are largely excluded from climate change negotiations.

To be excluded from such important negotiations is a more than a symptom of how women are often marginalized politically, even in the most conscientious of nations.

And, to remedy this, CSW59 has tasked States to urgently adopt special measures to increase women’s full participation in political institutions and decision-making bodies by 2030.

The writer is commentator on local and regional issues

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