Southern Africa: Gender equality in SADC – the time is now!

Southern Africa: Gender equality in SADC – the time is now!

Date: August 17, 2015
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Gaborone, 17 August: Today is SADC Day – the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Southern African Development Community to fight apartheid, and now to fight for a better life for the people of this region.

The SADC Summit is running under the theme “Accelerating Industrialisation of SADC Economies, Through Transformation of Natural Endowment and Improved Human Capital.” Our leaders will deliberate on how Southern Africa can benefit from its vast natural resources and improve the livelihood of its citizens – 51% of whom are women.

Since August 2008, when SADC Heads of State signed the Protocol on Gender and Development with 28 targets to be achieved by 2015, Gender Links has had a clock on its website ticking down to this day. The day has come, but gender equality has not!

Over the last seven years, the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance has been tracking progress using the SADC Gender and Development Index (an empirical measure) and the Citizen Score Card (ratings of government performance by ordinary citizens). At 68% for the SDGI and 67% for the CSC, the region is only about two thirds of where it should be by 2015 using these measures. Progress in education, women’s political participation and some health indicators like maternal mortality, and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV, are eclipsed by regression in other areas.

Patriarchal attitudes still abound, reflected in gender stereotypes in schools; the work place and the media; as well as predominantly male decision-making structures in all areas. Customary law contradicts constitutional provisions with few ramifications in many countries. The case of a Lesotho woman denied the right to take over the chieftaincy after her father died is a chilling reminder of deeply entrenched patriarchal values. Hate crimes against lesbian women (widely publicised in South Africa) serve as another reminder of the lethal combination of homophobia and misogyny that still afflict many countries in the region.

Gender violence remains the most telling indicator of women’s lack of rights and agency. The shockingly high levels of gender violence revealed by recent prevalence surveys (from 25% in Mauritius to nearly 80% in four districts of Zambia) shows that one in three if not more women have experienced some form of gender violence over their lifetime, often multiple times, and multiple forms of violence.

With few exceptions, the last set of elections have been disappointing: the decrease in women’s representation both at national and local level in Botswana and Swaziland last year; persistent low levels of women’s representation in the DRC, and the marginal increase in women’s representation in the Lesotho national elections in May 2014 serve as a reminder of the fragile gains made by women in the political sphere.

The economy is still a male preserve. Women still lack access to economic decision- making (26%), land, credit and other means of production. They constitute the majority of the poor; the unemployed; the dispossessed and those who work in the informal sector.

HIV and AIDS continues to threaten the fragile gains that have been made: young women remain the majority of those newly infected by HIV and AIDS as well as those who bear the burden of caring for People Living with HIV.

At their meeting in Lilongwe in 2014, gender ministers agreed to review the SADC Gender Protocol (the Protocol) in 2015. In Harare a year later, Ministers agreed that the Protocol should be aligned to the Post -2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Beijing Plus Twenty Review, and the Africa Agenda 2063. They also agreed that the Protocol should be accompanied by a Monitoring, Evaluation and Results (MER) Framework.

The SADC Gender Protocol, that brings together all existing global and regional commitments to gender equality, and enhances these through specific targets and timeframes, is the only one of the 27 SADC Protocols that has specific time frames, and that will now have an MER framework.

In anticipation of the review, the 2014 Barometer identified strengths and weaknesses of the SADC Gender Protocol, and suggested how this might be strengthened by the SDGs that currently have 17 goals and 169 targets, including Goal Five on gender equality. The SDGs, to be adopted at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, are likely to be accompanied
by approximately 100 indicators.

The Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance has worked tirelessly to canvass the Post 2015 agenda through its 15 country networks as well as influence the global agenda, where this work has been acknowledged by the UN.

The 2015 Barometer serves two purposes. It tracks progress since the historic adoption of the SADC Gender Protocol in 2008. It also proposes how the Protocol can be strengthened through alignment to the new instruments, especially the SDGs that have 33 complementary references to gender, and are likely to be accompanied by over 30 gender-related targets.

What is clear from the analysis is that the biggest gap over the last seven years is implementation. This underscores the theme of the 2015 barometer: A Strong Post -2015 agenda: Action and Results!

As UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngkuka puts it in her foreword to the Barometer: “We do not want to have to be making the same promises 15 years from now. Let us break the back of gender discrimination so that the 21st century is regarded as the century that empowered women and empowered humanity. This is an historic opportunity. Let us grasp it!”

(Colleen Lowe Morna, CEO of Gender Links, and Sifiso Dube the Alliance and Partnerships Manager, co-edited the 2015 Southern African Gender Protocol Barometer. This article is part of the Gender Links New Service. Click here for more information


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