A step in the right direction?

Date: January 1, 1970
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The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) must be more representative of women in its structures and in its assessments of governance.

It is not by chance that a woman is the head of the Pan African Parliament or on the African Security Council. Neither is it coincidental that a woman is leading the country mission support group of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

This is what Graca Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela and chairperson of the APRM support team, echoes when she gets onto a podium. She never fails to add that women in key decision-making positions are what it takes to build a new African Renaissance.

“Gender equality is given priority by the crop of new leaders and this is hopeful, because we are preparing a continent that our grandchildren will be comfortable in,” she says.

Women in high offices is interpreted as a good omen for the women of Africa, who have fought relentlessly over the decades for recognition of the work they do, not only for their countries, but also for the world.

But only a few visible women at the top are not enough to bring about significant change. A critical mass of women is needed at all levels of key regional and national organs and the APRM, while having a woman as its chairperson, should be no exception.

Orie Rogo-Manduli, an activist and chair of the Kenyan Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Council makes the pointed observation that women are invisible at the APRM Secretariat in Nairobi. “I can count on my fingertips how many women are at the top decision organs of the APRM. Something needs to be done if women are to benefit from this initiative,” she complains.

Kenya is among the first four “front runner” countries that will pave way for the entrenchment of the APRM initiative. The other countries are Ghana, Mauritius and Rwanda.
The APRM, under the umbrella of NEPAD, is a self assessment and self monitoring system initiated by the members of African Union (AU) to foster the adoption of policies and practices that will lead to political stability, high economic growth, and sustainable development.

The review will scrutinise the performance of Kenya’s new government during the past two years it has been in power. The government is currently grappling with a credibility crisis that has centred on its inability to deliver on the election promises of a new constitution and intolerance to corruption.

If a shift has actually taken place in the thinking of African leaders, then in its review, the APRM should access as equally important whether the Kenyan government has been accountable to achieving political, economic and social justice for women.

Machel reiterates that it is important for the APRM to have the faces and voices of both men and women so that its impact is felt even at the grassroots levels. She believes that …”gender issues have been carried on board”, and argues “there is a syndrome change on the continent”.

But all of these principles will remain hollow and half steps towards a new Africa if gender equality is not central to the change that NEPAD seeks to accomplish. Gender equality is not just about the right sounding words alone and a few women doting the landscape here and there.

If Kenyan women are truly to view the APRM process currently underway in the country as one they should be proud of and own, then they must feel that their voices and faces are represented in large numbers in their own country’s governance structures, as well as within the structures of the APRM.

Betty Oyugi and Susan Mwangi are Kenyan journalists working with the African Woman and Child Feature Service

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information.

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