African leaders signal commitment to financing gender equality

Date: January 1, 1970
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With Sixteen Days of Activism now in full swing, organisations and governments are focusing significant attention on gender violence and the gender inequalities that play a large role in its prevalence in Africa. In assessing how far we have come over the last year, and what we need to do next, it is important to remember what is at the heart of making it all happen À“ money.

Held just prior to the launch of Sixteen Days, the Sixth African Development Forum (ADF) at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa signaled a commitment by Africa’s leaders to prioritise financing for gender equality. After all, without financing, the best-intentioned programmes and plans will not succeed.
Setting the tone from the very beginning of ADF, Ethiopian President Ato Girma Woldegiorgis reminded the delegates, “We need to produce achievable plans and real results. We are running out of time and we must now be practical. If this forum fails to agree on a workable and practical agenda with proper priorities, failure will stare us in the face.”
Abdoulie Janneh, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA, recognised that despite legislation aimed at promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, implementation is weak. “We must emphasise the adoption of an innovative and well thought out Action Plan that will ensure a transformational intervention in all our three subthemes, namely action on gender equality, women empowerment and ending violence against women in Africa.”
The African Union (AU) Chairperson Jean Ping cited provisions of the Constitutive Act, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to the Rights of Women in African and the Solemn Declaration on Gender equality in Africa as examples of the AU’s commitment to advancing women’s rights. Currently 26 member states have either signed or ratified the Protocol on Women’s Rights.
However, he acknowledges that the new challenges of food insecurity, climate change, migration, and water and energy shortages threaten the fragile gains made. “Although these issues affect both sexes, their impact on women and children are more catastrophic,” said Ping.
Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, the third partner in the conference, urged the delegates to speak loud and clear to the G20 as they seek solutions to the current global financial crisis. “This is a world crisis and they must open their doors to other countries to be part of the discussions,” he said. “The majority of those who are currently affected by the crisis are poor women, the majority of whom are women in Africa.”
Financing for gender equality, Tornaes stressed, goes far beyond securing specific budget allocations for women ministries. Calling for a paradigm shift under which partner countries and donors collaborate to promote gender equality, she said, “The starting point is the implementation of the Paris Declaration principles on New Aid Modality to promote gender equality.”
Much could be achieved, the minister added, if donors aligned and harmonised their and partner country objectives and strategies at national and sector level, for example conducting joint analysis based on sex-disaggregated data, developing indicators for achieving partner country objectives and building capacity of women ministries and that of the civil societies.
Gender equality, she said, “is an effective means to reduce poverty, increase economic growth and accelerate the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals.”
The conference closed with an urgent plea by over thirty ministers backgrounds to their governments to make good on the 2004 decision by the African Union (AU) to set up a special fund for fighting violence against women (VAW). The provision is part of the Protocol on the Rights of Women that accompanies the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality signed in Maputo, Mozambique in 2004.
The ministers from different parts of Africa said that the time has come for the government to start dealing with VAW as a national calamity. Giving the example on how her country dealt with the HIV and AIDS pandemic, Ugandan Minister of National Solidarity and Social Development Syda Bumba said the time had come to launch curative and preventive measure against violence.
“We have legislation, we have signed international conventions and protocols and also have institutions in place, but we have gone nowhere,” noted Gambian Vice President Aisatou Gaye. “We have focused only on creating awareness instead of making women understand their legal rights.”
She castigated her fellow government colleagues for leaving the fight against gender violence to non-governmental organisations,“We are suspicious of them, instead of working with them to eradicate VAW in our society. We think that we cannot bring ourselves to their level so we do not give them the support they require.”
“The governments should show leadership in VAW by expediting the establishment of the fund,” said Bisi Adeye Afeyemi, the Executive Director of African Women’s Development Fund. According to the co-chair of the conference and AU Commissioner Bience Gawanas, the mechanics of the fund were left to the AU Secretariat which
is in the process of making this a reality after completing a feasibility study.
The ministers urged that the Plan of Action to be adopted by the delegates include the allocation of a specific percentage of the budget to support all line ministries for promoting the rights of women and girls as recommended by the AU.
Dr. Jacinta Muteshi, an expert on financing for gender equality, cautioned that there is need to be careful about prescribing a percentage of the budget for fighting gender violence to avoid “interim mechanisms.” The Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Population and Development in Botswana Ronald Ridge challenged legislatures to take up the task of monitoring and evaluation.
Although it now remains to be seen if all of the talk will result in action and funds for gender equality, the increasing dialogue on the topic is encouraging.
Rosemary Okello-Orlale is the Executive Director of the African Women and Child Feature Service. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service as part of a Financing for Gender Equality Campaign.

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