International: A dream for gender equality and human rights

Date: December 10, 2013
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Johannesburg, 10 December: Today, the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign ends as the world commemorates the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, I feel there is no cause for celebration when women are still politically and economically marginalised, gross prevalence rates of gender-based violence (GBV) persist and women continue to bear the brunt of climate change, poverty, war and HIV and AIDS.

Fortunately, this year’s International Human Rights Day comes at an opportune time, since a lot of attention is focused on mapping out a post-2015 Millennium Developmental Goal framework. It is also time to reflect on the lessons learnt and to take stock of how far we have come in achieving gender equality and human rights 65 years later.

Exactly one month ago, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) hosted the 8th session of the Committee on Women in Development (CWD). The session aimed to enable gender experts from the Africa Union (AU) countries to discuss the continents’ common position on the post-2015 agenda and efforts to integrate gender into development.

Since July 2011, several regional and sub-regional consultations on the post-2015 framework have been held in Accra, Mombasa, Dakar and Hammamet.

Out of these consultations, delegates identified broad development outcomes as priority areas. These ranged from structural economic transformation and inclusive growth, to innovation, technological transfer, human development and financing. It was no surprise that gender equality did not feature as a priority, but was instead penciled in as an indicator under human development.

This is despite Gender Links’ Violence Against Women (VAW) baseline studies which found that in four provinces of Zambia 89% of women from the sample, 86% in Lesotho, 68% in Zimbabwe, 67% in Botswana, 50% in four provinces of South Africa and 24% in Mauritius said they had experienced violence at least once in their lifetime.

Despite making up more than half the world’s population, women still only occupy a global average of 21% in parliament. At 24%, Sothern Africa slid from second to third place in a global regional comparison of women in political decision-making.

Women continue to have far less access to economic and reproductive resources than their male counterparts do. In Southern Africa, the proportion of women in economic decision-making sits at 26%. Land ownership is low and ranges from only 11% women in Seychelles to 25% in DRC and Tanzania.

According to Plan International, a development organisation focusing on child rights, one in every five girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18, while one in nine girls marry before the age of 15. Due to early marriage as well as inadequate access to reproductive health rights, maternal mortality rates are on the increase.

United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) estimates that worldwide a woman dies every two minutes from pregnancy-related complications and unsafe abortions. For instance in Southern Africa, Gender Links research shows Zimbabwe (960 deaths per 100,000 births) has the highest maternal mortality rate in the region, followed by Swaziland (736), Lesotho (620), Angola (593) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (549).

Mauritius has consistently registered the lowest maternal mortality rate (at about 28 deaths per 100,000 births) except in the current year, in which Seychelles registered no deaths of women giving child birth due to high rates of births attended by skilled personnel.

Contraceptive usage varies in Southern Africa. In the last five years, Mauritius has registered the highest proportion of women accessing contraceptives (76%), with DRC and Angola (5% to 6%) coming lowest.

How is it acceptable that ten years after the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, AU member states still do not have a common vision to safeguard the sexual and reproductive health rights of their own citizens?

The continent is lagging in achieving Millennium Development Goal Three on gender equality. The SADC region has made some strides toward achieving the SADC Gender Protocol targets by 2015, but these failures continue to temper these achievements.

One of the strongest recommendations that came out of the recent session of the CWD was that gender equality must be adopted as a stand-alone priority goal. Women and civil society organisations aim to push for this stand-alone goal in Agenda 2063, Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG), post-2015 consultations and the 58th Session of Commission of the Status of Women (CSW58).

Agenda 2063 is both a vision and action plan, aimed at accelerating Africa’s sustainable development and to achieve prosperity in all segments of life by 2063. The OWG is UN-based 30-member group tasked with preparing a proposal for   global sustainable development goals, while CSW58 seeks to take stock and encourage states to implement measures to improve women’s status and eqaulity accross the globe.

It is time to hold our governments accountable to their regional and international obligations to gender equality and human rights.

As the rest of the world celebrates International Human Rights day today, I will be contemplating what the future holds for the women of Africa. It is clear that there is a need for a radical shift in the minds of our leaders. My wish is that the new development framework advances my dream of a world where no woman suffers inequality and injustice so she can exercise her human rights.

Lucia Makamure is the Alliance Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, special series on 16 Days of Activism, providing fresh views on everyday news


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