WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND GENDER EQUALITY:
ARE AFRICAN WOMEN STRIVING?
A cross section of the male sex view women empowerment and gender equality as a catalyst for women to disrespect men, abstain from their conjugal duties and usurp power.
Empowerment however could be described as a process that enables the powerless/ marginalized to have a say in decision-making and other issues that concern their community.
Gender equality is a human right and empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities and to improve the prospects for the next generation.
The importance of gender equality is underscored by its inclusion as one of the eight Millennium Goals during the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit in New York, that serve as a frame work for halving poverty and improving lives. Since then, the number of women in leadership has been at a rise.
In most African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria, recent appointments have brought more women to key positions, but still, the ratio is not worth applauding. How ever, there have been many changes and positive ones too. The status of women in most countries is changing drastically and equality of men and women is becoming a reality.
According to a report by Gumisai Mutume “Women Break in to African Politics” – Rwanda’s success in bringing women to the political table mirrors that of a small, but growing number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa and Mozambique for instance, women hold thirty percent of the seats in parliament- matching the international target
Women’s representation in national parliaments across Sub-Saharan Africa is thirteen out of thirty-nine that are at least 15 percent women. The figure has been considered a significant minority on a global scale but it appears to equals the world average of about 15 percent.
Despite being one of the poorest regions in the world, the level of women representation in parliament in Sub-Saharan Africa is higher than in many wealthier countries, observed UNIFEM in its progress of the world’s women 2002 report. In the US, France and Japan for example, women hold slightly more than 10 percent of parliamentary seats. Globally, only twelve other countries had reached that level in National parliament by 2004.
Most of the countries that have achieved significant increase in women’s participation have done so through the use of quotas, a form of affirmative action in favor of women.
Dr Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, of Zambia is among the sixteen female Ambassadors to the US. According to her, eight are African and seven of them are from the Southern States. This is due to the fact that in 1997, member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) adopted a declaration on gender and development that required each countries to reach at least 30 percent female representation in decision-making by 2005.
Although three countries have achieved the SADC target, on average women comprise 20 percent of the regions legislators, second only to Scandinavian countries, where the average is 38 percent; noted Gender Links, a Southern African Non-Governmental Group.
Apparently, CSW Vice-Chairperson Adekunbi Abibat Sonaike from Nigeria says ‘ progress has been slow and uneven noting that many African countries have not yet reached the international perspective, Gender Activists are increasingly setting their rights on getting more women into high office in International Financial Institutions, such as, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Out of all policy-making areas, women are least represented in economics and finance noted the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), an International Women’s Lobby Group.
World wide, there is only twenty-eight female Ministers in-charge of economics portfolios. The consequence by WEDO’s report is that women’s interest, experiences and concerns are either absent or inadequately reflected in economic decision-making.
At the World Bank and IMF, female representation among leadership’s staff is around 20 percent and fewer than 10 percent of the members of the Organization Boards of Governors are women.
A woman has never occupied the top post at either the World Bank or IMF. IMF appointed Ann O. Krueger as its first woman Deputy Managing Director. Furthermore, the African Women’s Caucus of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has charged that even the UN is still lagging behind. Founded in October 24, 1945 ‘no woman has ever been Secretary-General of the UN’. This was noted in a statement, urging the UN to promote the rise of women to top post, especially at a time when the Organization is taking reforms.
Despite the challenges, a growing proportion of women are breaking through the glass ceiling. Actually women in leadership positions attribute their success to factors such as, access to education and work opportunities, good mentoring by both men and women, support from family, Employers, Supervisors, Teachers and Colleagues and successful lobbying by gender Activists.
The world average for women in parliament rose from 11.7 percent in 1995 to 15.6 percent by 2004. Recent reports complied by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of information provided by National Parliament 31st of March 2008, shows the world average percentage of women at 17.7 percent. In Southern Africa where the proportion of women in parliament is at 17.9 percent, is much higher than the African Average of 11 percent, three countries selected female deputy speakers during the last decade.
In January 2007, again according to the IPU’s statistics, there were more women presiding officers of parliament than ever before: 35 out of a total 262 worldwide. Women speakers were elected for the first time in Gambia, Israel, Swaziland, Turkmenistan and the United States of America.
Where they were once concentrated in the Caribbean, women presiding officers are making inroads in all regions. Women head parliaments in about thirty-two countries.
Uganda has the 18th highest proportion of women in Parliament, according to a global ranking report released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The country also ranks the fourth in Africa, after Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa. It is doing much better than the developed countries such as UK, Canada and Australia among others. The report shows that women hold one hundred and two out of three hundred and thirty-two seats in the Ugandan Parliament, or 30.7 percent.
Neighboring Rwanda takes the lead position in the world with thirty-nine women in Parliament out of a total of eighty seats, or 48.8 percent. Burundi and Tanzania were ranked 19th and 20th respectively with 30.5 percent and 30.4 percent female legislators, while Kenya was the 115th with only 7.2 percent. The global classification, covering one hundred and eight countries, was compiled on the basis of information provided by the national parliaments by December 31, 2007.
In addition, Mozambique appointed a woman Prime Minister and Zimbabwe and South Africa named women Deputy Presidents, while Liberians swore in Ms Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf as Africa’s first elected female leader.
According to IPU, nearly one in five parliamentarians worldwide is now a woman. But far fewer women (16%) are making it to top positions in government. About eight countries had no women legislators in their parliaments at all. These are Micronesia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
On 29 February, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women joined Anders Johnson of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to launch the 2008 map of women in politics. Statistical data is very important but "it is not enough to count women in parliament," noted Hannon. "We also need to monitor the way that women are involved in politics and the effectiveness of their participation."
The Zambian Ambassador to the United States of America Dr Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika declared her interest in the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Dr. Lewanika pointed out that, this position has been held by a former Head of State but never been held by a woman. As such, her success as a candidate would represent change that breaks through a glass ceiling of apparent exclusion; a change that re-affirms that indeed all human being, men and women, are created equal. In addition, it is time to implement gender equity at all levels that has been preached for years.
Ms Pumla Mncay, Director of Gender Advocacy Programme, a South African Lobby Group, noted that the advancement of women into positions of power does not by itself, resolve the need to create an environment that allows them to make a real difference. “It is a reality that traditional women have always been given positions as deputies to men, without any real power or significance”.
Nonetheless, “study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which a woman do not play a central role”, cited Koffi Annan as the then UN Secretary General. When women are fully involved he noted, the benefits are immediate, families are healthier and better fed and their income savings and investments go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities and in the long run, of whole countries.