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Opinion: AU Talks About Promoting Female Empowerment But Hasn’t

Opinion: AU Talks About Promoting Female Empowerment But Hasn’t

From IBTimes. Story by By Morgan Winsor.

While the African Union made the theme of this year’s summit Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Agenda 2063, the 54-member continental bloc has failed to fully implement pro-women policies, ensuring its goals are merely just words on paper, according to gender experts and advocates.

The 25th summit of the African Union concluded June 15 with a declaration of commitments from the assembly of leaders toward mainstreaming women’s issues by 2063, including advancing women’s economic empowerment, increasing their participation in governance and enhancing access to health, education and technology. The assembly also pledged to translate these commitments into concrete results.

The 25th summit of the African Union concluded June 15 with a declaration of commitments from the assembly of leaders toward mainstreaming women’s issues by 2063, including advancing women’s economic empowerment, increasing their participation in governance and enhancing access to health, education and technology. The assembly also pledged to translate these commitments into concrete results.

But the African Union has also been distracted from its stated goals to help women in recent days amid the controversy over whether leaders should crack down on their fellow head of state, Sudanese President Bashir.

Activism for gender equality has helped increase African women’s political participation since the mid-1990s.

Today, African nations boast some of the world’s highest rates of representation. Women in the U.S. hold 20 percent of seats in the Senate and 18 percent of seats in the House of Representatives.


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Rwandan women, however, hold 64 percent of the country’s legislative seats, while more than 40 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women in Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa. Over 35 percent of seats in Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda are occupied by women.

But raising the numbers are not enough. Few African women hold high-power, decision-making positions that are essential for implementing the plans formulated at the African Union summits, experts said. There are only three female heads of state across an African continent made up of 54 countries.

Fostering the education of girls is a vital step toward women’s empowerment, activists said. An educated girl is more likely to participate in political and economic decision-making, as schooling can also help increase women’s earned income. But traditional gender roles in African nations mean that young girls are often removed from school to perform chores or care for their siblings. Many girls become brides before they have finished elementary school, according to the U.N.

Last year, the African Union launched its first campaign to end child marriage. Each year, 14 million girls are married off before they reach the age of 18, which can take a devastating toll on their health and education. African countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali have some of the world’s highest rates of child marriage. The two-year campaign focuses on mobilizing change across the continent by urging governments to develop strategies to raise awareness and address the consequences of child marriage. African leaders have attended discussions on the issue and made verbal commitments, but experts expressed doubt that any concrete action will emerge.

The African Union has also recommended that national governments and regional organizations reform their security sectors by including more women in the police, defense forces, courts and emergency services of African countries. But only 12 national governments so far have incorporated a stronger gender component in their reforms, and the African Union lacks real authority to enforce implementation of pro-women policies, according to the Institute for Security Studies’ Peace and Security Council Report.

Women in Africa are also four times more likely than men to be targets of voter intimidation in fragile and transitional states, like Burundi and Ethiopia, where male African rulers have historically bullied their way through election cycles.

However, few women are part of the peacekeeping discussions to resolve these issues in Africa. They represent less than 10 percent of negotiators at peace tables, and less than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements are women, according to the latest data from the United Nations.

Whether or not African governments increase opportunities for women to participate in public life, African women themselves must defend policy changes and demand their voices be heard, experts said.

“This takes political, human and financial commitment, but also an active citizenry that is not afraid to insist that governments act with integrity and deliver on the international and continental frameworks they so easily sign up to,” said Cheryl Hendricks, who specializes in African gender issues as head of the department of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg.

Read more at IBTimes.