Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 37, October 2009
Southern Africa can achieve gender equality by 2015
Patience Zirima

Southern Africa can achieve gender equality by 2015 if Member States adopt and implement the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

In the Foreword to a new publication, the SADC Gender Monitor 2009, Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, Head of the SADC Gender Unit, said the protocol provides concrete and tangible targets for the region to address its gender imbalances.

She said the protocol signed by SADC Heads of State and Government in August 2008 "marks the end of an era of commitments to an era of implementation in the SADC region."

"We therefore have to capitalise on this investment to move the agenda forward, with full understanding that the time is now."

The SADC Gender Monitor tracks progress on the implementation of the protocol, and the 2009 edition was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 29 October, at the annual meeting of SADC ministers responsible for gender and women affairs.

The publication is produced for SADC by the Women in Development Southern Africa Awareness, the gender programme of the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC).

Mathiba-Madibela said it is important to advocate strongly for the ratification and accession of the protocol while the momentum is still high following the historic signing of the protocol one year ago.

The protocol aims to ensure that woman take up an active role in national development by occupying half of the decision-making positions in all structures of the society.

Other issues covered in the protocol include constitutional and legal rights; governance; education and training; productive resources and employment; gender-based violence; health and HIV and AIDS; peace-building and conflict resolution; and media, information and communication.

As of 19 October, only Namibia had ratified the protocol, but the ratification process is underway in most SADC Member States and Mathiba-Madibela believes that other countries will soon follow Namibia’s lead.

Ratification is the act by which a state confirms the signature of a treaty by its representatives. Following signature of any given Protocol by Heads of State and Government, a protocol in the SADC region needs to be ratified by two-thirds of Member States to have legal force.

Mathiba-Madibela said the year 2009 is crucial for the region to strategise concretely for implementation of the protocol, particularly now that it is preparing for the Beijing +15 review set for November in Banjul, Gambia.

"Almost 15 years since Beijing, the SADC region cannot afford to do business as usual. It is our expectation that with the SADC Protocol in place, a regional legally binding instrument, more action shall be taken as the commitment is much closer to home," she said.

She said the SADC Secretariat is committed towards investing in prudent strategies in order to facilitate Member States to implement their gender commitments on the ground.

She added that Member States are expected to develop action plans on the basis of this strategy as the SADC Gender Monitor shows that "a lot still needs to be done to realise this target."

The SADC region has set a target of 50 per cent representation of women in politics and decision-making by 2015.

Five countries have managed to reach the earlier target of more than 30 percent women in their parliaments (Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania), through electoral systems based on Proportional Representation or Special Representation.

The majority of Member States still lag behind, as evidenced by the recent elections in Botswana in which women occupy just 6.5 percent of parliamentary seats, the lowest figure in the region.

Mathiba-Madibela urged the region to draw lessons from Rwanda where women in parliament now outnumber men.

In the 2008 parliamentary elections in Rwanda, women won 45 out of the 80 seats in the chamber of deputies translating to more than 50 percent, which is the highest proportion in the world.

She said gender-based violence is one of the key intervention areas that the region needs to address urgently as stipulated in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

She said a pilot project to train law enforcement personnel on how to effectively deal with gender violence is underway in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Mathiba-Madibela said southern Africa has put in place measures to combat incidence of trafficking of women and children.

On women’s economic empowerment, Mathiba-Madibela said there is need "to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration."

She said in line with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, efforts must be made to enable women in business to scale up their business and upgrade from informal to formal trade.

The monitor highlights procedures different countries in the region have to undergo to ratify and then domesticate the gender protocol as well as successes in achieving gender equality objectives.

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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