Southern African News Features                                           SANF 11 No 14, June 2011
Women to have equal rights and opportunities with men

Women in southern Africa will soon move a step closer to having equal rights and opportunities with men when a regional gender protocol is ratified in the coming weeks.

Half of the 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community have already ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

That means that the protocol has been approved by the national legal mechanism, usually through parliament.

Most SADC leaders signed the protocol in 2008, although Botswana and Mauritius continue to refuse to sign, saying that they have reservations or cannot meet the targets.

The process of approval of a regional legal instrument requires, first, signing, and then ratification. The protocol "enters into force" following ratification by two-thirds of SADC member states.

This advances the regional law from being a stated intention to actual application.

However, the final stages of enforcing this regional law are perhaps the most challenging, as this requires action at national level to "domesticate" the law and then implementation of the law.

SADC Ministers responsible for gender/women’s affairs, meeting on 2 June, endorsed a roadmap for the operationalization of the Protocol to enable a systematic approach to implementation at both regional and national levels.

The Ministers noted that 13 member states have signed the Protocol, while seven signatories have deposited instruments of ratification with the SADC Secretariat.

These are Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

At least two more countries are expected to do so in the coming weeks – the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

The head of the SADC Gender Unit, Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, says the Protocol provides "concrete, time-bound targets to achieve gender equality in the SADC region.

"This milestone marks the end of an era of commitments to an era of implementation in the SADC region."

According to the communiqué of their meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, the Ministers congratulated member states that have ratified the Protocol and "urged those who have not yet signed or ratified to facilitate the signing and ratification process."

They noted progress made by member states on women’s representation in politics and decision-making positions, and expressed concern with retrogression in some countries that held elections recently.

The Ministers urged countries to safeguard achievements already made in gender parity and to develop innovative measures to fast track the equal representation of women.

Only four SADC member states have reached the original target of 30 percent representation of women in Parliament (by 2005) and none has reached the 50 percent threshold.

South Africa has the highest proportional representation of women in parliament at 45 percent, followed by Mozambique at 39.2 percent, and Angola and Tanzania with 38.6 percent and 36 percent respectively.

These countries have electoral systems or balancing mechanisms that encourage participation by women, and the minimum 30 percent representation is a constitutional requirement in Tanzania.

The objectives of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development are to provide for the empowerment of women, eliminate discrimination, and achieve gender quality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.

The Protocol addresses the following critical issues that affect women in the region, according to the SADC Gender Monitor:

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.

The targets include, among others, the achievement of 50 percent representation by women and men in politics and decision-making by 2015, in line with the decision of the African Union.

SADC expects that non-state actors including the private sector and non-governmental organizations, among others, will take note of this commitment by governments and advance the role of women in their organizations.

The meeting of SADC Ministers responsible for gender/women’s affairs congratulated the SADC Deputy Executive Secretary, Ms. Emilie Mushobekwa (from DRC) for being the first woman ever appointed at top management level in the Secretariat.

They noted progress made in the regional gender mainstreaming initiative, especially on capacity building of gender mainstreaming trainers, and emphasised the importance of mainstreaming gender into climate change policies and strategies.

They also noted progress in developing the SADC Strategy to address sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The Ministers approved the SADC Advocacy Strategy on Informal Cross Border Trade which provides clear policy and legislative action areas to create an enabling environment for women in trade.

They received a report on the 2010 Women in Business Trade Fair and Investment Forum held in Windhoek last year, noting the positive results that included new business opportunities, expanded markets, new business connections and capacity building for women in business.

The 2011 edition of the Women in Business Trade Fair and Investment Forum will be hosted by Angola in November this year, after Angola becomes SADC chair.

The ministers and officials witnessed the launch of the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) for the SADC Region and the Namibian Chapter, and the SADC Launch of the campaign "Africa United to End Violence against Women and Children".

The SADC Ministers responsible for gender/women’s affairs will meet again in June next year in Angola.

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