AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
a SARDC Service
30 November 1999
WOMEN FIGHT FOR BETTER REPRESENTATION IN NEW MILLENIUM
by Ellen Kandororo
It is now five years since the Dakar Platform for Action (DPFA) was adopted and four years after the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) was endorsed in Beijing, China.
The Dakar and Beijing PFA are documents which analyze and prioritize issues and recommendations to raise the status of women in Africa and worldwide.
Recently experts met again in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to establish the African Regional Plan of Action for the next five years, Beijing Plus Five. The conference adopted a five-year regional plan to be submitted as the common African stand to the June 2000 United Nations special conference in New York, which will conduct a global review of Beijing actions.
The conference came out with a declaration that called for 'transformative change' in women's advancement towards equity into the new millennium.
The meeting went on to call for the effective utilization of women's capabilities and leadership skills if there is to be qualitative change and the achievement of the African Renaissance.
In the declaration, the over 1,500 delegates from 53 countries said "African leaders must see this transition as a test of their leadership".
However, in the intervening period there have been a number of new developments in gender-related issues but some people still question progress after the Beijing conference. "What has happened in Africa since Beijing?" asked K.Y Amoako, Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa at the Sixth Regional Conference on Women in Ethiopia.
Apparently, most women throughout Africa are still being deprived of land, inheritances, access to education, power and the glass ceiling is still very low in the continent.
However, the Addis Ababa conference learnt that the Beijing and Dakar PFA have provided the impetus for action in Africa over the last five years. The Beijing Plus Five evaluated the implementation of the Dakar and the Beijing Platforms for Action from National Progress Reports and Thematic Evaluation Reports to see what really has been done towards raising the status of women worldwide in the past five years and areas to improve in future.
Many issues concerning women were discussed at the conference in Addis Ababa, but among them the issue of gender equality was discussed on a broader base. Southern Africa countries had an opportunity to share their experiences on national level basis.
It was noted that for the past five years several programmes had been undertaken by different organisations and to entrench the principles of gender equality, equity and empowerment of women in southern Africa.
For instance, the struggle for gender equality in southern Africa received a major boost when heads of state and government adopted a landmark Gender and Development Declaration in 1997. The declaration sets, among other issues, a target of 30 percent women representation in positions of decision making by 2005.
Although progress has been made towards this goal in some countries of the region, women still believe that the 21st century must be an "African century". They are aiming at working together as African women for unity, development and peace for them to realize the rebirth of Africa in the new century.
On the other hand, the southern African women also feel that as long as they continue to suffer injustices as victims of rape, war, hunger, harmful traditional practices, oppression, sexual abuses and poverty, they shall never realize their dreams.
In a report by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the blame of what has been happening was given to the media. It stated that the media was supposed to act as an interface between the women's actions and the public or state. The report said it was therefore important to have media support on effective advocacy on gender equality and equity and it went on to recommend the training of women in media to cover gender issues more widely.
The Addis declaration also noted the negative impact deepening poverty in Africa was having particularly on rural women, the spread of HIV/AIDS and lack of adequate resources at the national and regional levels.
The declaration urged all stakeholders in development in Africa, including international organisations, to strengthen their resolve, and reaffirm prior commitments to address all the root causes of discrimination against women.
The Beijing Plus Five also adopted the issue of women and politics as well as violence against women and sexual abuse. It was realized that there was no doubt that there was need to increase awareness and enhance political commitment for gender equality.
The country experiences shared at the conference revealed that most southern African governments had designated either a ministry bureau, department or unit that is responsible for gender equality issues in response to calls made at Beijing. (SARDC)
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