By Christine Lagat
A call to advance gender equality alongside inclusive growth dominated the African Union Heads of State summit that opened on Sunday in Johannesburg.
Dozens of African leaders who attended the biannual summit agreed that empowering women and youth was an imperative to accelerate socioeconomic progress in the continent.
African Union Chairman Robert Mugabe, who is also the Zimbabwean president, in his key note address noted that women were not only an integral part of the continent’s liberation struggle but will also be key to the attainment of its future aspirations.
The 25th AU Heads of State summit discussed women empowerment, insecurity, migration crises and a new framework to catalyze sustainable development.
“Our commitment to gender equality as enshrined in the relevant African Union instruments remains solid. Women are critical players in our quest to achieve agenda 2063 on Africa’s transformation,” said Mugabe.
The African Union Assembly has designated 2015 the year of women empowerment in line with Agenda 2063.
Mugabe reaffirmed commitment by African leaders to gender parity through enactment of progressive legal and policy instruments.
The Zimbabwean president noted that women have occupied influential positions in public and private sectors thanks to affirmative action and greater political goodwill.
“Currently, African women are playing pivotal roles in every sphere of life. The continent has demonstrated there is no feat women cannot accomplish if given a chance,” Mugabe remarked.
Despite enactment of laws and policies that advance gender parity, African women are still held back by entrenched patriarchy and retrogressive cultural practices.
Mugabe noted that African women form the bulk of the poor, illiterate and marginalized demographic.
“Women in this continent still face discriminations and violence. Insecurity that has engulfed several regions has disproportionately affected women and girls,” Mugabe said.
He noted that investments in education, health and agriculture will have a direct impact on gender equality.
African states have set timelines to achieve gender parity in key areas like school enrolment, employment and representation in key leadership positions.
Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson noted that women’s contribution to national development programs has greatly improved thanks to political reforms and cultural evolution.
“African women have utilized their talents and skills to drive progress in many spheres. They not only occupy strategic positions in government and the private sector but have also helped rewrite the continent’s narrative,” said Sirleaf Johnson.
The first female president in Africa hailed women’s contribution to food security, ecological protection, social stability and cultural revolution.
African leaders have vowed not to give lip service to gender equality in order to realize the next phase of transformation.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in his key note speech said that empowering women and girls has occupied a center stage in policy deliberations.
“There is a consensus across the continent that investing in women and girls has multiplier effects. Countries must seize the opportunity to close the gender gap through smart policy and legal interventions,” Kenyatta remarked.
Kenya’s new constitution roots for adequate female representation in key public appointments.President Kenyatta noted that women occupies one third of positions in public service alongside benefitting from state grants to initiate businesses.
“A national women’s fund is credited for re-wakening their entrepreneur spirit. It has promoted women economically and made them critical players in our country’s development, “said Kenyatta.
African states must redouble efforts in order to achieve the millennium target on gender parity.
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Carlos Lopez noted that gender parity is key to sustain the current economic renaissance in Africa.
“Women possess vast social capital that can be harnessed to accelerate economic growth in Africa. The continent cannot realize transformation if half of its population remains on the periphery, ” said Lopez. Enditem