Gender Advocates Give Ultimatum to Non-compliant Countries

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Women's rights advocates under the UN Women at the ongoing 49th annual meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali have given 2014 as a deadline for those countries that have not passed Gender Equity laws to do so.

It is yet unclear what action the UN Women will take if the concerned countries fail to comply. However, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (otherwise UN Women), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, asserted that most governments of UN-member countries are still hesitant in passing laws that will protect women and provide opportunity for inclusion of women in the economy.

In her opening statement at a forum on May 21, Mrs. Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “Africa’s dream set for 50 years to be achieved by 2063 cannot be realized if women and girls are not part of the economy, do not have the opportunity to go to school, and are continuously forced by tradition to enter into early marriages, bearing unwanted children.”

She noted that educating girls and women is educating a community, pointing out that in the African society governments are not creating the framework that will enable participation of women in the economy and decision making.

Christine Duarte, Cape Verdean interim leader, in her presentation, said the fight for equal rights with men has been ongoing for the last 40 years, but not much has been achieved to make a change.

According to her, legal framework has to be put in place to allow women access to basic social services including electricity and water.

Also, right of land ownership or valuable asset for women in Africa remains a serious challenge in many African countries. According to Christine, this requires the change of traditional legislations that bar women from having the opportunity to own land.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala said the government in Nigeria is striving to put policy into place to foster the empowerment of girls and women.

Noting education to be one primary opportunity that many women in Africa have been deprived of, Minister Iweala said the government has introduced boarding schools for girls, one of which Boko Haram broke into and adopted over 200 girls.

Amidst the threat to the lives of Nigerians by Boko Haram, the Minister disclosed that President Goodluck Jonathan has introduced a system that will protect girls in boarding schools to avoid the recurrence of the recent Chibok kidnapping of the school girls.

The Nigerian Finance Minister also told the audience that in order to reduce gender inequality on the continent, mothers should teach their sons to know the consequences of inequality so that when they are matured, they will learn to avoid any act that will deprive women of their rights in the homes.

Senegalese parliamentarian Benita Diop, in her intervention, said currently 47 percent the Senegalese parliamentarians are women; which she lauded.

She recommended that in order for women to have access to finance, there should be a bank that will solely deal with women to ease the tension of title deed that is required by banks before receiving huge loan.

The women in collective views also said because of lack of roads and other basic infrastructures in most African countries, women are unable to bring their agricultural products to the market, thus making them not to realize proceeds from their investment and excluding them from the economy.

Some key men who attended the panel discussion on Gender were African Development Bank’s President Donald Kaberuka and former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

AfDB President Donald Kaberuka as one of the panelists noted that African Development Bank is here for the interest of both men and women, and they provide services for all.

He pledged the bank’s support to rebuilding the damaged school in Nigeria where Boko Haram adopted the girls.

Gender disparity in Africa is traditionally based.  Women are seen not equal with men but sit at the back seat to bear children for the man or perform some domestic tasks.

Woman considered part of man’s property by tradition makes it difficult for her to own real property like land or house.  Usually the property of the man is turned over to the first born male while the female is given into marriage.

The fight for rights of women has long existed but yet to achieve its goal due to the complex society. 

Up to present, not many women are able to own land except in Rwanda where some reforms have come and women according to Gasinzigwa Ola can now own farmland.

As the advocacy continues, Christine Duarte of Cape Verde also said that it must not be seen only as women’s rights but as human rights.

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