Ambassador of Equitorial Guinea Mrs Mari Cruz Evauna Andeme writes an account inspired by this year’s Africa Day theme of ‘Female Rights and Equality’
2016 is the African Union Year of Human Rights, with a special focus on the Rights of Women. In a speech given on International Women’s Day, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) HE Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma reiterated that the AUC was committed to making changes to support gender equality. The African Union (AU) member states have gone on record calling for full equality for women within governmental and economic affairs.
Many challenges face the AU concerning the persistent gender discrimination and inequalities which many African women still regularly encounter. The AU’s goal is to reduce these gender inequalities and empower African women through mainstreaming gender issues in all its programmes and strategies, as well as through implementing special programmes to strengthen women’s rights and increase their access to basic capabilities, economic opportunities and decision-making, and to enable them to live violence-free lives.
All African countries recognise the principle of non-discrimination in their constitutions, and all but two have signed international conventions prohibiting discrimination. The Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which has 46 signatories, is a comprehensive guarantee of the rights of women to social and political equality.
Women are already in service as leaders across Africa – in their homes and communities, in civil society, and as civil servants and politicians. In times of conflict, they are often key peacemakers and voices for reconciliation. Yet many African women still live under traditional belief systems and out-dated legislation that treats them as secondary citizens. By promoting women’s active citizenship, African societies are becoming more vibrant and its institutions more resilient and responsive.
Some countries, such as Rwanda and Tanzania, have introduced constitutional requirements for their legislatures to include a minimum proportion of women. In Rwanda, women make up over 60 per cent of the national parliament. Even without quotas women are taking on more leadership roles. Women are now represented in the cabinet of every single African country and the overall proportion of female cabinet ministers is higher than that of Europe. We need to ensure that in government, business and other spheres, women can make their full contribution to political, economic and social life.
The active engagement of women in national and local institutions and in civil society helps to make governance in Africa more inclusive and responsive to the needs of society. Women are key peacemakers in times of conflict. Indeed, women are more active as economic agents in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Data from around the world reveals that economic growth is higher and poverty rates lower in countries with more gender equality.
The African Development Bank’s Gender Equality Index 2015 found that women perform the majority of agricultural activities, own a third of all firms and, in some countries, make up some 70 per cent of employees. African women are highly entrepreneurial; they own a third of all businesses across Africa, and up to 62 per cent of businesses in Cote D’Ivoire. These businesses are a key source of income for many poorer households. Across the continent, a new generation of African women are beginning to make their presence felt as business leaders, winning awards and generating substantial amounts of income.
There are good reasons to believe that gender equality contributes to growth and poverty reduction. With increased gender equality, women enjoy higher levels of human capital, more employment and entrepreneurship, increased access to productive assets and resources, and increased rights and voices as citizens – factors that can have a profound effect on their economic incentives and their potential to contribute to the economy. These factors also have long-term, intergenerational effects, by influencing the education, welfare and economic potential of children.
Female participation in the labour force reaches 90 per cent in some countries, and in others, the participation rates between men and women are nearly equal. But women work primarily in low-paid occupations and are far more likely to be employed in the informal sector instead of earning a regular wage. Within the formal sector, women hold four out of every 10 jobs and earn on average two-thirds of the salary of their male colleagues. Fifteen African countries have so far legislated against gender discrimination in recruitment.
Africa has closed the gender gap in basic education and has made huge investment in the education of girls and young women, which has proven to be one of the most cost-effective strategies to promote growth. Studies have found that each year of additional schooling for girls reduces infant mortality and increases life expectancy. Children of mothers with five years of primary education are 40 per cent more likely to live beyond five years of age and 43 per cent less likely to be malnourished. Women with primary education have on average fewer children, use more productive farming methods and, as non-agricultural workers, receive higher wages.
Investing in women and girls is one of the most effective ways of promoting development. It has long been recognised that investing in their development – and particularly in education – reaps a dual dividend. The resulting improvement to their children’s welfare and life opportunities expands with each new generation. When women are illiterate, in poor health and have little control over their fertility, their children also pay the price. These are not just women’s issues – failing to address gender discrimination and inequalities will restrict Africa’s development as a region.