Women’s roles in the African Union and the continent

By Runako Celina Bernard-Stevenson*

Since the turn of the millennium, the African Union (AU) has made significant progress in identifying areas of much-needed improvement around gender equality and women’s participation in its own ranks, across its member states and within the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs). To date, the AU has established the Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD, 2000), adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004), declared 2010-2020 the African Women’s Decade, founded an African Women’s Fund and convenes yearly High-Level Panels on Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment. All of these actions are tied to commitments laid out in Article 4 of The Constitutive Act of the African Union, as well as in the Maputo protocol of 2002.

In addition, the majority of AU member states are signatories of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, which both call for the global empowerment of women.

It is arguably in its 2009 gender policy, formulated by the WGDD, that the AU most succinctly makes its case for prioritizing the rights of women and gender equality within its own ranks and across the entire continent. The policy reasons that both women and men have worked for the liberation of the continent, and for the economic emancipation, solidarity and cohesion necessary for its integration and unity. 

“Therefore, they should participate and benefit equally in development processes,” it said. At the WGDD’s gender pre-summit convened earlier this month, the WGDD’s director, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, also shed more light on just why gender equality is such a pressing issue for the AU. In reference to Agenda 2063, she stated that “the prosperity of Africa is clearly conditioned on the opportunities that will be created for women and young people on our continent.”. 

This has translated into some excitingly ambitious goals for the AU. 50/50 gender parity was the goal to be reached throughout the AU’s structures by 2015. Meanwhile, by 2025 it is envisioned that 30 percent of member states’ legislative assemblies and public offices will be comprised of women. Such feats have already been surpassed by some member states. Rwanda, for example, has famously reached over 50 percent female representation in parliament. Additionally, the AU’s commission has also been in keeping with its 50/50 target.

However, realizing such goals across the entire continent will require solid strategizing, mechanisms for accountability and evaluation, and the breaking down of several barriers which stand in contradiction to a more gender-equal future for the AU and continent. The latter would include combating negative societal norms and attitudes to women in positions of political authority as well as challenging educational attainment and opportunity, some of which are admittedly already well underway.  - cgtn.com

*Runako  Celina  Bernard-Stevenson is a postgraduate student in the School of International Studies at Peking University, public relations officer of the Peking University Africa Think Tanks and the founder of the African Diaspora Volunteer Network. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the view of CGTN.

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