“Women are capable of steering nations…”
These were the words of Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax as she bade farewell to SADC at the opening ceremony of the 41st SADC Summit on August 17 in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Dr Tax, who became the sixth Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the first woman elected to the top post, commended SADC for promoting gender equality and supporting women in leadership positions.
She said women offer outstanding, exemplary leadership and wisdom and require support by all.
Dr Tax was sworn in as Executive Secretary in August 2013 in Lilongwe, Malawi during the 33rd SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, and coincidentally she ends her eight-year tenure in the same country, as Malawi hosts the 41st SADC Summit.
“…it is in the same city that I was sworn in and it is in the same city that I end my tenure and handover to my successor…it started well and it is ending well here in Lilongwe,” Dr Tax said.
Key achievements during her tenure include the development and rollout of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015- 2063, and recalibration of the regional development plan, the Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2015-2020, the RISDP 2020- 2030, and SADC Vision 2050.
Dr Tax called for the region to continue uplifting women and noted that efforts made thus far are commendable.
True to her assertion, a number of women in southern Africa and the rest of the African continent have performed and are continuing to perform well in key decision-making positions.
For example, the historic 33rd SADC Summit where she was sworn in was hosted by Dr Joyce Banda, the first woman president in southern Africa and the first woman to become chairperson of SADC.
The current President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, is the first woman to hold this position in the country. President Hassan served Tanzania for five years as Vice-President before becoming President.
The 41st SADC Summit, which included meetings of senior officials and the Council of Ministers, had more women representation at a higher level than any previous Summit.
In addition to President Hassan and Dr Tax, other women who attended this Summit in key leadership positions were the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania, as well as Ministers of Defence from South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Other women from Southern Africa who have held key leadership positions are Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who was the first woman to become Chairperson of the African Union Commission (2012-2017); Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Women Executive Director and former Vice President of South Africa; Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhilla of Namibia, and Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation; Inonge Mutukwa Wina, the vice-president of Zambia since 2015, and many others.
Dr Tax said, as she looks back, she sees the progress that has been made in empowering women both economically and in leadership positions, a clear testimony of the region’s commitment to promote gender equality and equity since it is now accepted that women are as capable as their male counterparts to perform any duties.
Gender equality is firmly rooted in the Declaration and Treaty that established the shared community of SADC, and member states fully realize that equality and empowerment of both women and men is crucial for the attainment of sustainable development.
This is clearly reflected in the constitutions of most SADC countries that provide for the creation of legal frameworks that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and other differences.
Some countries have legislated affirmative action and quota systems that guarantee the participation and representation of women in political and other decision-making positions.
Advancing gender equality and equity is a collective effort that should be championed by both women and men to ensure sustainable socio-economic development.
Often, there has been a perception that only women ought to be the main supporters and advocates of gender empowerment.
The promotion of gender equality is one of the main pillars of Agenda 2063 of the African Union, featuring prominently in all the seven aspirations of the continent’s development blueprint over the next 45 years.
For example, Africa aspires for a continent where women and youth shall play important roles as drivers of change.
SADC can potentially fail to achieve its full growth potential if a sizeable portion of its growth reserve – women and youth – is not fully utilized.
SADC member states have, through the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, put in place mechanisms aimed at advancing the status of women and youth as they play a critical role in the attainment of SADC objectives.
The revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and attainment of gender equality and equity through enactment of gender-responsive legislation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects.
The protocol was revised to align with the provisions of other instruments such as those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063. – sardc.net