Gender activists seek action not pledges at AU Summit

Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- Once again gender activists are hard on the heels of African leaders to discuss the implementation of their 2004 Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality.
Gender streamlining in African institutions and the traditional societies in general is probably the continent's only agenda that has been given such a relentless thrust in recent years.
As heads of state and government head to Addis Ababa for the eighth ordinary summit of the African Union (AU) from 29-30 January 2007, representatives of women's organization from around the continent are already in the wings to make sure the AU Assembly would not wind up with mere pledges to fulfill the blueprint on gender equality.
On the margins of the Summit, gender activists are holding their ninth pre-Summit consultative meeting to review the shadow reports of AU Member States and discuss constraints and shortcomings in implementation of the Solemn Declaration.
As participants of the consultation converged on the UN Conference Centre, where the AU Assembly will also take place, it was a glaring fact that Africa's gender agenda has to a great extent been a one- sided affair.
Why should women be the majority frontrunners in seeking gender parity? Where are their counterparts? Is gender equality of no concern to males? How does Africa expect to have this agenda over and done with if males are not on the same bandwagon with women? Signatures appended to the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality are not gendered.
But, it is an unavoidable truth that adoption of the document was done by policymakers who, despite all their talk about gender equity, may not be ready to translate their commitment into full realities because they are not personally burdened by gender tribulations.
Following the adoption of the Solemn Declaration, women's civil society networks have met on different occasions to further the work of mainstreaming gender in the AU Commission and in national institutions.
Yet, hurdles and pitfalls abound on the road to gender mainstreaming.
Traditions that force women to play second fiddle are still strong, especially in rural Africa, despite the small changes in peoples' attitudes towards enterprising women in cities and small towns where survival of every person means competition.
Organisers of the two-day pre-Summit Consultation say participants will dwell on shadow reports produced by civil society on implementation of the Solemn Declaration by the AU Member States.
Only a few of the Member States have reported to the AU Commission on their progress toward gender mainstreaming, within the larger context of women's rights in peace, security and socio-economic development processes.
Three years down the road of gender mainstreaming, awareness of the Solemn Declaration and associated issues is still wanting among grassroots organizations at national, sub-regional and regional levels.
Does this situation mean that the issue is difficult to grasp? Gender mainstreaming, according to a 1997 Report of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, is "the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, [.
] making women's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes [.
] so that women and men benefit equally".
At the eighth consultation held in Banjul, The Gambia in June 2006, African women's organizations launched the 'Gender is my Agenda Campaign' network to facilitate dialogue and encourage the revision of strategies on gender mainstreaming within the AU.
This week the network has organized an exhibition on its activities and focal points with relation to their respective thematic clusters.
In addition, a high level panel discussion between Heads of State and civil society organizations will take place on 30 January to hammer home the need for tangible action on this issue.
The campaign for gender equity is not confined to one segment of society.
It is for this reason that the 'Gender is my Agenda Campaign' network intends to mobilize the press on the gender agenda in the AU.
Success of this approach, however, will depend on how policymakers warm up to the facts that the media unearth not only about achievements but also failures of their policy action and inaction.
Gender mainstreaming, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), means being deliberate in giving visibility and support to women's contributions rather than making the assumption that women will benefit equally from gender-neutral development interventions.
It is high time Africa's leadership realized that targeted actions aimed at empowering women and removing gender inequities in the socio-economic sphere will yield results if taken in tandem with efforts to engender the development process.
The Geneva, Switzerland-based Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS) organization is steering the pre-Summit consultation, with the aim of fostering partnership between different stakeholders and strengthening their commitment to effect the implementation of the Solemn Declaration on gender parity and women's rights.

23 january 2007 14:57:00

xhtml CSS