As the African Union declares 2015 the ‘’Year of Women’s Empowerment’’, I examined what the declaration really entails. What does it take to empower women and why?”
It is unarguable that while African women have long been regarded as the backbone of African societies, by and large gender parity is still a lofty dream across the continent. Many champions of women’s rights say the battle is far from won.
At the January heads of state summit, the AU decided to add its weight to the fighting gender inequity cause, declaring 2015 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” It is the first time the AU has done so since its formation over a decade ago.
While African women have made considerable gains in the political, economic and social development of the continent, they are still widely marginalised within the corridors of power and when applying for jobs; and continue to face social exclusion, from education to their inability to own land or inherit property.
Issues of child marriage, harmful traditional practices, and gender-based violence also rank highly among the scourges that have held back the progress of most African women.
While governments across the continent recognise the need to give women equal access to opportunities and services, and to this end have adopted gender policies like the AU Protocol on Women’s Rights, also known as the Maputo Protocol, alongside initiatives like the African Women’s Decade, to create an environment that enables the empowerment of women, Sub-Saharan Africa still has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity, according to UNICEF. The policies are there but implementation has proved challenging over the years.
The leaders need to know that the young women and girls are here and they are not a statistic. The leaders need to create time to meet, dialogue, listen and then act.
Education has long been argued as one of the key solutions to ensuring women and girls gain equal access to political and socio-economic power in society. Women activists, policy-makers and well-known voices, like the award-winning Benoise singer Angelique Kidjo, have long campaigned and fought vigorously for the education of girls, achieving significant gains. However, inadequate funds, tradition and culture (in particular, strong cultural norms that favour the education of boys over girls, as well as early child marriage) continue to be some of the main causes of a lack of education for women in Africa.
Make Every Woman Count
It remains to be seen how Africa’s Agenda 2063 will factor the crucial elements like education, health, social freedom, and access to credit for African women entrepreneurs into its empowerment vision.
The report adds: “Women and girls need to be considered as agents of change to enable them to participate in the economic, social, and political development within their community and have equal access to health information and services, education, employment and political positions.”
If the goal of the AU is to finally ensure this happens, that is, an idea worthy of support, after all, Africa has nothing to lose but everything to gain.