SOAWR: Policy Brief on the Grand Debate
The 9th Assembly of the African Union Heads of States and Governments will convene from 1-3 July 2007 in Accra, Ghana under the theme, ‘The Grand Debate on the Union Government.’ It is significant that the debate takes place nearly two years since the ratification of the African Union Protocol to the Charter of African Women’s Rights, and three years since the adoption of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, which reaffirms the commitment of African States to advance the agenda of gender equality. Both instruments provide a critical framework to address the rights of women and girls in Africa. To date 21countries have ratified the protocol on Women’s Rights, leaving 32 yet to ratify. The delay in ratification of the protocol by member states of the union undermines the universal achievement of continental standards on women’s rights.
In the proposal of the Union Government lies a long held vision to consolidate African unity, and an affirmation of the quest to unite Africa’s peoples across shared values and rights. Unfortunately, across the continent, the status of women continues to deteriorate under war and conflict, deeply rooted economic inequality, repressive undemocratic regimes, domestic violence and trauma, harmful cultural practices and poverty. In spite of the continental instruments for change, women’s rights remain elusive.
At the heart of the union debate must be a commitment to unite Africa’s people across gender by upholding respect for women’s rights and equality of opportunities for both men and women.
Specifically, the African Heads of States and Government meeting in Accra should show commitment to continental unity by embracing the following:
• Incorporation of gender equality in the values underpinning the Proposal of United States of Africa
• Instituting and making public during the next Summit a performance audit of the Directorates of the African Union Commission in terms of the incorporation of gender concerns (2004-2007)
• Prioritization of the rights and entitlements of refugees and displaced populations, particularly women and girls.
• Prioritization of full citizenship status for women in terms of rights, particularly women who marry across nationalities and lose their rights.
• Guarantee to women the freedom to trade and work across states’ borders. Women small traders manage a high degree of non-formal cross border trade
• Conduct analysis into the gendered implications of macroeconomic policy with respect to the ‘convergence criteria’.
• Enable total factor mobility—the free movement of all factors of production (labour as well as capital)—by addressing questions of African citizenship, including African women’s equal citizenship rights and freedom of movement at the continental level.
• Embedding the principle of gender parity in the election and appointment of persons to the continental institutions.
• Ensuring that the principle of appointing 50% women commissioners at the African Union Commission continues to be honored.
• Increasing the minimum threshold for women MPs elected to the African parliament to at least two per country
• Review all recommendations (in the continental government proposal) in light of deficiencies already noted by the African women’s movement with respect to ensuring the equal representation of African women at the AU’s highest decision-making organs—for instance, the Commission’s Chair could also have a Deputy responsible for gender mainstreaming across her/his ‘Cabinet’ and all Commissioners responsible for programs and projects under the strategic focus areas should ensure that gender implications are taken into account in their elaboration and implementation;
• Publicly censuring countries that have yet to ratify the Protocol on the Rights of African Women.
• Honor their commitment to deliver on the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.
• Demonstrate greater commitment to the normative framework already established by the AU—particularly with respect to the promotion and protection of human rights (including women’s human rights), peace and security.
The debate on the Union Government is timely, but it will only be relevant in as far as it will recognize that the majority of the African people are women and girls; and that to win their confidence African Leaders need to seriously take up their concerns head on.
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