Closing Gender Gap: Africa’s route to development

On March 8, Africa joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Women’s Day. This year the celebrations were observed under the theme “Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum”.
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, in his message, reiterated that let us convert our outrage into action. “We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.”
Many African proverbs portray women as valuable and indispensable in society, largely due to their procreative and nurturing abilities.
According to philosopher, John Mbiti, “Women are extremely valuable in African society. Not only do they bear life, but also they nurse, they cherish, they give warmth, they care for life since all human life passes through their own bodies.”
Even God created man and woman in his image.
Since time immemorial, women have been exploited especially in Africa as a result of colonialism.
A Nigerian feminist scholar Amina Mama argues that colonial states sought to separate women and men into distinct, Eurocentric gender categories whereby women were relegated to so-called private spaces and restricted from movement and migration, while men were encouraged to work outside the home and engage with state tools in public ways.
Africa needs to redress the gender historical imbalances that still prevail in some of its nations.
In Zimbabwe in particular, women suffered the subjugation through the laws that were passed by the imperialists which dispossessed and stripped them power to decide and participate in the affairs and the economy of the day.
Fortunately, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, through his sturdy leadership, saw it necessary that for a country to prosper to greater heights and enjoy its economic independence, women have to be socially and economically empowered.
After Zimbabwe gained its independence, laws that enhance the status of women were amended such as the Equal Pay Regulations (1980), which provided equal pay of work of equal value, Legal Majority Act, among other laws which confers majority status on women, among others.
External involvement in the African countries through the colonial policies politiciSed ethnicity and promoted local clashes over survival resources. The set up of artificial boundaries by the colonial settlers that discriminate women, still afflict much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, still very violent armed conflicts are seething in a number of African countries. Women and girls are routinely and brutally raped. This is being legitimised by patriarchal civilian structures that oppress and de-value women.
A South African writer, Gillian Schutte, had this to say, “Women's bodies have been the locale of war since the inception of patriarchy – a misogynistic trend that saw the female body become the site of restraint, control and oppression.” Thus, she said that the female body has largely become a meme of violence, suffering and exploitation rather than joy, pleasure and autonomy.
African women have played an indispensable role of women in the campaigns for national liberation and their continuing efforts in the present century.
In Rwanda, an awareness of the importance of women’s contributions to post conflict nation re-building has translated into their greater formal political power.
Rwanda has a Constitution that reserved a minimum of 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women and which women hold a national legislative majority (55 percent in the lower house).
Africa must make considerable efforts to wean itself of centuries’ old patriarchal practices, which undermined the status and potential of women.
African countries should continue to make significant strides in promoting gender parity in primary education, secondary and tertiary levels to fully exploit women’s intellectual capacities.
At the 2nd African Women Economic Summit in Nigeria the African Development Bank
The AfDB President Mr Kaberuka said Africa will do well if women productivity is improved, adding that this could be achieved by stepping up girl-child education, including business and technical education.
Kaberuka explained that women have always played a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of Africa. As farmers, entrepreneurs, traders and innovators, they are key economic actors in the continent, adding, “I believe, strongly believe, investing in women differently is essential to revitalise our economies.
“We should recreate a society in which women are regarded as equals and not playing second-fiddle to men,” he stressed.
“Countries that have expanded opportunities for women and girls in education and work in recent decades have largely achieved greater prosperity and moderated population growth opportunities and freedoms…”
Let the closing of gender gap be an opportunity to reverse the marginalisation of African women in the development agenda.
Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, pointed out that “Women are the third largest emerging markets in the globe. Women are the third largest sources of growth. One of the fastest ways to sustain current growth is to invest in women,” said Okonjo-Iweala.
The church also has a critical role to play in the empowerment of women in Africa.
President of the Anglican’s Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Harare, Faith Gandiya, reiterated that “The Church in Africa still has a long way to go in terms of dealing with issues of gender-based violence because of culture,” she said. “We need to lift ourselves over and above the culture where women are forbidden from talking too much and are supposed to always listen to what a man says.”
In sub-Sahara African, levels of gender-based violence remain a concern, as it is a major impediment to women’s active participation in development. According to UN women, 7-10 in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in one of their lifetime
GBV also negatively impacts on the socio-economic development of a country, as survivors bear a heavy financial burden through direct costs incurred in dealing with the costs of the violence. These include medical fees, transport costs and payments to access legal and support services provided by the government and indirect costs, which include impacts on the productivity and earnings of abused women. This results in productivity loss from early death or days out of the workforce due to injury.
With their brilliance, ingenuity, hard work, devotion and unwavering determination to shape their own destiny, African women’s contribution forms a critical part of the African development.
African states should be very keen in integrating gender into the development and resource allocation process.
The creation of African Women’s Development Fund in 2001 by the African Union as a supportive mechanism in this regard encourages the advancement of women on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The 2012 World Development Report (WDR) “Gender Equality and Development” found that, while many disadvantages faced by women and girls have declined, thanks to development, major gaps remain. It argues that greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation and make institutions more representative.
Africa should endeavour to close the gender gap for it to prosper and claim the status of an economic powerhouse for the betterment of its people.
Africans should fight each and every day for greater and unfettered participation for women in all sectors of life to fight and break the use of all social mechanisms that reproduces and influence any form of discrimination.
Legal reform remains integral to efforts to reduce violence within households. The amendments should contribute robustly to reaching decisions on the implementation of vital gender equality instruments in Africa.
For instance, Sierra Leone passed a domestic violence act in 2007. It established basic rights for women in the home and entitlements for survivors such as free medical care.
Domestic violence is now punishable by a fine of up to 5m leones (£720) and up to two years in prison. But by the end of 2010, only one person had been prosecuted.
In Ivory Coast and Liberia, no such laws exist. In Liberia, Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, amended the penal code to make rape illegal. Previously, only gang rape was a crime. In 2008, her government established a special court to try cases of sexual violence. However, since it opened in 2009, only 18 cases of rape, resulting in 10 convictions, have been tried there.
Equality between men and women is both a human right and a development goal. It is now widely accepted that gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental cornerstones for achieving development results.
The increased focus on promoting access to higher education, including science and technology provides a unique opportunity to increase gender equality in the labour market.
Women’s participation in disciplines previously considered male dominated should also be promoted.
Women should also catch up with the latest technology for them not to lag behind and in so doing combat this curse which has a tendency of breaking the social fabric of our society.
In his address of World Telecommunication Day last year, the UN Secretary-General had this to say “Information and technologies are already benefitting women and girls in numerous ways. E-commerce is expanding opportunities for entrepreneurship. Mobile telephones are enabling midwives to make childbirth safer. Electronic social networks are allowing women around the world to mobilise as never before for democracy and human rights”.
The AfDB’s Gender Policy elaborates the commitment to promote gender equality and sustainable human and economic development in Africa, and specifies guiding principles to achieve these ends.
As such, Africa should take a hard stance through the Bank, which has a key role to play in promoting gender equality on the continent and providing regional leadership to addressing persistent weaknesses in development policies as regards gender empowerment.
African governments should prioritise gender budgeting to reduce gender gaps through the generation and allocation of resources.
In 2007, Zimbabwe officially adopted gender budgeting to ensure clear monitoring and reporting of gender-responsive budget execution.
Mainstreaming gender in the national budget process will ensure sustainability and avoid the past inequalities between men and women.
Women in power should allocate their time to gender issues and intensify the significance of the female voice so as to offer the needed discourse to reach true gender equality. This will assist the countries be able to identify the hindrances to this goal in order to asses proper solutions to gender inequality in Africa.
In politics, Africa needs to move beyond women’s participation to improving their capacity for contributing to development discussions and outcomes.
For instance, Zimbabwe’s draft constitution proposes that there should be more women active in politics and that representation in Parliament, the senate and Cabinet should be even.
There is a provision that 60 (of 303) seats be reserved for female politicians in Parliament.
The media can have the power to contribute greatly towards a cordial society through the promotion of gender equality, which, in the long run, promotes development in the society.
Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, once noted,  “Given Africa’s enormous disadvantages in this regard, it can be argued that African women are doubly disadvantaged on account of their gender as well as geopolitical location.
Not surprisingly, the emerging class of African media and communications technology entrepreneurs and film producers are almost all men”.
According to the United Nations 2011-12 report “across the African continent, women and girls carry an uneven burden of the HIV epidemic, constituting 59 percent of all people living with HIV.” It reveals that in some countries, young women aged 15-24 years are as much as eight times more likely to be HIV-positive than young men. Gender inequalities, which include gender-based violence, socio-economic disparities, and disempowering laws and policies increase women’s and girls’ risk of HIV infection.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, once noted that a country’s progress is linked to the health of its female population.
“Any country that neglects investing in women and girls should not expect real growth.”
She said it is smart economics to invest in girls’ education, health and social well-being as no woman should die of AIDS and childbirth.
To banish poverty and achieve sustainable economic growth Africa needs to campaign vigorously for the African women for the economic empowerment of their genre.
Africa requires putting up measures that will promote women empowerment and remove barriers that hinder their development.
Consequently, there is every reason for all and sundry in Africa to gear up for the total eradication of the thematic gender stereotypes that usually distort, destruct and destroy the paternal power of gender policy, law and regulation in Africa.
Gender equality is central to human development and to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as to the enhancement of development effectiveness.
Africa ought to commit to and attach great importance to gender equality and women's empowerment in all aspects of its work.

March 2013
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