The Gender Pipe Dream
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development contains commitments made in all regional, global and continental instruments for achieving gender equality.
The protocol aim is to enhance these instruments by addressing gaps and setting specific measurable targets, where these do not already exist, to advance gender equality in all SADC states, as well as providing a forum for the sharing of best practices, peer support and progress review.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development has 23 progressive targets.
Among the major ones are that women will hold 50 percent of decision-making positions in the private and public sector by 2015, and ensuring equal participation of women and men in economic policy formulation and implementation by that year as well.
Another key target is adoption of integrated approaches to reducing gender-based violence (GBV) by half by 2015.
But though most SADC member states have signed and ratified this document, not much has been done by way of national legislation and policy formulation and implementation to operationalise it.
With just two years to go to the 2015 deadline, how feasible is it that the key targets will be met?
Although women constitute at least half of the population in most African countries, they are still largely outnumbered by men in positions of responsibility in all fields. Women have traditionally been excluded from power and decision-making processes. The reasons for the under-representation of women are multifaceted and complex.
The constraints include the under-representation of women in the leadership of their own political parties as well as the lack of internal guidelines or gender equality policies within parties.
In many political parties across Africa, there is a silent but very pervasive discrimination of female leaders. Parties pretend to promote women by assigning them reserved seats in Parliamentary and local government elections, but these are often in difficult constituencies, or are placed unfavorably in party candidate lists.
The challenges that women face are a combination of both direct discrimination and structural barriers. Such things include the times that meetings are held, with some scheduled when it is obvious that many women have responsibilities back home.
The system of nomination of candidates in parties is often dominated by male chauvinism, while access to training and funds is discriminatory against females.
Women are usually portrayed as wife, mistress, girlfriend or mother; thus illustrating how strongly the role of women is affected by a retrogressive patriarchal mentality.
For example, during the general assemblies/congresses/conferences/conventions of political parties, women are often relegated to protocol status. They carry out catering, cleaning, decoration and ushering responsibilities.
Regardless of their political knowledge or competence, few women are involved in thematic preparation, co-ordination, initiation or development of policies or action plans and projects.
Women are considered subordinate to men and second class members/citizens both in the family and in the society, and this is reflected in the way political parties do things.
Even the few women that are educated find it difficult to join politics due to the fact that most men will not allow their wives to be active in that sphere.
Some people are of the opinion women lack the time to participate in politics and that the burden of caring for the family makes it impossible for them to lead public lives.
With such a social set-up, much work needs to be done to attain the main objectives of the SADC Protocol on Gender.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as many national constitutions, recognises the right of every person to take part in the government of his or her country. Other international conventions point out that equal access of men and women to power, decision-making and leadership at all levels is a necessary precondition for the proper functioning of any democracy.
So when this is not happening, it means we are not living in democratic countries.
There is a lot that needs to be done to bring women to the centre so that our countries benefit from their skills and competencies.
Countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar that are holding various elections in the coming year need to operationalise civic education programmes that make society aware of the SADC Protocol on Gender and related national and international agreements.
Women need to be encouraged to enter the political mainstream, and men should be educated on the fact that women have a key role to play in national and international affairs.
Furthermore, SADC countries must start domesticating the various agreements that they are party to such as the regional protocol on gender.
In all of this, the media have a central role to play. According to the “Gender and Media Progress Study on Southern Africa”, the media use many stereotypes that only serve to limit the scope for women’s participation in national affairs.
The media should fulfill their watchdog role in regards to implementation of mechanisms that promote women’s participation in decision-making, holding governments accountable for implementing policies that promote women’s participation, and including in their content women’s success stories that can serve as an inspiration for greater gender equality.
Development partners, international organisations and donors should have specific programmes that engender equality.
But ultimately the onus lies on political parties to do more to create an enabling environment for the participation of women as voters and candidates, and to increase issues that affect women in their manifestos, constitutions and work programmes. Without this, the SADC Protocol on Gender will remain a dream: nice on paper, but non-existent on the ground.