In October 2010, the African Union took a bold initiative to launch the African Women’s Decade themed “Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.” African Women’s Decade (AWD) is aimed at advancing gender equality by accelerating implementation of Dakar, Beijing and African Union (AU) Assembly Decisions on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment through dual top down and bottom up approaches which are inclusive of grassroots participation.
Six years since the launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, a lot has been achieved, according to a 2014 report which highlights the milestones in each country in the continent. The report cites that women have made their way into leadership positions such as Catherine Samba-Panza, who became Central Africa Republic’s first female head of state (interim President), making her the 3rd African woman head of State.
In terms of legislation changes for institutional support to facilitate healing and justice for women survivors of sexual violence, major breakthroughs were observed in 2014. Algeria adopted an executive decree recognizing women who have been raped during the “dark decade” as victims of terrorism. Uganda’s parliament, on the other hand, passed a resolution to provide gender-sensitive reparations to the women and men who suffered at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army during the 20-year insurgency in Northern Uganda, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence. In Morocco, the parliament addressed violence against women with an important vote, amending a law that allowed rapists to marry their victims. Most recently, a Tanzania High Court raised the legal age of marriage for girls to 18, a move that could help end child marriages in a country, where two of every five women are married before their 18th birthday, and often against their will.
The progress is laudable, however, much more has to be done in the remaining three years to ensure that the targets are met by 2020. Leaders and women need to discuss what has to be done now to address existing challenges by the lapse of the decade and in years to come.
The initiative which was based on ten thematic areas including fighting poverty and promoting economic empowerment of women and entrepreneurship; health, maternal mortality and HIV and Aids; education, science and technology; peace, security and violence against women; governance and legal protection among others, has achieved a lot in local societies and across the continent. But there are still some glaring issues that need to be addressed soon.
High Rates of HIV infection among young women
Whereas the rate of new HIV infections among children has reduced, the opposite is happening among young adults. At the recent International HIV/Aids conference in Durban, Bill Gates, a multi-billionaire and founder of Microsoft noted that “more than 2,000 young people under the age of 24 are newly infected every single day,” in sub-Saharan Africa. “The number of young people dying from HIV has increased fourfold since 1990,” he added.
Out of these numbers, the majority of those infected are young girls and women, according to a report by UNICEF. The report cites that “the total number of infected girls and young women (15-24 years) is more than twice as high as among their male counterparts – 1.9 million compared to 780,000.”
Some cultural practices that subject women into sexual activities without their consent including rape within, and outside relationships, is a major contributor to increased numbers of HIV infections among women and girls.
Take the case of Kusasa Fumbi (cleansing camps) in Malawi where teenage girls as young as 12 have been forced to have sex with older men hired by the girls’ parents. In an unfortunate turn of events, Eric Aniva, one of the man who has been ‘deflowering’ the young girls in Nsanje district, southern Malawi, confessed to BBC that he is HIV positive, and his clients had no knowledge of his status. The number of girls he has slept with is over one hundred, and among those, some have become victims of the HIV menace. Reason- a backward culture.
While women have been taking up leadership positions in the public sector, a recent report on Women in Power and Utilities Index 2016 indicates that over the last three years, the number of women in public utility boardrooms has risen by a meager one percent. The Ernst and Young (EY) report further notes that it would take as long as 42 years to reach 30 percent women on boards, and 72 years to reach 40 percent.
It is not just the representation of women that is an issue. Equal pay is also a matter of concern when it comes to gender equality. A 2015 World Economic Forum Report, predicts that global gender parity on the economic and social equality of the sexes would not be a reality until 177 years. That is how far issues of gender equality are apart- over a hundred years!
Female Genital Mutilation
Despite the fact that there has been a global outcry to end Female Genital Mutilation, more than 200 million girls and women across the globe have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia where FGM is concentrated, according to World Health Organization. Often, the cut is done on young girls between infancy and age 15, when they do not have a say on what should be done and shouldn’t be done on their bodies.
The practice, which is a violation of human rights, takes the form of partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
With less than three years to the end of AWD, there is a need to change strategy not only to address the above mentioned but also other gender-related inequalities and challenges including gender-based violence which is prevalent among women.