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The Fifteen-Year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action

Jan 29, 2010, 10:51 AM

In Africa (Beijing+15)

Five years down the line, the 15-year African review based on responses from 45 out of 53 member States underlined the following facts and challenges on the extent to which countries have met their commitments to implementing the 12 Critical Areas of the BPFA (Beijing Platform for Action).

1- Women and Poverty

- In Africa, poverty has a female face, affecting almost all aspects of women's life and their basic human rights.

- Responses from member States show that while recognising poverty as a feminised development challenge, governments have rarely adopted a feminised approach in responding to this challenge. The main strategies being adopted by countries to address poverty among women include micro credit and social protection programmes.

- However while micro-credit is useful for addressing immediate household needs, it does not lead to transformative women's economic empowerment. Furthermore, small-scale women's businesses remain focused on traditional jobs such as embroidery, sewing and the sale of food items. Women's micro-credit schemes are funded largely by Civil Society Organisations.

- Few countries have reallocated public spending in favour of programmes and projects aimed at supporting women, and social protection programmes are usually not well targeted to meet the needs of women.

- The global economic crisis is having negative impact on African women and is likely to increase the number of women living in poverty. Many women are being forced to manage shrinking household incomes due to loss of employment and remittances. This is likely to worsen the poverty level among women with major repercussions on children's food security, education and health, and maternal mortality.

- National gender-aware policies and strategies have not resulted convincingly in curbing the feminization of poverty in Africa. Besides, data on the extent and depth of poverty in the region do not enable much insight into the gendered nature of the causes and implications of poverty. They are rarely disaggregated by sex, and therefore do not reflect gender-based inequities within households.

- Governments should increase public sector funding to economically empower women; and put in place wealth redistribution mechanisms that reach out to the poor, especially women, so that they benefit from the economic growth.

2- Education and Training of Women

- Primary education is one of the successes that Africa can boast about. The Africa Economic Outlook (2009) notes that 67.9 per cent of countries have already reached the gender parity target in primary education.

- The main challenges are primary school completion by girls, their progression to secondary and tertiary levels of education and the deteriorating quality of education, due to under-funding, shortage of trained teachers and lack of basic infrastructure.

- Governments have taken noteworthy measures to eliminate barriers that hinder boys and girls' access to education (for example: free and compulsory education for primary level in many countries; strategic plans for girls? education; campaigns to reduce girls' school dropout rate; increase in the education budget namely, etc). Efforts were made to create girl- friendly school environment and implement a teenage pregnancy education policy in some countries.

- Measures were taken to increase tertiary enrolment and retention of women and girls, especially in science mathematics and technology-related disciplines (affirmative action measures, special quotas for girls, preferential treatment for placement in university residences).

- Member countries should put in place measures to accelerate the progression of girls and boys from primary to secondary school levels through further subsidization of secondary and technical education. They should also plan action and interventions to maximize retention and reverse high rate of drop outs among both girls and boys, in addition to reforming and enforcing laws that encourage early marriages for girls and intensify sensitization on educating the girl child.

3- Women and Health

- Countries are implementing and monitoring gender-sensitive health programmes, including affordable sexual and reproductive health care services and education for women and girls, and increasing resources for women's health.

- In all countries, health programmes have been designed to include sexual and reproductive health issues such as maternal health and safe motherhood, pre- and post natal care. Effective measures were also taken to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality, unsafe abortions and address harmful traditional practices.

- Maternal mortality in Africa remains the highest in the world.

- Africa has prioritised addressing HIV and AIDS. According to UNAIDS, the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa appears to have stabilized, although often at very high levels. In a growing number of countries, adult HIV prevalence appears to be falling (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia), while it is rising in Lesotho and Mozambique.

- However HP//AIDS prevalence is consistently higher among females than males, reflecting gender related vulnerability to infection, as well as the effect of age differences between sexual partners.

- In some countries, budgets allocated to the health sector are increasing from year to year, whilst in others only a small increase is made, thereby jeopardising the realisation of expected results and rights.

- Countries should develop strategies to address the high levels of maternal mortality through improved equity in access and service delivery, especially with respect to emergency obstetric care.

- Countries should also address health financing; the shortage of medical personnel and the gender dimension of HIV/AIDS.

4- Violence Against Women

- Violence against women (VAW) continues to be a serious problem in many African countries, although many of them have taken various measures to combat it. Human trafficking is also becoming a scourge on the continent.

- At least 1 African countries are either in the process of completing or have completed law reform processes in the area of domestic violence.

- Measures against VAW continue to be victim-focused, leaving offenders and perpetrators out of the process. Moreover, the needs of vulnerable groups such as women with disabilities are often overlooked in policy formulation.

- Commitment to combat VAW needs to address a number of challenges such as multi sectoral coordination, comprehensive data collection and monitoring mechanisms, strengthened enforcement of laws, as well as the involvement of boys and men.

5- Women and Armed Conflict

- Due to the chaos and anarchy of open conflicts, women and girls continue to be vulnerable to attacks, especially sexual based violence (in Côte d?Ivoire, 52% of women have been displaced by war and 21% among the displaced are women heads of households).

- Low level of awareness and implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women?s participation in conflict prevention, peace negotiation and keeping and post war reconstruction. Although the Resolution calls upon all sides in armed conflicts to protect women and girls, they remain vulnerable targets in conflict situations.

- Only twelve countries have adopted Action Plans to operationalise UNSCR 1325. Namibia integrated this Resolution into its revised National Gender Policy in 2008. In Cote d?Ivoire for example, the defence and security forces are being trained on UNSC Resolution 1325, while in Chad, a project was designed to assist displaced and refugee women who are victims of violence.

- Even in those countries that have emerged from conflict, involving women in policies, plans and activities remains a challenge. Besides, women are not involved in high-level conflict resolution, or in peace management and peacekeeping initiatives.

- Recommendations to address women in conflict include increased sensitisation on the existence and contents of UNSCR 1325 in all countries; develop and implement plans of action to effectively implement UNSCR 1325; and build and reinforce capacities of women at all levels to effectively participate in peace-making, peacekeeping and peace building/post - conflict reconstruction programmes.

6- Women and the Economy

- Countries reported that women's participation in the formal economy has increased at all levels and that both women and men are benefiting from capacity building programmes and support to set up business in almost all of the responding countries. Countries have implemented gender responsive employment policies, non-discriminatory labour laws, and affirmative action policies.

- However, women are still poorly represented in economic decision-making, including the formulation of fiscal, commercial and other economic policies. They remain confined to low paying jobs; are more likely to be among the working poor and without any protection; and persistency of customary and traditional norms limit their effective access, control and utilization of productive resources.

- Increased attention is being given to engendering national budgets and ensuring public resources support to gender equality and women?s empowerment in many African countries. However, these efforts call for scaling up technical and analytical expertise and recommitting to achieve gender equality and equity.

7- Women in Power and Decision-Making

- The election of the first African woman president in 2006 in Liberia has set precedence and provided a role model on the Continent. In Algeria a woman has run as a candidate for presidency, and in Gabon, a woman in her capacity as President of the Senate was made interim president of the Republic till elections.

- Countries have adopted different plans, programmes and measures to encourage and

promote the representation of women in decision-making. For example, Ghana implemented a 40% quota and the government of Burundi and Burkina Faso adopted a 30% minimum quota in government and parliament. Morocco is providing financial grants to parties to encourage women representation in their electoral lists.

- However, Africa is faced with a challenge of reaching a 50/50 gender parity target set by the African Union (AU) in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA). The modest number of women in decision making positions at all levels shows that leadership and decision making is still a closed circle and any significant breakthrough requires innovative measures, affirmative actions and further determination from women themselves.

8- Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women

- Twenty-seven responding countries indicate that they have institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women in place that include gender Ministries, Departments or units. In addition, some countries have gender focal points in other sectoral ministries; parliamentary committee on women; and National Women's Council.

- Although most countries have established gender machineries in compliance with international obligations, they have largely been "ineffective" due to limitations in human and financial resources to enable them implement their mandates.

- Gender focal persons tend to play other routine functions and therefore neglect their gender mainstreaming tasks. Gender machineries are also affected by high staff turnover.

- Measures to strengthen institutional mechanisms include vesting the responsibility for the advancement of women in the highest possible level of government such as the Cabinet minister; defining clear mandates and authority for the institutions; providing adequate resources; providing staff training in designing and analyzing data from gender perspectives; and reporting, on a regular basis, to legislative bodies on the progress of efforts as appropriate so as to mainstream gender concerns, taking into account the implementation of the Platform for Action.

9- Human rights of women

- African governments keep undertaking action at all levels to achieve the strategic objectives set in the Beijing Platform for Action, which are the full implementation of all human right instruments (especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW); ensuring equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice; and achieving legal literacy.

- All African countries1 except Sudan and Somalia, have ratified CEDAW and in 2009, and Morocco has withdrawn the reservations made in 2003 upon ratification of the Convention. In addition, seventeen African countries have ratified the CEDAW Protocol on the Rights of Women and 27 others ratified the Protocol to the African Charter of Human and People?s rights (ACHPR) on Women?s Rights.

- Achievements are notable in legal reforms to enforce women?s rights and eliminate discriminatory laws, as member countries have reformed existing laws or enacted new laws and regulations to this effect. Efforts have been made to address the unequal relations between men and women within national gender strategies to fight violence against women (e.g. Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Congo Côte d?Ivoire, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, and Tunisia).

- However, the major real challenge facing Africa in this area remains the effective and sustainable enforcement of these laws and solving the existing contradictions in customary and religious law on the one hand, and codified laws on the other hand. Such contradictions are persistently undermining progress achieved to promote and protect women's rights.

10- Women and the Media

- The media is still dominated by men and this adversely affects the way women are portrayed. Even though women?s presence in the media has increased, their presence in key decision-making positions is still very low. Women's views and voices continue to be grossly under-represented in the media, and women?s activities are not considered newsworthy and therefore are not widely discussed in the media.

- Gender imbalance in the recruitment of media staff is still pervading despite recently formulated policies in many countries to encourage recruitment of female staff. However, associations of women journalists are flourishing in many countries to echo women?s voice and views and advocate for mainstreaming of gender in the media.

- Women's machineries are deploying efforts to contribute to the promotion of research women and media. In addition, many programmes and initiatives were put in place, (the 2005-2010 programme of "One Computer for Each Family" in Algeria for example) to enable more and more women access ICT resources and use them to promote their activities.

- Efforts to improve the participation of women in the media should include raising awareness of the importance of giving women access to ICT at both rural and urban levels through appropriate policies, laws, and pilot schemes; and ensuring equal representation of women in decision making positions in all media houses.

11- Women and the Environment

- Climate change is taking its toll on Africa. Yet, the review hardly made any reference to climate change and its impact on women.

- Due to the existing gender inequalities, the asymmetry in the division of labour and distribution of resources, women and men are not equally exposed to climate change impacts and do not have the same adaptive capacities. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because most of them tend to be poor, are heavily reliant on natural resources, and they lack rights and access to productive resources, technologies and information vital to overcoming the challenges posed by climate change.

- Africa faces a real challenge in this area due to lack of research on the gender-specific impacts of climate change, lack of capacity to design gender-equitable policies, and to channel international climate change processes into a more gender-sensitive approach.

- To address this issue, what is needed is therefore to effectively involve women and gender experts participations in climate change planning and decision-making process, as well as in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes at regional, national and local levels.

12 - The Girl Child

- The girl child is the most vulnerable segment of society and the most affected by gender- based violence, including harmful traditional practices such as early marriage, FGM and sexual violation. Many African countries have forbidden all forms of violence against girls; however, school-based violence remains a major concern.

-The rights of the girl child are increasingly taken into consideration by national institutions, research centres and observatories. Most countries have ratified and domesticated the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and some of them now guarantee equal sharing of inheritance between girls and boys.

- School curricula, teaching materials and text books that improve the self image, lives and work opportunities for girls have been encouraged by many countries in an effort to promote and secure the rights of the girl. An increased number of African countries are implementing programmes to ensure equal provision of (services to disabled girls.

- Despite progress achieved, serious challenges such as discriminatory religious and cultural practices that negatively affect the girl child continue to persist on the continent. The challenge here is to involve community! Religious leaders in the effective implementation of laws and legislations enacted for the advancement of the girl child and the protection of her rights.