Botswana signs SADC gender protocol

by Nyarai Kampilipili – SANF 17 no 20
A total of 14 countries in southern Africa out of the 15 have now signed a regional protocol that aims to advance gender equality and equity.

On 10 May Botswana became the latest Southern African Development Community (SADC) member state to sign the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

President Seretse Khama Ian Khama signed and acceded to the revised protocol at a ceremony in Gaborone witnessed by the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax.

Mauritius is now the only SADC member state yet to append its signature to the protocol.

The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination, and the promotion of gender equality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.

The protocol was revised last year so that its objectives are aligned to various global targets and emerging issues.

Some of the new global targets are contained in the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063. The protocol was already aligned to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

SDG 5 deals with the Promotion of Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Women and Girls, and sets nine targets to be met by 2030.

These include ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls; elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation; and ensuring the full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

Other SDG 5 targets include universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action, and the outcome documents of their review conferences; and a committee to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.

The revised protocol captures emerging issues such as climate change and child marriages. Child marriages are one of the contributing factors to the slow progress in the reduction of maternal mortality, but the definition of a child by age remains controversial.

The revised protocol that was approved by the 36th SADC Summit held in Swaziland in August 2016 sought to align the protocol with provisions of other instruments such as those relating to sustainable management of the environment, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Nationality Immigration and Gender Affairs, Banny Molosiwa said it took time to sign the protocol as the country was engaged in various consultations on some clauses of the Protocol.

“I can only thank the SADC member states for agreeing with us, after engaging them with regard to the reservations we were having,’’ she said.

Despite not being a party to the protocol, the Government of Botswana remained committed and has been implementing a number of commitments contained in the legal instrument.

According to the SADC Gender and Development Monitor 2016, the country has made significant strides towards advancing women in decision-making positions.

In the region, Botswana is among the SADC member states with the highest number of women occupying leadership positions in central government, with women comprising 31.2 percent of permanent secretaries, 40.4 percent of deputy permanent secretaries, 40 percent of directors and 76.2 percent of heads of department as of 2016.

In the education sector, gender gaps in literacy levels continue to close, with Botswana (and Lesotho, Seychelles and Swaziland) having a higher literacy rate for women than men, according to the SADC Gender and Development Monitor 2016.

Dr Tax said the signing of the protocol by Botswana is a testimony that the country is committed to gender empowerment and equality.

“As you might have noticed there are disturbing trends whereby in certain instances there is progress while along the way there is backward movement,” Dr. Tax said.

She called upon member states to abide by the requirements of the protocol.

“I call upon everyone to make sure that indeed there is gender equality not only to promote it but to make sure that it is embraced in the economic font and political decision making,” she said.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development entered into force in 2013 following the ratification of the instrument by the requisite two-thirds of member states.

A total of 11 member states ratified the protocol – Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar signed the protocol but are yet to accede.

The process of approval of a regional legal instrument requires, first, signing, and then ratification, a process that differs from country to country.

A protocol “enters into force” following ratification by two-thirds of SADC member states (at least 10 countries). This advances the regional law from being a stated intention to actual application. Those member states that join after a protocol has entered into force are said to “accede” to the protocol.

Gender equality is firmly rooted in SADC’s regional integration agenda and member states support the fundamental principle that both women and men must be equally engaged in decision-making at all levels and in all positions of leadership.