Clarion call for action on gender equality, parity

SANF 18 No. 36 – by Nyarai Kampilipili in Windhoek, Namibia
There is need for southern Africa to continue intensifying its efforts to promote gender equality and ensure that both women and men play an active role in advancing regional integration.

Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said this in her address to the media ahead of the 38th SADC Summit, which opens 17-18 in Windhoek Namibia.

Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is the Namibian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said while significant progress had been made to promote gender equality and equity, it is critical for the region to make sure that gender development remains a top priority.

“The SADC Council urges Member States to continuously intensify their advocacy and lobbying campaigns on gender parity as per the provision in the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development,” she said.

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

The protocol was revised in 2016 to align it with the provisions of other instruments such as those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 of the African Union, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063.

For example, the revised protocol captures emerging issues such as climate change and child marriages.

Child marriages are regarded as one of the factors contributing to the slow progress in the reduction of maternal mortality, but the definition of a child by age remains controversial.

Nandi-Ndaitwah further said it is critical for SADC member states to “create a conducive environment and supporting structures for women to join and stay in politics and positions of decision making.”

At present, SADC falls short of attaining the 50:50 target of promoting the representation of women in decision-making positions.

In fact, in most SADC countries women are not visible in the decision-making positions, including in the political field.

This is despite the fact that women constitute more than half the population in most SADC member states, and that women make up the largest numbers of voters.

According to the 2016 SADC Gender and Development Monitor, political representation of women is relatively low throughout the region.

Various challenges hinder the participation of women in politics and other decision-making positions.

These include lack of access to information as well as the existence of cultural norms that prevent women from actively taking part in public affairs.

At times, for example, women are excluded from contesting for leadership positions by various means, which include violence and intimidation.

In other cases, women are not able to get into leadership positions due to cultural beliefs and patriarchal societies that view women as second class citizens.

This stereotyping is instilled in boys and girls at a young age and becomes a norm, with children of the different sexes growing up believing that they are unequal.

Such practices often affect interest by women to take part in decision-making in various sectors and advance beliefs that only men are good enough for decision-making positions.

In this regard, it is critical for SADC member states to create a conducive environment and supporting structures that will enable women to participate in politics and aspire for decision-making positions.

One strategy to encourage the participation of more women in politics and decision-making positions is to review the electoral systems and ensure gender representations in Parliament.

SADC member states such as Namibia and the United Republic of Tanzania have experienced positive results because of legislated quota for women. Both countries have legislated quota systems of 30 percent women representation.

The 38th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government is being held under the theme “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development.”

The theme builds on the focus of the past four SADC Summits that sought to advance industrial development, and takes into account the need for adequate infrastructure to support industrialisation     and the need to engage the youth, who are the bulk of the SADC population.

At the summit, Namibian President Hage Geingob will assume the SADC chair from his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.