SADC gender ministers push forward the gender agenda

SANF 17 no 25 – by Nyarai Kampilipili in Ezulwini, Swaziland
Southern Africa has made significant progress towards promoting gender equality and equity in the region.

However, there is need to maintain the momentum and even push forward the regional gender agenda to ensure that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) fully realizes equality and empowerment of both women and men.

One way of ensuring that equality for both women and men is promoted is by encouraging SADC countries to implement all the agreed targets as contained in the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, as well as capacitating the SADC Gender Unit to effectively carry out its mandate of promoting gender empowerment.

Speaking to SADC Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs meeting in Ezulwini, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Dr Barnabas Dlamini said it was time the region advanced its regional integration policies from stated intentions to actual application.

“SADC has made strides in advancing the gender agenda,” he said, adding that the achievement is largely due to the development of the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development SADC, which “provides for the empowerment of women and the elimination of discrimination.”

“We encourage all member states, who have not yet signed the protocol to so as soon as possible to ensure full implementation of the protocol.”

So far, a total of nine countries have signed the agreement to amend the protocol. These are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The revised protocol was approved by the 36th SADC Summit held in Swaziland in August 2016 and aims to align the protocol with provisions of other instruments such as those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.

The SADC Deputy Executive Secretary for Regional Integration, Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo concurred, saying achieving equality for both women and men continues to be a priority for southern Africa’s development agenda.

“SADC is determined and committed to the full implementation of frameworks to ensure women’s economic empowerment,” he said.

On the operations of the SADC Gender Unit at the Secretariat, the ministers said it was critical for the unit to be strengthened.

The recommendations follows the recent restructuring exercise of the SADC Secretariat, which seeks to merge the unit with other directorates.

Under the current set-up as agreed by the SADC Council of August 2008, the Gender Unit is a stand-alone unit that reports directly to the SADC Executive Secretary.

This arrangement is in line with global trends, and is considered critical in addressing and driving forward the regional agenda of promoting gender equality and empowerment.

However, the 2015 Extra-Ordinary SADC Summit held in Harare, Zimbabwe made a recommendation to review the institutional structure of the SADC Secretariat to support the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap and the Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) “within a comprehensive and consolidated organisational structure.”

In April 2016, a consultant, Ernst & Young was engaged to undertake the SADC Secretariat Organisational Structure and Infrastructure Review which was approved by the SADC Council of Ministers in March 2017 in Ezulwini, Swaziland.

The new structure proposes that the Gender Unit be merged with the Directorate of Social, Human Development and Special Programmes to form the Directorate of Gender, Social, Human Development and Special Programmes.

The SADC Gender and Women’s Affairs Ministers have thus adopted a record to appeal to the Council of Ministers to reconsider and reverse the decision to merge the Gender Unit with the Directorate of Social, Human Development and Special Programmes as this may affect the unit to effectively discharge its duties.

To this end, the meeting has appointed a six-member committee made up of Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to raise the matter with the SADC Council of Ministers.

The ministers agreed to write a submission to SADC leaders expressing their concern about the restructuring of the SADC Secretariat.

The integration agenda of southern Africa hinges on the effectiveness of the SADC Secretariat to coordinate and implement regional programmes aimed at promoting socio-economic development.

Having the SADC Gender Unit as a stand-alone structure complies with other international, continental and regional economic communities’ set standards as well as the provisions in the SADC Treaty that places gender at the centre of regional integration.

Deliberations by the SADC Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs at their annual meeting running from 24-26 June will be forwarded to the SADC Council of Ministers for final approval at their meeting ahead of the 37th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government scheduled for Pretoria, South Africa in August.