Women, youth potential game changers in SADC integration agenda

SANF 18 No. 39 – by Nyarai Kampilipili in Windhoek, Namibia
Leaders of southern Africa have been urged to create a conducive environment to encourage the participation of women and youth in the development of the region.

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, Dr Vera Songwe said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is losing out on the untapped knowledge that resides in the women and youth of the region.

“Knowledge of women should be protected through enabling women to take part in processes where their knowledge can be harnessed,” she said during an address to the 38th SADC Summit held in Windhoek, Namibia from 17-18 August.

The promotion of gender equality is one of the main pillars of Agenda 2063 of the African Union, featuring prominently in all the seven aspirations of the continent’s development blueprint over the next 45 years.

For example, Africa aspires for a continent where women and youth shall play important roles as drivers of change.

However, gender and youth empowerment remains an issue in SADC and other region of Africa due to challenges such as lack of access to property and resources, discriminatory practices on the basis of gender, and unemployment.

The persistent discrimination and lack of opportunities faced by women and youth can substantially hinder development and could slow down the pace of economic growth.

In southern Africa, as elsewhere in the world, the numbers of women with multiple roles such as being wives, mothers and paid workers, are on the rise.

In addition, gender inequalities manifest in the world of work as gender gaps in labour force participation and pay, occupational segregation, unequal working conditions and women’s burden of unpaid domestic and care work, which characterize both the formal and informal economies.

SADC can potentially fail to achieve its full growth potential if a sizeable portion of its growth reserve – women and youth – is not fully utilized.

Namibian President Hage Geingob reiterated the important role played by women in the development of the region, stating that during its chairmanship, Namibia will accelerate the empowerment of women.

“Namibia shall encourage the harmonization of gender-responsive legislation, policies and programmes and projects as outlined in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development,” he said during his acceptance speech after he was appointed SADC chairperson.

SADC member states have, through the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, put in place mechanisms aimed at advancing the status of women and youth as they play a critical role in the attainment of SADC objectives.

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 with the provisions of other instruments such as those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063.

Namibia is among countries in the region that have significantly advanced the status of women.

In this regard, Namibia was early this year awarded the prize for being the top performing country in Africa by the African Gender Forum, within the context of the Gender Is My Agenda Campaign.

The 38th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government was 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     as well as the importance of engaging the youth, who are the bulk of the SADC population.

At the summit, Namibian President Hage Geingob took over the SADC chair from his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa. sardc.net