African Ministers Fine-tune AU Gender Policy Draft
Tuesday, September 2, 2008 3:46 PM

Without the dynamism and hard work of the African civil society, gender mainstreaming and women empowerment on the continent will remain a pipe dream, according to African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Jean Ping.

Though the AU's commitment to gender equality and empowerment of women has been clearly demonstrated in the organisation's Constitutive Act and other protocols, Ping said here Thursday that capacity constraints at the AU Commission retarded the development of the AU gender policy.

In a statement read on his behalf by the Commission's Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mwencha, at the opening of a two-day Conference of African Ministers of Gender and Women's Affairs, Ping said that the final draft of the AU gender policy had been completed after extensive consultations with experts and civil society organisations.

Jointly organised by the AU and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Conference is expected to endorse the draft before the AU Executive Council presents it to the Heads of State and Government Summit for adoption in January 2009.

"One of the main challenges facing the African continent is approaching key issues in a systematic and well-organised, coordinated and harmonised fashion.
"Whether the challenge is poverty, disease, illiteracy, war, civil unrests or gender equality, it is important to approach these challenges with a clear vision, and well- developed plans and strategies on how to confront the challenges," Ping said.

Development of the AU gender policy kicked off early 2006 and the document was envisaged to be ready for adoption at the January 2007 AU Summit.

Ping explained that the target date could not be met due to capacity-related challenges that faced the Gender Directorate and the policy formulation process stalled until December 2007.

"The tabling and adoption of the gender policy by the Assembly will fulfill one of the Commission's dreams," Ping said, adding that its adoption would prepare the ground for the envisaged AU Women's Decade proposed for 2010-2020, while the 10-year Gender Action Plan will provide a solid basis for taking action on the African Women Trust Fund.

Meanwhile, UNECA Deputy Executive Secretary Lalla Ben Barka told the conference that the Trust Fund would facilitate access to financial resources, which has been one of the main barriers to the economic empowerment of women.

Although there have been notable improvements at the Africa regional level in the policy, legal and institutional frameworks, Ben Barka said that gender inequality is a persistent development challenge in Africa.

"Statistics continue to show that access to resources in not equitable between women and men across the continent. Violence against women and girls in conflicts and situations of insecurity is reaching an alarming stage," she said,while urging the ministers to move beyond rhetoric to concrete action for the benefit of women in Africa.

Through its programmes, UNECA has worked to enhance the capacity of policymakers and other stakeholders in Member States to use tools and methodologies for ensuring gender-responsive policies.

One of its outstanding achievements is the development of the African Gender and Development Index (AGDI), a tool now used to measure the extent of gender inequality in Africa and help governments assess their own performance in narrowing the gender gap in order to achieve the advancement of women.
On the sidelines of the ministers' conference, the African Centre for Gender and Development, based at the UNECA, and the Regional Gender Programme of Africa Bureau of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Thursday launched the African Women's Human Rights Observatory (AWRO).

Both the AU and the UNECA consider the observatory an important tool for tracking progress on women's rights in Africa.

Published in: African Ministers Fine-tune AU Gender Policy Draft, Association for Women's Rights in Development, 29 August 2008.