WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS IN AFRICA
The African Union (AU) embarked on a new chapter of moving forward the gender equality agenda in Africa, following the expressed commitment taken by Heads of State and Government on gender parity. In July 2004, the AU, under the leadership of Alpha Oumar Konaré, President of the AU Commission, adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA)at its Summit meeting in Addis Ababa.For the first time in history, a continental organization took ownership of gender mainstreaming at the highest level, prioritizing issues such HIV/AIDS, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the implementation of gender-specific economic, social, and legal measures, amongst others. The Declaration calls for the continued implementation of gender parity in the AU and at national level, the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the protection of women against violence and discrimination.
Furthermore, African leaders dedicated a large portion of the Summit to a dialogue on gender equality and incorporated the African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development (AWCPD) into its mechanisms – another milestone for women’s effective participation was achieved, building upon the campaign for gender mainstreaming and the principles of women, peace and security as enshrined in Resolution 1325 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council.
The work to mainstream gender in continental organizations has been, and continues to be, a long process. For years, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) in collaboration with AWCPD has worked to bring a gender perspective to the continent’s agenda, specifically as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the AU. This work began in Lomé, Togo in July 2000 with the adoption of the Constitutive Act of the AU and continued thereafter with a series of meetings aimed at pushing forward the agenda of increasing the inclusion of women at the decision-making level.
FAS and AWCPD also organized a vigorous campaign for gender mainstreaming involving many African women’s networks.
This resulted in the adoption of the principle of gender parity within the AU and the “Durban Declaration on Mainstreaming Gender and Women’s Effective Participation in the African Union”.
Initiated by AWCPD and FAS and hosted by the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the Durban Consultation formed part of a major drive to push forward a new agenda for gender mainstreaming with a “Strategic Consultation on Mainstreaming Gender and Women’s Effective Participation in the African Union” held on the eve of the inauguration of the AU in Durban in 2002. The Consultation culminated in the adoption, by the new network, of the “Durban Declaration on Mainstreaming Gender and Women’s Effective Participation in the African Union.” The Declaration was brought to the Committee of Ambassadors and the Council of Ministers.
At the Session of the Heads of State and Government in Durban in July 2002, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal put forward a gender parity proposal based on the Consultation’s recommendations to the Assembly.
With President Thabo Mwulyelwa Mbeki of South Africa, the Chair of the Session, firmly supporting President Wade’s decision, the Assembly embraced the recommendations of the Durban Declaration and unanimously adopted a gender parity principle in the Statutes of the AU Commission.
This was truly a historic achievement, as the voices of African women had never been effectively represented at the continental body.
While the adoption of the gender parity principle by the Heads of State Assembly in Durban was a landmark event, those pushing for gender mainstreaming did not rest on their laurels. Rather, they mobilized to build on their successes. Momentum for the gender agenda only grew; and a series of meetings envisioned even more ambitious and progressive action.
To follow up on the Durban Declaration, FAS organized a strategic planning conference in Dakar, Senegal in April 2003.
The conference brought together the network created in Durban in order to devise strategies for the institutionalization of a coordinating mechanism to further the goals of the gender mainstreaming campaign. A strategic plan of action, the “Dakar Strategy,” was adopted at the conclusion of the conference and presented to President Wade of Senegal. The Dakar conference proved a valuable opportunity to decide which organization would lobby where, in preparation for the next AU Heads of State and Government Summit.
The Durban Declaration and Dakar Strategy formed the basis of the Maputo Women’s Pre-Summit in June 2003, organized by the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), in collaboration with FAS and under the leadership of Madam Graça Machel. The Pre-Summit produced the “Maputo Declaration.” FAS and members of AWCPD initiated a discussion with candidates for the post of Commissioner of the AU with the aim of establishing a shared vision. At the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU in Maputo, July 2003, Africa saw its first visible achievement in complete gender parity in the AU Commission, with the election of five female Commissioners out of ten. Moreover, the AU adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and further dedicated itself to the elaboration of an AU policy and management system for gender mainstreaming.
Tangible results were realized at the Maputo Summit and the AU committed itself to incorporating gender mainstreaming further. Under the leadership of H.E. Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairperson of the Commission, the AU set up an internal expert group to determine thematic priority areas for gender mainstreaming in Africa. H.E. Konaré asked members of FAS and AWCPD to consult on this process. The expert group highlighted gender mainstreaming priority areas such as economic empowerment, human rights, education, health and governance/peace/security. With priority issues in hand, the expert group met with Heads of State in Africa to sensitize them on the priorities and prepare them for the Gender Debate at the upcoming Heads of State and Government Summit to be held in July 2004 in Addis Ababa.
In collaboration with the AU, FAS organized a two-day Consultative Meeting to share and discuss the AU Gender programme with a wide network of influential women prior to the AU Summit in July 2004. The meeting briefed women on gender developments within the AU and permitted them to bring their contribution to the draft Declaration produced by the expert group. The adoption of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa at the subsequent AU Summit meeting is a testimony to the hard work and investments of these women.
In order to consolidate the gains and advances made in the gender agenda, FAS together with the Africa Leadership Forum (ALF) and the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the AU, jointly organized a two-day Pre-Summit Consultative Meeting in Abuja, in January 2005. At the subsequent Pre-Summit in Tripoli, in July 2005, women’s groups involved in the campaign for gender parity adopted a document entitled “The Civil Society’s Guidelines and Mechanism for Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa” and created the “Gender is my Agenda” Campaign to be coordinated by FAS.
Another Consultative Meeting was organized in October 2005 in preparation for the First Conference of African Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs, which was held in October in Dakar. The participants adopted the Dakar Commitment and presented it to the Conference of Ministers of Gender and Women’s Affairs which adopted the Commitment in its final document. The participants acknowledged their collective responsibility to campaign through the Gender is my Agenda Campaign for implementation of the Solemn Declaration and decided to annually deliver shadow reports on the implementation process at the national and regional levels. The appointment of regional and thematic focal points was also reinforced.
The series of Consultative Meetings were followed by several high-level events on gender issues to which civil society organizations were invited to contribute. This process helped to cement the partnership between civil society and other stakeholders. These included the AU Technical Consultation in Addis Ababa, in May 2005; the NEPAD Gender Task Force meeting in Johannesburg, in July 2005, the meeting of Women Pan-African Parliamentarians in Africa, in Tripoli, September 2005 and the First African Union Conference of Ministers responsible for Women and Gender, in Dakar in October 2005.
The 8th Pre-Summit Consultation held in Banjul, June 2006, organized by FAS and ACDHRS, officially launched the Gender is My Agenda Campaign.
In addition to disseminating the Solemn Declaration to a wide women’s audience, the meeting also reinforced advocacy on gender mainstreaming at all levels.
The Banjul Call for Action adopted by the Gender is My Agenda formed part of the AU Resolution on Gender adopted by AU Heads of State and Government at the 7th Summit of the AU.
The Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the AU invited FAS to attend a consultation with civil society organizations (CSOs) in November 2006 to work out modalities of cooperation between CSO partners and the Gender Directorate in the annual monitoring of and reporting on the implementation of the Solemn Declaration. Given its experience organizing pre-summit consultations and its coordinating role of the Gender is My Agenda Campaign, FAS was asked to coordinate the activities of civil society organizations during AU Summits.
Within this context and with the support of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), members of the Gender is My Agenda Campaign met again in Addis Ababa in January 2007 at the 9th Pre-Summit Consultation, hosted by the African Centre for Gender and Development (ACGD) of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) prior to the 8th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
During this event, civil society organizations presented their shadow reports on the implementation of the Solemn Declaration after reviewing the Chairperson’s 2nd Progress Report on the Implementation of Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the Synthesis of Reports from Member States on the Implementation of the AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. The meeting also adopted the Addis Call for Solemn Implementation.
The adoption of the SDGEA was a landmark event. However, its true importance will not be realized until all African women are aware of its existence and are able to use it as a tool for making African member states accountable to their commitments, as well as for promoting their rights, including their right to participate in building peace and security for, and development of, the continent.
In this regard, the present Guidelines have been developed by civil society organizations as an instrument for monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the implementation of the SDGEA.
The Pre-Summit Consultative Meetings will continue to be one of the key platforms to advocate for gender within the AU and other mechanisms at all levels in order to reach grassroots women and give visibility to the Gender is My Agenda Campaign.