Gender imbalances in education, employment need to be addressed
Women parliamentarians from Commonwealth countries in Africa are currently reviewing progress on gender equity at a conference in Gaborone, Botswana.
At the start of the conference on Monday, delegates acknowledged that much still needed to be done to safeguard the rights of women and address gender imbalances in education, employment and parliamentary representation.
The conference takes place two months after the 48th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York from 1 to 12 March 2004, and aims to measure the level of compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. CEDAW has often been described as an international bill of rights for women.
Opening the conference, Botswana President Festus Mogae told delegates they had an excellent opportunity to chart the way forward in the empowerment of women. Mogae said the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, "was a challenge to humanity to undertake urgent, deliberate and concerted measures to eradicate all forms of gender-based sociopolitical and economic discrimination and oppression". He pointed out that "societies did not advance at a pace they should have because they held back substantial human resources, and thereby denied themselves and future generations access to the talent, skills and inventiveness of more than half of their populations".
SADC Heads of State had made a commitment to address this by adopting the Declaration on Gender and Development on 8 September 1997. An addendum to the declaration, with specific focus on the prevention and eradication of violence against women and children, was added the following year.
These undertakings were designed to build on the commitments made in Beijing by promoting policies that were gender-sensitive. The African Union (AU) also adopted a resolution ensuring that half the 10 AU Commissioners would be women. "The international community is concerned that a large portion of humanity - that is, women and the girl child - who constitute more than 50 percent of populations of many countries have, from time immemorial, been subjected to a dehumanising form of existence, rather than being treated as partners to men and boys in all walks of life," said Ray Molomo, Speaker of Botswana's National Assembly.
A 1995 United Nations report focusing on gender and development in 174 countries indicated that a critical mass of at least 30 percent of MPs needed to be female to ensure that women's interests were advanced in parliament. "The difficulty is ... that women political representatives are often hindered by a number of structural issues from promoting the gender agenda once [they are] in parliament. For example, in developing countries, gender issues are often subsumed by development issues, such as poverty and unemployment, and are then often marginalised," said Lindiwe Maseko, chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Steering Committee and member of the provincial legislature of Gauteng, South Africa.
"It has been shown that setting a minimum on levels of women's involvement in politics and other spheres forces organisations to examine their attitudes and policies, develop criteria that draw on wider pool of talent and make concerted efforts to attract people they would not normally use, but who prove to be highly talented MPs," she added.
Although the Beijing platform for action was designed to accelerate the implementation of strategies for the advancement of women, many challenges still remained. These include:
- the increasing and persistent burden of poverty on women;
- equal access to training and education for women;
- ensuring equal access to decison-making at all levels; and
- eliminating violations of the rights of the girl child, conference delegates acknowledged.
"The objectives appear lofty, but we believe this is the minimum we should do to more fully and appropriately represent the African woman," said Rebecca Kadaga, the Deputy Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament.
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