Today, gender inequality in Africa continues to stagnate social progress, with women still underrepresented at all levels of legal, economic, and political leadership.
But a new initiative is actively holding governments and institutions to account, gaining supporters and momentum in the struggle for equality, and equity, for women in Africa.
Launched in February 2019, the African Union (AU) strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) is an inclusive and multisectoral gender policy for Africa.
The AU aims to mitigate, if not eliminate, the major constraints hindering gender equality and women’s empowerment, so that women and girls may participate fully in economic activities, political affairs and social endeavours.
The strategy has four pillars, with each pillar setting out specific outcomes, proposed activities, and benchmarks.
Pillar 1 focuses on maximising opportunities, outcomes and harnessing the benefits of new tech. In essence, the initiative argues that for women to be economically empowered, and able to effectively contribute to sustainable development, they must have access to quality education and control over productive resources.
The GEWE strategy proposes a continental campaign to declare ‘illiteracy a harmful traditional practice and make “out of school” a punishable offence’. It also calls for substantial funding for start-ups and innovation hubs that promote gendered solutions and increase women and girls’ equal and effective participation in the technology space.
The second pillar sets out proposals to help women and girls to have dignity, security and bodily and psychological integrity. Violence against women and practices such as early-child marriage and FGM are still widespread in Africa.
The GEWE Strategy proposes to implement AU guidelines on ending Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) and fund national projects to penalise VAWG. Recent success stories include the recruitment of motorbike taxi drivers in Guinea, who became the eyes and ears of the community during lockdown, keeping a vigilant eye out for women in danger.
While Africa has made headway in progressive laws and policies and institutions to promote and protect women’s rights, Pillar 3 targets the huge deficit when it comes to effective implementation.
In 2016, Somalia reached a milestone with nearly a quarter of parliamentary seats occupied by women. Supported by the GEWE, many African nations are calling for a 30% quota of legislative seats to be held for women in the next upcoming election.
Pillar 4 relates to leadership, voice and visibility, recognising that for women to have a voice, they need to be equally represented in all areas of decision-making. This is especially pertinent when focusing upon women who speak out against oppression, and speak up for equality and Africa’s future.