PRESS FOR PROGRESS: No easy walk to gender rights
East African Women in Perspective
Sunday March 11, 2018
By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency, Arusha
The International Women Day celebrations across the region, marked with pomp and colour, were an indication that women issues are a priority in planning and programming.
The theme for 2018, “Press for progress,” goes hand-in-hand with the push by most regional partner states for gender equity, especially in the economic empowerment of women.
Most East African Community (EAC) partner states have been seeking to promote the rights of women, especially the right to equal opportunities.
Although progress has been slow, the strides made in seeking to attain gender parity cannot be underestimated. In Kenya, for example, the inclusion of the two-thirds gender principle in the country’s Constitution was a great milestone for women.
Unfortunately, efforts to implement the same have been met by a myriad hurdles. Lack of goodwill by the government in implementing the gender rule has seen stakeholders fight it out in the courts, sadly to no avail.
Without implementation of constitutionally-enshrined commitments and gender mainstreaming efforts, not much is likely to change.
It is unfortunate that African governments have continued to commit to international instruments promoting and protecting women’s rights, yet the political will for effective implementation at the national level has been lacking.
Among the fundamental principles of the EAC is gender equality and equal opportunities.
Article 5(3e) commits the EAC to ensuring the mainstreaming of gender in all its endeavours and the enhancement of the role of women in cultural, socio-political, economic and technological development.
But even with that lofty commitment, only Rwanda has made highly commendable strides.
This year, as always in the recent past, Rwanda is the only African country to appear in the top 10 in the Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks women on the basis of their participation in the economy, educational achievements, health and political involvement.
Rwanda leads the world in the share of women in the national legislature; 64 per cent of legislators are women, while men comprise the remaining 36 per cent.
Although the current trend in Rwanda has a historical background in genocide, where the country was left with a 60-70 per cent female population, efforts by the government to empower women can also be attributed to this trend.
It is now the duty of the Gender and Community Development Committee to guide regional partner states on issues that have contributed to the marginalisation of women, undermining the agenda of gender equity across the region. The committee must also show the way forward.
One of the critical areas the region must work on is the inclusion of women in governance, especially in key decision-making positions.
Currently, women are underrepresented in top positions, hampering efforts to push gender-based issues.
Women have also been greatly disadvantaged during electioneering; many of them are not able to vie for elective posts due to discrimination, violence and financial constraints.
Unfortunately, most political parties lack clear guidelines on how to support women aspirants.
Efforts to promote girl-child education, though in top gear, have not yielded much fruit. Still, low transition of girls from lower primary to upper classes and from primary to secondary schools is low.
The number of female students in institutions of higher learning is at a record low, even though the population of women in the region is higher than that of men.
This is a clear indication that the transition of women from one academic level to another remains low.
Rampant cases of early marriages and teenage pregnancies instigated by retrogressive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation have also led to high girl-child school dropouts.
Most of the parents involved in these cases are Illiterate and lack parental guidance skills.
Poverty, coupled with a traditional mindset among parents, who prefer to educate boys rather than girls when finances are limited, has greatly derailed efforts to ensure a 100 per cent transition rate of girls to subsequent academic stages.
Ensuring that women are economically empowered is vital to realising gender equity. The region must ensure women acquire equal rights with men especially, in ownership of property.
As many women as possible must be granted rights and access to ownership of the means of production, enabling them to gain access to loans that will empower them economically.
It would be unfortunate if the regional partner states fail in their gender mainstreaming endeavour. Women are at the centre of attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Any countries that will sideline their women in major development agenda can as well forget about achieving the SDGs.