Head of UNDP Africa at the Commission on the Status of Women 2014
High-Level Side Event: “Towards 2015 for African Women and Girls: Accelerating implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and defining a post-2015 development agenda and the African Agenda 2063”.
As we are approaching the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and negotiating the Post-2015 Agenda, there is no other sub-region that better confirms that gender equality and women’s empowerment are a prerequisite, a means, and an objective of inclusive and sustainable development than Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is right to say that MDG 3 is one of the Goals the continent is making appreciable progress. It is also right to note that progress towards other MDGs were partly driven by improved education for girls and by an improvement in women’s socioeconomic status, which may be the most effective prevention weapon against maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS:
Nearly half of the countries have achieved gender parity in primary school; and as at 2012, on the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education, Africa is only surpassed by performance of Southern Asian average.
Maternal mortality fell from 745 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 429 in 2010, representing a 42% reduction.
HIV incidence among adult women declined from 0.72 per cent to 0.49 and from 5.2% to 3.2% among young women; With an average of 21% of women in national Parliaments, SSA is the only sub region that has doubled the proportion of seats held by elected women in just one decade. The region has also cut by half discriminatory laws, and doubled the percentage of women land holders (from 7% in the 1990s to 15% in 2012).
It is widely recognized that women’s equal participation in decision-making is a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account and for women’s perspectives to be incorporated into development policies and programs.
Evidence shows that elected women in Africa have significantly contributed to exposing gender-based injustice and to triggering responses , particularly legislation on elimination of violence against women and girls; family laws, property, inheritance and land rights; more investment in girls’ education; and more resource commitment to maternal and child health.
Despite the above achievements, structural barriers continue to constrain women’s potential to drive Africa’s economic growth, peace and sustainable development.
Around 84% of jobs held by women are vulnerable as compared with 70.6% for men (Africa MDG Report 2013); and it is estimated that annual losses due to gender gaps in effective labour exceed $60 billion (Amarakoon Bandara, 2013).
Women continue to be largely underrepresented at most levels of leadership positions. Only nine countries have increased women’s representation and reached the target of 30% of women in national parliament.
We need to change our customary laws and legislative processes to support women’s access to property, land, education, health and financial resources.
We need to invest more in women’s empowerment, by empowering them economically, socially and politically as well as ending violence against women, and advancing their maternal and reproductive health status. We must also ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment drive Africa’s sustainable development agenda.
An important way of addressing the foregoing challenges is to ensure the voices of women are heard and respected in the build up to the formulation of the post 2015 agenda especially the Sustainable Development Goals – at the national regional and global levels.
The fact that the Common African Position on post 2015 agenda, which was launched in Ndjamena two weeks ago, substantially reflects gender equality and empowerment does not mean that is the end of the story. We need to take bold steps in translating such priorities into goals, targets and indicators. We need to address structural rigidities that restrict progress on gender equality and women empowerment. This should also be an important priority in the Africa Agenda 2063.
In conclusion, the goal of achieving inclusive, resilient and sustainable development can only be realized with strong investment - and commitment of enormous political will - in promoting gender equality and women empowerment in Africa. UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa is using this as a principle guiding our development work in the region. We will continue to invest in building capacity of women at the national, regional and continental levels to achieve this overarching goal.