LUNGU CHAMPIONS GENDER PARITY AT AFRICAN UNION
THE 25th African Union (AU) Summit in Johannesburg’s Sandton City was themed: “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. “African leaders have made a solemn commitment to mainstream gender in all sectors of the Continent’s development programmes. They have mooted the campaign to take off a handheld hoe from a rural woman and consign it to a museum. Daily Nation Chief reporter Wallen Simwaka was in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now reports:
NELSON Mandela, the world’s iconic hero in one of his many messages on promoting gender equality once said: “The legacy of oppression weighs heavily on women. “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. “As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the Continent refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”
Africa, despite its positive achievements registered in decision-making, women, who constitute the largest part of the continent’s population have remained vulnerable and at risk of impoverishment.
The African woman has for a long time been a victim of vices such as social, economic, cultural and political marginalization apart from suffering from gender-based violence, discrimination, terrorism, conflict and fundamentalism.
And after several years of considering gender mainstreaming not as a moral obligation, African leaders have heightened their resolve in addressing all ills against women and Zambia was recognized and rewarded for having taken a leading role in Africa in empowering women and appointing them in decision-making positions.
When President Edgar Lungu took the podium to address Africa on the need to urgently recognize women as critical partners in the development of the continent and to showcase Zambia’s achievements in gender mainstreaming, he was talking from his solid stand-point-of view having been the only Head of State in Africa with a female Vice-President in the name of Inonge Wina.
Mrs Wina, apart from being the only female Vice-President on the African continent, her appointment by President Lungu had made her the first ever female Vice-President of Zambia since independence in 1964.
President Lungu was not glossy about the danger of looking down upon women in the social, economic and political development of Africa and called for need to recognize the fact that the empowerment of women in all sectors of Africa’s economies was absolutely essential and indispensable.
President Lungu, quoting the wise words of Amartya Sen who said: “more free, more robust and more empowered,” made a clarion call on African leaders to create an enabling environment in which women and the girl child could realize their productive and intellectual ability.
“We need to enhance the role of women by harnessing their strengths in all spheres of social and economic development. We need to change society’s perception of women and begin to consider our mothers, sisters and daughters as key players in the social and economic development process of our countries,” President Lungu said.
President Lungu has also become the first Head of State to have appointed the first female Chief Justice to head the judiciary which had in the last fifty years been a male domain and it did not come as a surprise that Zambia was rewarded by the African Union for her efforts in promoting gender parity.
The Head of State told his fellow African leaders that it was probably only in Zambia where most of the State security and investigative wings were being headed by women, giving the examples of the Zambia Police Service, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC), the Office of the Auditor General (AG) and the Clerk of the National Assembly.
President Lungu said he was vigorously working at changing the current imbalance in land ownership and that he had directed local authorities in the country to reserve about 30 percent of land for women.
He told the African leaders that his Government was awake to the fact that 72 percent of Zambia’s population derived its livelihood from agriculture and was excited that there was commitment from his fellow leaders to have the century-old hand-hoe which women have been using to till and toil in the fields be condemned to the museum.
“Zambia has recognized gender-based violence as a critical area of concern in the provision of domestic security, particularly in cases related to violation of girls’ rights and its contribution to the spread of HIV/AIDS. We have since amended the country’s Penal Code to stiffen penalty for sexual offences apart from establishing a child protection under the police which is essentially responsible for conducting investigations on all crimes committed against children,” President Lungu said.
And following his elaborate showcasing of Zambia’s achievements in gender equality, President Lungu became a darling of the United Nations (UN) Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality who immediately elected him as the key focal person in the fight against early marriages in Zambia and gender inequalities.
President Lungu joined other African leaders such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Malawian President Peter Mutharika who have signed their commitment to end child marriages.
The UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality under the motto HeForShe being spearheaded by former South African minister of Mines Dr Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka asked President Lungu lead the campaign in Zambia aimed at eradicating child marriages which was a concern to African leaders attending the AU summit.
“We want women to take an active role in extractive industry and we requested to make sure your Government is aware that we support women empowerment. We also want to support women to get into extractive industry and this is one area that has not been exploited. The UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality to empower women in all structures including mining and that is why we ask you to accept to be the key focal person in the fight against child marriages and gender inequality,” Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said African leaders had a common destiny which should guide them towards an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.
Dr Dlamini Zuma said African men and women should begin to refuse to forever camp on the boarders of industrialized world by ensuring that the young generation was empowered through technology and skills training.
She told African heads of state during AU summit that if Africa could educate and skill its people in science, engineering and technology, Africans would certainly stop undertaking risky and perilous journeys through the Mediterranean Sea.
Dr Dlamini Zuma said the revolution of empowering women in Africa was a sure means for the continent to achieve meaningful and sustainable development.
“It is the responsibility of the continent’s leadership in all sectors to create conditions that act as a summoning stroke for the human genius of Africans. It is the contribution of Africa’s young people, its men and women, its intellectuals, its entrepreneurs, its artists and its sports people that will shape the destiny of Arica,” Dr Dlamini Zuma said.
Dr Dlamini Zuma stated that Africa’s coastline and waterways were amongst the largest in the world and offered African citizens a lot of opportunities.
The 25th African Union Summit in South Africa marked the fifth anniversary of the African Women Decade (2010-2020) and Dr Dlamini Zuma said African women in maritime met in Angola this year and are refusing to camp on the boarders of the industrialized world.
She said as the AU Commission and other organs were working to align their strategic plans with Agenda 2063, the Commission would in July this year be launching the Decade of African Oceans and Seas.
Dr Dlamini Zuma African women were charting areas of cooperation in shipping, port management, fishing and other areas of what is now being climatically the blue economy.
The revolution of consigning the handheld hoe to the agriculture museum is aimed at reducing the physical burden on women farmers with technology innovation and to increase their farming productivity in poultry, livestock and fishing.
The campaign against the handheld hoe is also aimed at increasing climate change response while reducing the number of the hungry and undernourished in Africa and the world at large.
“As we consulted on Agenda 2063, and focused on the year of agriculture in 2014, women farmers pleaded with us to help them to consign the handheld hoe to the agriculture museums. Africa has many examples of indigenous and farming practices, some of them climate-smart and we must share these experiences, replicate and upscale them,” Dr Dlamini Zuma said.
She said more should be done on agro-processing and businesses to build Africa’s food security and reverse the high food imports bill by working towards the industrialization of the agriculture sector.
African leaders during their congregation in South Africa intensely explored the dynamism of the African women and their participation in judicial processes and institutions especially in governance and at decision-making levels such as Supreme Court, Constitutional Courts and Regional courts.
And as President Lungu was leaving South Africa, he was satisfied and happy with the outcome of the 25th AU summit and that he was encouraged that Zambia had been among countries that had been recognized for making progress towards gender parity.
He was particularly happy that Zambia had made a lot of progress in mainstreaming gender in areas such as political representation, judiciary, health, ownership of land and in general participation in the economic affairs of the country.
The Head of state knows and appreciates the resilience and the courage of the African women and their capacity to mobilize and advocate their issues and he would want concrete actions to change their situations.
Women constitute more than 50 percent of Africa’s population and President Lungu is of a strong belief that to achieve the Agenda 2063, women must be carried along because they play a critical role in all aspects of human endeavour.
Women play a significant role in any country’s legislation, peace, security, trade and industry and infrastructure and they are just as important as educators apart from being child bearers and Africa’s development agenda would be nothing but utopia without the full participation of women.