- A powerful consortium of gender activists has urged their leaders to make history by adopting the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development when they meet in Lusaka, Zambia from 16-17 August.
In a statement, the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance commended gender ministers from the region for approving one of the most far reaching instruments anywhere in the world for achieving gender equality at an extraordinary meeting in July. The draft has also been passed by justice ministers who met in Lesotho in early August to ensure legal compliance before the Protocol is placed before heads of state.
Attorney General of Botswana Dr Athalia Molokomme has said that the Protocol would “place this region at the forefront and cutting edge of the achievement of one of the last frontiers of democracy and human rights: gender equality.”
According to the Alliance, which comprises sixteen regional and national gender NGOs, if adopted, the Protocol “will be a global first that will place SADC at the cutting edge of innovative strategies for giving global and continental commitments meaning at sub-regional level.”
Protocols are the most legal binding instrument in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). According to Botswana Minister of Health Sheila Tlou the elevation of the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development to Protocol would move regional commitments on gender equality from a “nice to do to a have to do.”
Gender Links sees the draft Protocol as the culmination of a unique collaboration between governments and civil society that gained momentum in 2005 when civil society organisations undertook an audit of progress in implementing the Declaration ahead of the 25th anniversary of SADC and tenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
The audit found that governments had failed to deliver on the one concrete target in the Declaration - achieving 30 percent women in decision-making. Only three countries (South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique) had achieved this target at parliamentary level. Namibia (42%), South Africa (40%) and Lesotho (58%) have achieved this target at local level. But in other countries and in other areas the target is far from being met.
Activists argued that the achievements made by some countries show that with the necessary political will, such targets can indeed be reached. They also argued that the achievement of gender equality extends well beyond decision-making.
The audit found that women continue to constitute the majority of the poor; the unemployed and the dispossessed; that paper rights in laws and constitutions are daily contradicted by the customary law that governs the lives of the majority of women; that gender violence in all countries is unacceptably high and is taking new forms such as trafficking; and that HIV and AIDS threatens to reverse the fragile gains made by women over the last decade.
What distinguishes the SADC Protocol from all the existing international and regional commitments to gender equality is the number of concrete, time bound commitments to achieving key strategic objectives. Altogether the Protocol has twenty targets: six by 2010, and 14 by 2015.
These targets not only bring together but enhance existing commitments in such instruments as the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Millennium Development Goals and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. For example, while all these make reference to women’s participation in decision-making, only the SADC Protocol gives a bold time-frame of 2015.
The Protocol draws on and seeks to extend good practice in the region. For example, it requires that by 2015 all countries emulate the two countries in the region (Namibia and South Africa) whose constitutions enshrine gender equality and give this provision primacy over customary law. All countries will also be required by that year to have comprehensive legislation for addressing gender violence as well as reduce current levels by 50 percent.
The Protocol breaks new ground by requiring that women participate equally in economic decision-making; be afforded access to credit; public procurement contracts and wage employment.
It further sets out targets for implementation, monitoring, evaluation and resource allocation with strong peer review and accountability mechanisms.
One of the lessons of the SADC Declaration is that peer pressure at a sub-regional level works. While many countries had below ten percent women in decision-making prior to 1997, only Madagascar, SADC’s newest member now has that distinction. Even as they struggle to make the original thirty percent target, counties like Mauritius, Lesotho and Malawi have made significant strides in recent years, driven by the carrot dangled by success stories in neighbouring countries.
The SADC Protocol will now introduce the stick of enforceable targets and deadlines. If these are applied with the muscle inherent in a Protocol, the Lusaka summit will indeed have proven to be a turning point.
By Colleen Lowe Morna
Colleen Lowe Morna is Executive Director of Gender Links.
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