SOUTH AFRICA: Engaging women for Africa’s Agenda

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On 9 August 1956, roughly 20,000 women marched on Union Buildings in Pretoria (official seat of the South African government) to protest against the apartheid pass laws, which required Africans to carry a “pass”, curtailing their freedom of movement. Since 1994, 9 August has been known as Women’s Day

South Africa continues to invest in the promotion and protection of women and their rights, with the firm belief that our country and our continent need the full participation of women in all areas of life, including their engagement in areas of policy formulation and decision-making; peace and security; post-conflict reconstruction and development; and business leadership.

This includes participation in defining the paradigm and content of the continent’s development. In marking the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 2013, Africa’s leaders committed to a renewed focus on the development and integration agenda, through the implementation of an overarching Continental Agenda 2063.

This agenda will be people-driven, with the objective of facilitating the attainment of an Africa that is prosperous, integrated and at peace with itself by 2063. People-centred and inclusive development will only be possible through the full engagement of women and the youth in this work. The Agenda 2063 goals can only be achieved with the full engagement of women – their voices, talents, skills and vision will be crucial to getting us where we want to be.

South Africa’s National Development Plan also highlights women’s central role in the achievement of its domestic and international objectives. As a result, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation convened a consultation process with women from diverse backgrounds in August for views on how Agenda 2063 could be realised.

The consultations offered an opportunity for women to define the future they wanted for the continent – to take the future in our own hands. This year, South Africa celebrated Women’s Month within the context of our 20 Years of Freedom, and also the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Women’s Charter of 1954.

The Women’s Charter, adopted by the Founding Conference of the Federation of South African Women – the first non-racial women’s organisation in the country – laid the foundation for democratic South Africa’s domestic and international prioritisation of women as an integral part of nation-building and development.

In a clear statement of intent, the Charter indicated the aims of South African women of all race and creed to, among others, fight for full citizenry, characterised by equality and equal opportunities in all spheres of private and public life. These included issues of property rights, access to education and training, representation in public institutions and the national economy. Critically, the Charter specified “that freedom cannot be won for any one section or for the people as a whole as long as we women are kept in bondage”. Informed by the 1954 Charter, this year we also marked 20 years after the adoption of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality from the deliberations of the National Women’s Coalition structures, and approved by the National Conference of the African National Congress. The Charter was specific in calling for action in the areas of equality; law and administration of justice; the economy; education and training; development, infrastructure and the environment; social services; political and civic life; health; media; customs, culture and religion; and violence against women.

These undertakings were also in line with South Africa’s signature of the United Nations Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1995. We also celebrated Women’s Month in August in the context of the African Union’s (AU) African Women’s Decade (2010 to 2020) under the theme “Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”.

The initiative was launched in 2010 by the AU heads of state and government, with the aim to advance gender equality by accelerating the implementation of Dakar, Beijing and AU Assembly Decisions on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, through a dual top-down and bottom-up approach which is inclusive of grassroots participation.

These decisions and declarations include the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, adopted by the heads of state and government in 2004; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, adopted in 2003.

Since these undertakings and in our 21 years of freedom, we have made progress in achieving the objectives set out in 1954.

The annual celebration of Women’s Month in August was not only an opportunity to pay tribute to all the thousands of women on whose shoulders we stand, but it was also an opportunity to pay tribute to all African women in our entirety, who in various circumstances and in different areas are the backbone of our communities and nations. Furthermore, this celebration called on all of us to reflect on our role in the future that we want for our country and our continent. Agenda 2063 presents this opportunity.

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With the 5th Gender Summit (the 1st Gender Summit held on African soil) relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) held in Cape Town from 28 – 30 April 2015, the use of gender lens in STEM is a sure way of accelerating the realization of the continent’s full potential for the benefit of its entire people. It is opportune that the Gender Summit was held this year in Africa, a continent that is rising economically. Six out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are located in Africa. With a large youth dividend and abundant natural resources, Africa has an opportunity to use science to further identify approaches for poverty reduction and provide economic empowerment to its citizens. Such opportunities come with the obligation to consider social issues in scientific research, such as gender, sexuality, race, class, and ability, to ensure that future scientific innovations are not only inclusionary but also successful.

In doing this, we have been given the historic opportunity and mandate to build on the past in order to address the present and future challenges and to reaffirm the vision of a united Africa.  Agenda 2063 is focused on facilitating, coordinating and strengthening the Continent’s development over the course of the next 50 years.  It is an endogenous, shared strategic framework for inclusive growth and sustainable development for Africa‘s transformation in order to, amongst others, galvanize and unite in action all Africans and the Diaspora around the common vision of a peaceful, integrated and prosperous Africa, driven by its citizens and taking its rightful place in the world.

Naturally women plays, and should play, a critical part in our Continent’s future. Only by harnessing the full potential of all our people can we achieve the vision as set out in Agenda 2063.

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