A regional meeting on reviewing progress, challenges, and opportunities to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa has called for women to be at the center of the continent’s green, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 and climate crises.
Hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), UN Women, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the hybrid meeting took place in Kigali on 4 March on the margins of the Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development (ARFSD).
The meeting saw representatives of governments, intergovernmental agencies, civil society organizations, academia, women’s rights groups, and climate justice networks examine the existing and emerging challenges impeding the progress on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 for gender equality and women’s empowerment, in light of COVID-19 and the building back better agenda.
In addition, they exchanged good practices and experiences from the region that could be replicated to accelerate action on gender equality, women’s empowerment, and inclusive climate action, with a goal of achieving the SDG 5 and the Aspiration 6 of the African Union’s 2063 Agenda.
Climate crisis is worse for women
According to UN studies, women are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters, especially climate change and COVID-19, due to the longstanding gender inequalities. Women form a majority of the world’s poor, often dependent on small-scale farming for their livelihoods and can comprise 80 per cent of those displaced by climate-related disasters.
In her welcome remarks, Ms. Jennet Kem, UN Women Representative to Burundi, highlighted that despite progress, women and girls in Africa continued to experience multiple forms of discrimination and inequalities in social, economic and political spheres.
She stressed the need for a fundamental shift to change the way policymakers, practitioners and implementers should work. Ms Kem said: “Our priority should be on localising the SDG 5 at the grassroots level… It is not only national governments that should own the agenda. Communities and civil society organisations need to participate and hold governments accountable on their international commitments.”
Communities and civil society organisations need to participate and hold governments accountable on their international commitments
COVID-19 derails gender equality gains
Speaking at the meeting, Ms. Edlam Yemeru, acting Director of ECA’s Gender Poverty and Social Policy division, underlined that the impacts of the pandemic undermined the gains Africa made towards achieving gender equality, leading to a humanitarian crisis that could be compounded by climate change, with women and girls adversely affected.
She said: “The continent’s leadership needs to fully leverage the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and digital transformation… Carefully leveraging these opportunities can advance gender equality including through women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment. We know the issues well. What we need is concrete action and measurable change at scale. We can no longer afford business-as-usual when it comes to gender quality and women’s empowerment.”
Addressing the participants, Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, Regional Director for UNFPA’s for Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, said: “Making smart investments in accelerating progress towards universal sexual and reproductive health and rights countries can harness the demographic dividend, and achieve sustainable development. Evidence shows addressing the unmet need for family planning can reduce maternal mortality rates by 35 per cent. We, therefore, need prioritised actions that promote resilient and gender-responsive economies, accelerate inclusivity, and prioritise equity and justice.”
‘Agents of transformative change’
Contributing to a panel discussion at the meeting, Hon. Marguerite Ramadan, the Central African Republic’s Minister for Gender Promotion, Women’s Protection, Family and Children, said that women were not just victims or beneficiaries but also agents of transformative change and that women should be empowered to take leadership roles and lead the change. She stressed that integrating the Beijing Platform for Action into the national planning could boost the momentum on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa.
Also speaking at a panel discussion, Dr. Rewan Youssif, Lead for the Health and Well-being unit at the African Union Commission, told the participants that although there is no single standard formula for institutional setups to govern the implementation of the agendas 2030 and 2063, four initial steps should be taken at the national level. These, she added, included translating the SDGs into national objectives and benchmarks, integrating SDG objectives into medium to long-term national strategies and plans, ensuring the availability of resources to facilitate successful implementation, and adopting whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches for building ownership of the two agendas.
At the meeting, ECA, UN Women and UNFPA presented the findings of their background paper on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls in Africa: progress, challenges, opportunities and key priority actions to accelerate the implementation of SDG 5 to guide the discussions. The interventions from the meeting, to be released in a report, will inform the outcome of this year’s ARFSD, which will feed into the 2022 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.