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Part of the big picture: Meaningful participation for women and youth on the journey to Africa 2063

by Prof Alinah Kelo Segobye - Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa

 

The end of 2013 has come with a number of highs and lows. The African Union celebrated its achievement of 10 years and with it 50 years of the OAU. The year end saw the loss of one of Africa’s greatest heroes – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela causing an outpouring of global grief and reflection on his inspiring leadership. As most of us struggled to come to terms with wither way the Arab Spring in Egypt, the conflict in South Sudan burst onto our screens almost overtaking the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. Once more we brace ourselves for further pain for the people of South Sudan as fear filled women and children scurry whilst men in army fatigue hurl threats at each other and do the war dance. Tragically, more tales of violated women and girls in make shift camps will emerge as new calls for help to stop the violence and suffering increase. It seems the fire in Africa’s belly never stops burning.

Despite the mixed fortunes of 2013, we look forward to 2014 with optimism. The ascension to the helm of leadership of the AU Commission by Mme Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has made visible the success in women’s leadership in a number of sectors. She has taken leadership of the process of developing a new vision for Africa for the next 50 years which has been dubbed Agenda 2063. Though still work in progress, Agenda 2063 provides us with a tool to interrogate the leadership of the continent and state parties on the development priorities of the continent.

What are the opportunities and challenges which lie ahead and how can citizenry actively participate in populating this vision for the future? Most importantly, what roles are foreseen for women and the youth in the design, development and implementation of this vision? The continent will see a number of countries going to the polls. Positive gains in the participation of women in politics with some firsts for women as heads of states; vice presidents and legislatures are noted. Hopefully, significant voter education has taken place particularly for first time voters who comprise the youth who face a number of challenges not least the arduous task of finding jobs. We can only hope that they will exercise their vote with care. We celebrate laudable steps and advances in the education of the girl-child and improved participation for women in the workplace.

Women still bear the brunt of poverty and inequality across most countries. Though comprising the bulk of rural dwellers – very few women in Africa own land resources. Most are still bound by laws and cultural practices which hold them as title to their spouses and or kin male. In urban areas women comprise the bulk labour in the most sectors and often juggle a multiplicity of roles to provide for their families. Where women are in senior positions their pay and progression is often not equal to their male counterparts. Almost two decades post the Beijing Platform of Action much work still needs to done to ensure equity and justice for women and girls. This is an opportune moment for Agenda 2063 to facilitate such a platform of reflection and re-commit to action to ensure that the commitments of Beijing and subsequent platforms are realised.

African countries still struggle to meaningfully mainstream gender in national and local development platforms. Post 1994, under Mandela’s leadership, South Africa ensured elimination of gender-based discrimination. President Mbeki ensured women and the youth remained central to the development discourse and action. Though inequality and poverty persist, they top the agenda for President Zuma’s government. The National Development Plan 2030 has prioritised poverty and unemployment and various social protection mechanisms to reach those most affected are in place. Further, innovative research informs policy developments to ensure a research-informed development process. In this regard, Agenda 2063 can benefit from evidence-based research to inform the vision development process. In particular, innovative inclusion of women and youth constituencies to interrogate the vision will enhance the buy in of a broader citizenry which is much needed for Africa’s future. A shared understanding of “the ties that bind us” as Africans including a shared and proudly owned vision will be critical to the success of Agenda 2063.

A critical question to ask is what tools are we using to collect information about current development needs and to map the future? Are these tools sensitive to the lived experiences of Africa’s women and youth? Looking into the future, an inclusive development agenda demands that tools developed as part of Agenda 2063 are subjected to a rigorous gender critique and review. Further, the monitoring, evaluation and indicator tools must also be gender sensitive.

A role for research institutions and universities of in Africa should be to foster broad-based buy in and ownership of Agenda 2063 particularly by the youth. The demise of Departments devoted to gender studies and other disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities can be arrested as this project needs diverse research capabilities to ensure a research informed vision for Africa. The reduction of dedicated funding for gender research including Gender-focused NPOs which has adversely impacted the availability of data on gender and women’s issues in development can be stemmed. It is in this regard that a call is made to the AU Commission to dedicate resources to ensure inclusive participation in the process of developing Agenda 2063. Such is an opportunity we have which ought not to be lost to ensure that the next fifty years can truly make a difference for the development of Africa and her people. The African child born on 5th December 2013 should celebrate their 50th on 5th December 2063 with proud reflection on the significance of his or her African heritage and still savour Madiba’s legacy with affirmation.

 

Prof Alinah Kelo Segobye

Research Practitioner / Executive
Deputy Executive Director: Human Sciences Research Council

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