African Union’s millennium goof

22 Mar

African Union’s millennium goof

By Wanjala WafulaImage

Members of the moribund African union recently gathered in Nairobi for a two day conference aimed principally at finding footing after a long epoch of tingling on the brink of extinction. The conference was characterized by the typical rhetoric that this time bordered on the acceptance that the union remains largely extraneous to the realities on the African continent. It was one of the speakers at the conference that inspired me to write this piece. Ethiopia’s Tenashare’s presentation titled “new frontiers in Africa” focused on what he claimed to be the privileging of the African female. He even at one moment emphatically affirmed that African men had to claim back their position in society. What saddened me most was that the majority of the largely bored participants including prime ministers cheered him on. I protested on the floor and this is why.

Women constitute the majority of the poor in Africa. They face extensive and prevalent bigotry and constant denial of their human rights. According to the Global Gender Gap report of 2007, Sub-Saharan Africa has the second lowest score on gender indicators out of eight regions and has the lowest score in sectors such as education. It is well recognized that in sub-Saharan Africa women produce 60% to 80% of the food; yet female-headed households are more likely to be poorer. Women are less likely to own land than men, and female landowners tend to own less land than their male counterparts. Additionally, maternal mortality rates have hardly changed over two decades.

The feminization of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and high maternal mortality rates pose major threats to the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women constitute the larger percentage of those infected and affected by the pandemic making up more than 60% of the adults and 75% of all young people living with HIV. In addition they have the burden of taking care of the sick and the ever growing numbers of orphaned children with minimal state support. This situation is aggravated by the intractable prevalence of gender based violence typified by women battering, rape and a myriad other forms of violence and supported by harmful traditional practices

Although women constitute more than 50% of the African population, they are the least represented in leadership and decision-making positions. Only seven African countries feature in the top fifty of the featured one hundred and twenty eight with regard to political empowerment. Women’s participation in governance, democracy and electoral processes at national levels remains limited with an overall percentage of 14.9% across Africa. This indicator is far below the gender parity projects that African leaders have theoretically committed to achieve yet hindered by their masculine and patriarchal mindsets.

While the hypocrites were busy laughing away the plight of women who constitute a larger portion of the populace on the African continent, analysts are a worried lot about the food situation on the continent. Experts are bothered that discrimination against women is a hidden and insidious cause of hunger. According to the OECD, in the 21 countries where social institutions discriminate against women the most, malnutrition is nearly twice as high. In countries where women lack any access to credit, malnutrition is 85% above average. Where women lack the right to own land, it is 60% higher. This piece indeed a call to action: along with investment in agriculture we need to equalize women’s access to and control over productive resources and financial services. Sadly this did not feature during the vain summit in Nairobi.

I incessantly hold the view that women just as their male counterparts have to be recognized for their achievements, without regard for divisions whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political. Africa must immediately learn to honor the advances made by women and continue to put in place mechanisms aimed at ensuring these advances are maintained and built upon to achieve women’s equality in all aspects of life. I say this without the fear of being condemned as they usually do every time I stand-up for gender parity. I feel very dejected at times but this is the price I am always prepared to pay.


How would one afford to remain passive when women continue to inexplicably suffer the burden of poverty, remain victims of prevalent inequity and put their lives at risk every time they become pregnant?  How can I remain tranquil when there is sufficient evidence that women hold the key to the eradication of poverty and that simple actions can make a momentous difference. In my view, there is no doubt that ending violence against women remains an urgent issue and that it belongs on centre stage as says Ms. Nicole Kidman


The writer is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit



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