Gender mainstreaming in Africa

Gender mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels.  It is a long-term strategy to ensure gender equality.  It is a plan that integrates the interests, backgrounds and experiences of both men and women in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres. The basic conditions for gender mainstreaming are political commitment for gender equality and a compatible legal framework.

 The concept of gender mainstreaming was born at the 1985 Nairobi World Conference on Women. It was established as a strategy in international gender equality policy through the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the1995 Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, and subsequently adopted as a tool to gender equality at all levels.

The importance of gender mainstreaming in Africa

 Globally gender mainstreaming benefits all societies. Men and women have different needs, challenges and circumstances.  They have unequal access to and control over power, resources, human rights and institutions, including the justice system.  The standing of women and men also differs according to country, age, religion, race and social origin. Policy shapes society and its organisation thereof.  It is essential to have policies that appropriately and effectively respond to needs of all citizens.  Gender mainstreaming ensures that women and men benefit equally. Second, this halts the perpetuation of inequality and discrimination.

Gender mainstreaming can transform Africa. Gender inequality hampers economic growth and development.  The 2016 UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report estimates that economic and social discrimination costs Africa more than $100 USD billion a year.

Mechanisms and instruments fostering gender mainstreaming in Africa

The African Union has instruments and mechanisms that address gender issues.  In 2011 the AU adopted a new resolution that calls on countries to take concrete steps to increase women’s political participation and leadership and report back to the United Nations Secretary General.

Gender mainstreaming in Africa : international legal framework on gender equality

The AU comprises of 53 members states and seven regional economics communities(RECs). The AU is also composed of programmes and instruments like NEPAD and APRM that focus on gender equality.  Through the NEPAD/Spanish Fund for African Women’s Empowerment, over 69 projects were finalised.  The APRM is a voluntary self-monitoring instrument that fosters the adoption of policies, standards and practices and strengthening accountability in areas of good governance, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender mainstreaming in Africa : regional economic communities in Africa

Regionally, the AU encourages member states to adopt, ratify, implement and domesticate treaties, conventions and decisions; has established a consensus on gender equality issues among member states; and supports research on gender issues and collecting regional data and statistics.

Sub-regionally, the AU provides support to RECs in complementing and harmonizing global and regional frameworks by integrating and translating various commitments and resolutions into policies and plans of actions.

Nationally, the AU participates in legislative reviews and amendment processes.  All RECS have specific gender units, including declarations and tools for gender audits and mainstreaming.

Gender mainstreaming in Africa : AU’s key instruments regarding gender mainstreaming


Pillars of AU gender mainstreaming

The AU’s policy regarding gender mainstreaming is built on six pillars.

  1. The constitutional framework: the Constitutive Act of the AU

In July 2000 the Constitutive Act was adopted and transformed the Organisation of the African Union (OAU) to the African Union.  One of the objectives, as set out in Article 3, is ‘the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance’.  The principles, as defined in Article 4, are to ‘promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments’ and the ‘promotion of gender equality’.  This shows the organisation’s commitment to gender equality.

  1. The legal framework: The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights reinforced by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 

Initially women’s rights were excluded from the ACHPR, however it was included by the adoption of the Womens’ Rights Protocol.  49 out of 53 member states have signed the protocol. In 1987 the African Charter established the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The functions of the Commission are: the protection of human and peoples’ rights; promotion of human and peoples’ rights and interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 1999, the African Commission adopted ACHPR/res.38 (XXV) 99, creates the role of a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa. This office emphasises the importance on the issues and rights affecting African women.

  1. The reporting framework: The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) 

At the July 2004 Summit, the SDGEA was adopted by AU member states. This reporting framework is divided into six thematic areas of action: health, peace and security, governance, human rights, education and womens’ empowerment. Here AU member states committed to report annually on progress achieved regarding gender mainstreaming and reaffirmed their commitment to gender equality.

Gender mainstreaming in Africa : AU’s 6 pillars regarding gender mainstreaming

  1. The policy framework: AU Gender Policy and Action Plan 

Adopted in 2010, the Gender Policy creates the foundation for the elimination of barriers to gender equality; establishes measures to hold managers accountable for policy indicators and fosters the reorientation of existing institutions by using gender-disaggregated data ad performance indicators. A new Gender Management System (GMS) was incorporated into the AU Specialised Technical Committee structure.  Here ministers of gender and women’s affairs are influential in determining African policies.

  1. The implementation framework: The African Women’s Decade 

The goal of the Women’s Decade (2010-2020) is to enhance the implementation of AU countries’ commitments related to gender equality and women’s empowerment and to support activities resulting in tangible positive change for African women at all levels.  The theme of the Decade is “Grass-roots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”, highlighting a bottom-up approach to development.  On a regional level, RECs supervise the creation of working committees for the African Women’s Decade, support advocacy campaigns and prepare annuals reports on the activities on the implementation of the Decade.  On a national level, committees are in charge for the development of annual work plans and budgets for the committees at all levels and the preparation of annual reports on the activities on the implementation of the Decade.

  1. The financing mechanism: The Fund for African Women

The Fund for African Women was created to ensure policy implementation, effective gender mainstreaming in policies, institutions and programmes at all levels- local, national and regional.  The AU organs, RECs and members states committed to allocate a budget for the implementation of policy, increase technical expertise, facilitate exchange of best practices and financial support for the implementation of AU gender policy.


Gender mainstreaming in Africa : structures at the AU responsible for gender mainstreaming

Challenges to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment

The AU has made laudable strides in gender mainstreaming but there is still work to be done.  Ratification is helpful in harmonizing approaches across countries, preventing challenges to gender equality on a national level and strengthening the work of national mechanisms by creating additional accountability. However domestication and implementation is paramount to gender equality and mainstreaming.  70 percent of member states have gender policies, however only a few have implemented them.

There are inadequate tracking, monitoring and evaluation systems in the AU and on a national level.  There are no consequences in failing to report on gender mainstreaming which further weakens the enforcement and implementation system.

Commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment are further weakened by limited resources; slow process of change at legislative and policy levels, shaky political backing; unclear mandates; overlapping REC memberships; fragile binding power of declarations, protocols and policies over members.

Gender equality is inseparable with development. There is no democracy without gender equality.  The AU must forge ahead to realise gender equality and women’s empowerment on the continent.  This can be done by staying the course and addressing the challenges that slow done gender equality.

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