Report from the Women’s Advisory Council (WAC) UNA Conference


The following report was written by Sally Spear, Chair of the WAC-UNA from a presentation given by a panel of speakers at their conference.  The subject of their presentation was AFRICA – THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN BUILDING A PEACEFUL AND SECURE LIFE FOR ALL – STRATEGIES AND SUCCESSES

Catherine Pluygers, Chair of UNA-UK London and Southeast Region Catherine spoke on the importance of the work of UN Women and UNA-UK.

United Nations Association UK, founded in 1945, exists to promote the work of the UN, to encourage the UK government to fulfil its obligations on the Security Council and to properly engage by example with the UN.    We criticize and/or support the UN and disseminate information to the general public.

Catherine pointed out that we are singling out women because if they are empowered, they can contribute to the well-being of all, owing to their special attributes and responsibilities.   They work for long term as well as short term interests, for peace and the caring for children.  When women have adequate education, they have a route out of poverty, they can control the number of children they have, and society benefits.

Rural women in Africa, who head up over 70% of small holdings in Africa, if given access to land rights are able to feed the family.  Although women are over 50% of the population, their skills are often wasted, due to lack of mobility, or vulnerability to violence, trafficking etc. 1 in 3 women experience violence in their lifetime.

The UN recognises that women can improve peace negotiations if allowed to the table, so the UN SCR 1325 and other resolutions are designed to give women equal representation at peace negotiations.  Globally women make up only 1 in 5 parliamentarians; at the current rate it will take 80 years to reach gender equality in employment.  We have legislation –  the Beijing Declaration 2005 and the Commission on the Status of Women which meets annually in New York, CEDAW – Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.  We had the Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000 followed by the Sustainable Development Goals started in 2015 which have gender sensitive targets.    Although the UN has enabled legislation, agreements have to be signed up to, then ratified, then acted upon.

There is gender inequality in every walk of life – human rights, education, work, health care etc. Women’s health needs may not be fully met, as the fact that their physiology differs from men’s may be ignored .   In July 2010 the “UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” was created, called UN Women, which will help investing in women to increase productivity and economic growth.    Investment in women is a key factor in lifting countries out of poverty.

So UN Women’s work includes promoting the gender aspects of the SDGs, the role of women in the rural economy, gender sensitive aspects of work with refugees, provide training for governance and peace-building, and encouraging UN member states to implement the legislation mentioned above.

Marie-Lyse Numuhoza of WILPF – UK, representing the Voices of African Women Campaign on the African Women Decade 2010-2020 in the context of diaspora women

Marie-Lyse spoke on the hard work involved in setting up the Voices of African Women (VoAW) campaign for the African Women’s decade 2010 – 2020.   Women in the diaspora can  help as they have more access to funding for projects than those in Africa who are side-lined, not heard.   WILPF (UK Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) began in 1915 as the women of Europe in the Hague asked warring parties to end war.  Now they needed to work on the needs of women in Africa. In November 2008 WILPF set up Voices of Women seminars and brought together women from many countries.   They drafted a 16 point declaration of concerns on 28 April 09 with ~500 signatures, it was presented to Downing Street and then to many different UK African embassies with discussion on human rights and the position of women in these countries.

On July 31st 2010 the WILPF VoAW campaign initiated the UK launch of the African Union’s designated African Women’s Decade. (2010 – 2020, hosted by the Gender studies department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London, enhancing  the over 54 African Union countries’ commitment to gender equality and empowerment.   It attracted over 100 people and useful links were made to representatives from DFID, the US embassy and the African Union. The VoAW Campaign has drawn a road map of actions for the Decade, for the implementation of legal frameworks to reduce gender inequality, increase women’s participation and reduce violence against women.. The UK launch has inspired other African Diaspora women in various countries such as in the USA to launch the decade in their country.

The document is a lobbying tool; work is monitored.  Various themes were used as tools to train and build capacity – e.g. a workshop in the Congo on peace building, understanding international legal frameworks  UN SCR 1325, and violence against women.  Among several objectives is getting commitment of funds from donors and DFID to go to the grass roots women’s organisations.

Diaspora women became champions in different fields – in Sudan, Mama Khadijah and her team of Peace women are have secured land to build a women’s peace centre; Marie- Claire Faray has now been 3 months in DRC; Kayet from Ethiopia is establishing a children’s orphanage;  Khadijah Mohammed and Dr Mariam Sureiman are leading on FGM campaigns in their communities.

International lobbying and grassroot work with women continue, but at the DOHA peace negotiations and in Dafur results were disheartening, voices of women missing from the peace negotiation.  UN Women failed to get women into the negotiations, passes were blocked etc.  So the strategy is to use NGO networks, raise awareness of African women’ issues,  have more investment and help in the women’s work.

Marie-Lyse ended saying a new approach was needed to peace-making – to be inclusive with sustainable settlements, preventing future violence – which would value  the diversity of non-state armed groups and the public, who should participate to determine how their country is governed.

Rainatou Sow Executive Director of “Make Every Woman Count”  MEWC, on African Women in Leadership & The Implementation of the Maputo Protocol

Rainatou explained that the African Women’s Decade idea formed because European diaspora women saw they were well placed to help women in Africa.   Technology would highlight possible activities, a monitoring system was needed but no such system was in Africa, and there no-one could be held accountable for scandals etc. So it was planned to collect data, describe the project in simple accessible English, and find what was preventing progress. There have been yearly reports and Make Every Woman Count (MEWC) published the excellent, hefty fifth year mid-term review of the decade’s progress.  With so many countries to cover and few local workers, information had to be drawn from many sources –  the UN, World Bank, World Economic Forum, Inter-Parliamentary Union , local news, NGOs, International Institutions etc.  Oxfam, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, and FEMNET were partners.

There has been some progress attaining women’s rights.   The Beijing Platform for Action encouraged women,  leading to CEDAW and UN resolutions, also there was the good work done creating the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa (2003).  36 countries have signed and ratified the protocol, 15 have signed and not ratified it and 3 have done neither.  In 2016, the African Union’s 26th summit was named the “Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”.

Implementation has been disappointingly poor considering that it is the key to attaining the well-being, safety and full participation of women in every walk of life.    The protocol has 32 articles covering security, peace, protection in conflicts, widows, inheritance etc.   Women can create a space to advocate in, to stimulate political will and obtain needed government resources. Across the countries there is a multiplicity of legal systems, laws and instruments, difficult for lawyers to master. Thus training is needed for the women to know the situation and how to cope with daily difficulties.

In the discussion that followed, Akanimo Odon mentioned the effectiveness of films about issues in creating awareness; he had made one “Dry”, on child marriage. Education is very important, talking with students (future leaders of society), as is dealing with the poverty underlying problems of school pupils, lack of food, financial support etc.

Rwanda has about 60 women in parliament, but their voices are not heard.  Recent constitutional changes mean the Rwandan male president Paul Kagame might stay in power till 2034!  In fact 15 African countries are ahead of France and the UK regarding the percentage of women in parliament; Algeria is more liberated.   This suggests that quotas do open the door to capable women.

Patriarchal systems are restrictive, but women’s voices can be heard over the radio, at the African Union level, with civil society and ministers.    Rainatou said MEWC had tried engaging with young UK people. The powers and leaders need to be held accountable.   Data collection would give women knowledge of human rights that could feed into the policies (usually made by men).

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