By Joseph Dumbula, Blantyre Malawi.
Top African leaders engaged in a high-level meeting from 9th to 12th April in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital for the Generation Equality Conference where centrally, a substantial challenge was placed on regimes across the region for soul searching to end growing differences between men and women.
Drawn from across distinct experiences and fields, the delegates filled up the Bingu Conference Centre which lies close to Malawi Parliament held a series of interactions most of which exposed issues lack dwindling efforts for financial inclusion, stereotypes, physical and mental assault, all which have evidently caused gender disparities continent wide.
More so, the donor community while making commitments to support various efforts to improve the welfare of women noted that, there is need for gender related projects to primarily be resolved on mindset change.
Some of the high-profile people in attendance were Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera who opened the conference, the First Lady, Former Malawi President, Joyce Banda, the country’s first female leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former Liberia President, Catherine Panza, former President of the Central African Republic, Jewel Taylor, Vice President of Liberia and Joyce Mujuru, Former Vice President for Zimbabwe, Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Advocate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa for the National Democratic Institute as well as members form international and regional organizations.
Chakwera was in his opening remarks quick to state that conference gives leaders a right time to reflect on flaws of various policies that appear essentially to impinge on women.
His core statement was: “That is why my administration will push in the next election for unified parliamentary representation. Let us take insights from this engagement with seriousness these issues deserve.”
Speaking during a panel discussion that also had Mujuru, Panza and Taylor, Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, noted that nations are left with unprecedent tasks to uniformly tame challenges that women are facing.
According to Dr Fomunyoh, African nations should go beyond usual formulation of policies but must essentially work into putting them into use.
He then challenged leaders to appreciate how narratives about women empowerment are changing across the world, a thing he says demonstrates that efforts to empower women are now taking center stage.
Earlier on, Shigeki Komatsubara, United Nations resident Coordinator pledged the organization’s support for nations in the region in a bid to beef up the effectiveness of various development agendas such as the Vision 2063, which Malawi is now enforcing. PAV caught up with Dr Christopher Fomunyoh a leading resource person at the forum for more insights and the road Africa needs to travel in the challenging task of bridging gender disparities.
You attended a high-level interaction on a series of events marking the Generation Equality Conference in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. You also took part in a special panel discussion on gender insights across the region. What were your key messages in the discussion?
Dr Fomunyoh: First, I listened in awe and learned a lot from the fabulous women leaders and former presidents present who have served in the highest offices in the land in their respective countries and made their countries and the continent of Africa proud. I’m referring to former president Joyce Banda of Malawi who was the prime convenor of the conference, former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the first woman elected president in Africa and the only woman to have served two full terms of 12 years total, and former transition president Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central Africa Republic.
These are great world leaders who just happen to be African, and we have to honor them and celebrate their success as trailblazers and a source of inspiration for the younger generation of African women. I then made two principal points: one, that while we acknowledge these rare gems of success, we must recognize that a lot still needs to be done on gender equality and women’s empowerment across the continent; and two, that we must go beyond declarations like came out of the Beijing conference 25 years ago or the UN security Council resolution 1325 on the inclusion of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding, and take concrete steps to enhance and speed up women’s access to political and economic power on a continent where women make up more than 50 percent of the population and are the pillars of our families and communities.
One of the issues raised had to do with poor financial inclusion of women in money lending institutions, how big of problem is this?
Dr Fomunyoh: Lack of financial resources needed to propel women to positions of economic autonomy and political leadership remains a significant drawback for women across the continent. This situation is triggered by the combination of traditional and customary norms that in many countries make it difficult for women to earn and accumulate wealth as well as the challenges of accessing modern mechanisms of fundraising and resource mobilization.
It was very heartening that during the Lilongwe conference one of the major financial institutions of Malawi stepped forward and opened a facility to provide access and training to women so they could benefit from electronic banking which is now commonplace in most of our countries. Even the regional body COMESA promised to open a center to support women entrepreneurs across the region, to be based in Lilongwe, Malawi.
African countries must reform the laws on matters such as land tenure, inheritance and succession to give women equal rights and opportunities as men. Come to think of it, it is really absurd that women give birth to us males, and then we get into power and suddenly treat them as less equal to us. This is not simply unequal or unfair; it is inhumane, nonsensical and very counterintuitive to the economic and political development that we seek for our peoples and countries.
Some of the high-level speakers challenged African governments to empower women and girls across the region, why do you think governments have generally not done more to bridge the gender gap?
Dr Fomunyoh: It’s a question of leaders having the political will to do right by providing equal opportunities to all its citizens and lacking a vision that seeks to raise the wellbeing of all citizens without bias based on gender or other form of difference. These leaders should look at the statistics of how women leaders are better performers on so many indicators of governance.
What other suggestions do you have on the way forward?
Dr Fomunyoh: We need all African leaders to demonstrate boldness in their policies on equity and inclusion such as we see in Rwanda where over 50 percent of legislative seats are held by women, or in Niger where, despite many cultural impediments, genuine efforts are being made to enhance the access to education for young girls, or Tanzania where President Samia Hassan, now the only female Head of State in Africa, is providing ample opportunities for women in her cabinet or government and in other positions of influence.
I was impressed to hear from President Chakwera of Malawi that 41 percent of his cabinet ministers are female, as are 45 percent of the diplomatic corps and 50 percent of judicial appointments. President Chakwera pledged during the conference to do more towards achieving gender parity between now and 2025. These progressive, forward-looking leaders should engage their colleagues and the continental body, the African Union, to respond positively and aggressively to the aspirations of African women and democrats as a whole as we march into the 21st century.