I want to focus on my African sisters on this March 8th International women’s day. This is the day when with the United Nations, we celebrate the achievements women in the world have made toward gender parity .We also remind ourselves how far we have to go and that our advocacy must never let up. Even though 70% of the world’s poor are women, they account for two-thirds of all working hours and produce half of all the food, earning 10% of world’s income and owning less than 1% world’s property.
In Africa we must recognize the positive gains made over the last two decades as a result of the growing power of women’ s movement. Working with the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women and the Beijing Platform of Action of 1995, African women have called for the end of poverty, violence against women, access to education and health services as well as social, economic and political empowerment. They have done this in response to the HIV/ AIDS pandemic, sexual violence, rape as a weapon of war, crisis of hunger and lack of clean water. They have done this while continuing to care for their families with very few resources. They have done this with the help from many Canadian women and men who have helped to support the fight for social change and against inequality through social, economic and political power sharing. They have moved forward.
The women in that continent were able to get the African Union to adopt the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights and in particular adopt a protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. This document has given the women’s community a basis for organizing to end barriers .The African Union has declared the current decade, 2010 to 2020 as the African Women’s decade, another focus for their struggle to obtain equality.
Even though many countries globally are still working hard to achieve the 30% bench mark of women serving in the legislative assemblies, we have to note that Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania have exceed that goal. Canada is still at the 25% level. The creation of Ministries of Women and Girls, and adopting proportional representation principles advocated by the women have helped to make this possible. The creation of the UN Women, a new agency to focus on women at the global level has also brought renewed energy for political and economic empowerment of women on the continent of Africa.
The change in focus from capacity building to economic and political power and having a say in decision-making have opened up better access to resources, while working for peace and democratic rights in the local communities .The women in Africa have also focussed on changes in law such as inheritance rights, reproductive and sexual rights and right to participate in all levels of governance.
The first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize 2004, Dr Wangari Maathai of Kenya helped the world to recognize the link between women’s poverty, human rights and environmental protection. Just a few weeks ago the Heads of States meeting at the African Union Summit declared that March 3 2012 would be known as Wangari Maathai day to celebrate her contribution every year from now on. For a woman who was beaten and jailed for the work she did promoting good governance, environmental responsibility and peace, it is quite an achievement even though it only came six months after her death due to cancer.
The other women who are to be celebrated are the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the first democratically elected woman in Africa and her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2011, Leymah Gbowee who organized the women to end the ethnic and religious divide in her country of Liberia and continues to promote the political empowerment of women in West Africa. The Nobel Peace Prize committee noted their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for the women’s right to full participation in peace building work.
On the 8th of March, I encourage us all to celebrate the gains made by all women, but particularly by the women, mothers and grandmothers in Africa and strengthen our resolve to work for real equality for every one.
Patsy George (Co-President, UNA Vancouver)