#GenerationEquality campaign ideal platform to ramp up action
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By Febe Potgieter-Gqubule
South African Women’s month this year is celebrated under the banner of the global Generation Equality campaign.
The campaign was started by the United Nations Women under the leadership of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to commemorate twenty-five years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action, with its promise of real progress towards gender equality, at least in our lifetime.
However, as the world celebrated this milestone in 2020, studies showed that at the current pace of change, it will take the world another 99.5 years before full gender equality is achieved.
UN Women further notes that not a single country in the whole world has achieved gender equality.
“Multiple obstacles remain unchanged in law and culture. As a result, women remain undervalued, they continue to work more, earn less, have fewer choices, and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces.”
Globally and regionally, several indexes track changes over time in the achievement of gender equality.
One of the most widely used, because it reviews gender equality across three critical indices - political empowerment; economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment and health and survival – is the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report.
In its 2021 report, after a year of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it shockingly concluded that “another generation will have to wait for gender parity”. So, whereas before Covid-19 gender parity would take 99.6 years, a year later estimates are that we will only reach gender parity in 135.6 years.
The Generation Equality campaign is therefore a response to a clearly untenable trajectory. It advances, amongst other things, the demands for “equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence.”
The African Development Bank has since 2015 also published among the few continent-wide gender indexes, covering 51 African countries. This index - published every three years - tracks three sets of indicators: equality in economic opportunities; equality in human development and equality in law and institutions.
The African Gender Equality index shows the need for such regional-specific indices and the implications for policy. For example, the index spotlights the high proportion of African women who are food producers and are in the agricultural sector (over 70%); whilst customary land ownership continues to discriminate against women. The index therefore identifies land hunger as a major driver of women’s inequality in Africa.
As South Africa debates speeding up land reforms and redistribution, with the new Expropriation bill and amendments to Section 25 of the Constitution top of mind, we should not fall into the trap of a gender-neutral approach to land reform, which in effect would mean maintaining the unequal status quo and women’s continued exclusion from land ownership.
In addition, to improve agricultural productivity in the continent, women must be part of the modernisation of agriculture, through access to extension services and credit as well as markets, especially in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
An interesting statistic is that up to 30% of businesses on the continent are owned by women, with as much as 62% of businesses in Cote d’Ivoire that are women-owned.
This, the index surmised, is mainly because of women’s presence in the informal and small business sector, and their exclusion from the upper ranks - management and boards - of the formal sector. “Men”, the index reflected, “tend to manage medium-size and larger firms”.
Some of the sectoral figures are truly astonishing, for example in Kenya, out of 1 341 registered engineers, only 43 are women. There are exceptions to this trend.
Namibia, Botswana and the Seychelles are highlighted as countries that at the time of the 2019 Index, had more women than men in managerial and professional positions.
Rwanda, which is doing well overall, has one of the lowest gender gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Another positive is that Rwanda continues to lead the world with the highest number of women in its parliament, and there are today eleven African countries which have more than 30% women in their parliaments.
The Index also observes that across the continent, women are active in their communities, even though changes at leadership level are changing slowly.
The African Gender Equality Index issues what should be a clarion call for Generation Equality in Africa: “Women of this generation will define Africa’s destiny. A new generation of young women are reaching adulthood better educated than ever before, and ready to play active roles in their communities, the economy and in national leadership. They are doing so at a time of unprecedented economic, social, environmental and technological change. It is a time when the role of African women is ripe for redefinition.”
A campaign like Generation Equality provides governments with clear areas for intervention to speed up gender equality and aid this redefinition. As inter-governmental organisations, the UN and the African Union engage and challenge its member states. However, it is up to social and women’s movements at local, national and global level to advocate, push and campaign to ensure that the road to gender parity becomes much shorter.
Indeed, we should not give up on our demand for gender equality in our lifetime!
* Febe Potgieter-Gqubule is the former deputy chief of staff at the African Union Commission.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.