Addis Ababa — President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf held the spotlight, at the weekend, at two events aimed at empowering African women in agriculture and food security, which took place on the fringes of the 19th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) in the Ethiopian capital.
On Saturday, July 14, the Liberian leader presided at the Heads of State Luncheon to popularize the African Women's Decade themes and to hold a fundraiser to support the Fund for African Women, with its focus on agriculture and food security. Then early Sunday morning, President Sirleaf served as Co-Chair, together with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, at the launch of the Initiative to Empower Women in Agriculture (EWAG).
At the fundraising luncheon, President Sirleaf stated that, after two years of implementing the Decade's themes, the luncheon sought to raise funds in support of African women, noting that funding is instrumental in implementing the activities proposed under the 10 themes of the Decade. Through the Fund, she said, the AU Commission is mobilizing financial resources to support development programs and projects for women to fight poverty, close the gender gap, and halt the marginalization of African women. So far, the Fund has supported 53 grassroots projects in 27 AU countries.
This year's theme, "Agriculture, Food Security and Environment," aims at highlighting the plight of women involved in food production. Considering the effect of climate change on the environment and agriculture, the President called the theme appropriate because it seeks to address the issue of food security in Africa. Africa cannot sustain improvement in human development without achieving food security, she said, noting that food security is Millennium Development Goal No. 1, on the eradication of hunger and poverty.
The African Union is currently contributing 1 percent of the Fund's budget which, while appreciated, is grossly insufficient to meet the aspiration of African women, President Sirleaf said, and she hoped that the luncheon would help raise funds towards that objective. She continued: "When President Banda visited Liberia, we both pledged to use our positions to improve the lives of African women across the continent and to champion the African Women's Decade themes, and this we remain committed to." Pre
President Sirleaf then called on all stakeholders, including Heads of State and Government, AU Specialized Organs, AU Partners, Airlines, Banks, as well as women and men in public and private sectors, to join hands and provide the needed resources.
During the fundraiser, nearly US$500,000 was raised, with contributions coming from Liberia, South Africa, Malawi, Australia, United Nations Women, and more. President Sirleaf was joined by a host of AU leaders and others, including South African President Jacob Zuma, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, the Vice President of Malawi, and representatives of UN and other organizations.
The idea of the African Women's Decade was born in 1975 by the United Nations at the first World Conference on Women that was held in Mexico City. Since then, African women have been involved and continue to participate in local and international consultations on women's rights and gender equality. African women's contributions have enriched discussions at the subsequent Women Conferences in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).
The African Women's Decade aims to advance gender equality by accelerating implementation of the Dakar, Beijing and AU Assembly decisions on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment (GEWE), through a dual top-down and bottom-up approach which is inclusive of grassroots participation.
EWAG Initiative Launched
On Sunday, July 15, President Sirleaf co-chaired a breakfast of champions meeting to launch the Initiative to Empower Women in Agriculture (EWAG).
At the event, which took place at the Sheraton Hotel, the Liberian President lamented that 70 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa are agriculture workers, and constitute about 80 percent in the food processing chain, yet women own less than 1 percent of the land and benefit from only 1 percent of agriculture credit.
President Sirleaf indicated that for Africa to sustain the impressive economic growth which the continent has registered, it will need to boost agriculture productivity. To do so and be at the forefront of agriculture production, the continent needs its women who make up half of its 1 billion population with 853 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
"Africa must place a stronger focus on women at all levels of the agriculture value chain," President Johnson Sirleaf said. In order to make substantive progress, the President argued that there must be parity for African women in access to land, finance, agricultural input and technology. Were that to happen, it was estimated that total agricultural outputs in Africa would increase by up to 20 percent - one fifth more than current levels.
The President informed the meeting that she was always happy to add her name and weight behind efforts to advance and empower women and promote gender equality, because women constitute half of Africa, and the world's populations, and must raise their voices to be heard.
She praised the umbrella women's grouping, Gender Is My Agenda (GIMAC) network, for reaching out and meeting different categories of women, including market women and farmers, and emphasized that it is for them that the meeting was convened. How they access land, loans, markets and benefit for their labor and products was of essence. She looked forward to the day when there will not be a need to call attention to gender inequality.
The President advised that until Africa fundamentally alters the mindset and attitudes of a society that marginalizes women, and makes the participation of women inclusive in all endeavors, there will be many more initiatives aimed at empowering women to push for gender equality.
She then commended a fellow champion and co-chair of the EWAG Initiative, President Kagame, for the status of women in his country. She looked forward to hearing him, other champions and the GIMAC sisters about the best way forward in ending the unending circle.