The Namibian (Windhoek)

Southern Africa: Do We Too Have Binders Full of Women?

column

IN the week that Mitt Romney’s presidential ambition came unstuck in the USA, a formidable team of women parliamentarians jetted into town in the service of the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF).

Their singular mission was to cajole and remind politicians and other decision-makers apropos of the solemn undertakings made in terms of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of 1997.

But permit us to digress to Romney, whose smugness and complacency by writing off 50 percent of the voters at a sumptuous banquet organised by those bankrolling his campaign for the White House did not help his campaign. As we know from the results now, this was clearly a folie de grandeur which did nothing to advance his coveted dream of sharing with the rest of the world his now infamous “binders full of women”, in greater detail, from the splendour of White House. (But more about this later.)

The Protocol on Gender and Development of 1997 is a very comprehensive and expansive instrument. It is premised on the rights and conventions which came to be accepted, almost universally, since the early exploratory days of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985) later to be followed by the more comprehensive Beijing Declaration and its Platform of Action (1989). To this end, we must commend the leaders of our region for conceiving and signing up to this protocol way back in 1997. As a matter of fact, the SADC Treaty of 2002 already explicitly makes the point that discrimination on the grounds of, inter alia, sex or gender is inadmissible. The protocol on gender and development takes it a notch up in the sense that it sets key timeframes for deliverables. The year 2015 is the magic year for the signatories to make good on their undertakings. And this was the context for this very important mission last week – namely, to compare notes with the authorities, political parties and affected groups on the extent of implementation and/or barriers to implementation.

Arising from the privilege of signing up to the protocol, member states are expected to align national laws and policies to reflect these new international commitments. Specifically, the protocol enjoins the signatories to enshrine gender equality and equity (where this is not the case) in their national constitutions and remove all barriers preventing women from participating fully in the live and affairs of their nations. In this context, Article 6 of the protocol directs member states “to abolish the minority status of women by 2015”. This translates to a situation of 50/50 in all bodies of decision-making, be they public or private, by the year 2015. The protocol further requires of signatories to ensure no gender-based enrolment at schools and tertiary institutions. Articles 20, 22 and 26 have particular poignancy for our country, in the present climate of crazed violence against women, as these address the pernicious plague of gender-based violence, sexual harassment and the emerging national scandal of maternal mortality.

The intent of the protocol could not be any clearer, namely, that national decision-making institutions in which women are equitably represented are best placed to combat the evil of patriarchy. Our country, sadly, regressed in terms of women’s representation in national and public bodies. In the absence of a committed and sustained campaign and discourse by all, i.e. academia, civil society, faith-based organisations and politicians, the private sector has traditionally lagged behind in this important area. The lesson of history is that victims are best placed to lead the struggle against all manner of tormentors. And for this reason, women must take the leadership of this struggle. As the key D-day of 2015 beckons, we may not afford to renege on our commitments. As for the political class, they have the upcoming elections of 2014 and 2015 to redeem themselves. But then, the commitment to gender equality should be more than a fad and become ingrained in our public life. We must be convinced by its moral rectitude. In this regard, there are successes both on the continent and elsewhere which can truly be sources of inspiration.

This will prevent us from keeping binders full of women in closets, only to pull them out in the fashion of a magician performing fancy tricks with rabbits for the amusement of children. It is the intention that the women of our region will be visible, will have unfettered rights and must, as of right, participate in crafting a happy and prosperous family of SADC nations. As is clear from candidate Romney’s case, a puerile attempt to write women off the development agenda is clearly not a smart move. In most societies, ours certainly, women constitute the majority. Any approach which marginalises them, therefore, forfeits the potential contribution by more than half of its population. It is for these reasons that the we hope that the visit, last week, by the team of women on the mission by SADC-PF can only be of benefit for our country. After all, if you ask the Chinese, women hold up half the sky!

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