Addis Ababa — At the 23rd consultative meeting on gender mainstreaming in the African Union that commenced in Addis Ababa, Thursday, Mr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa said that food security is within reach and that "Africa can and should feed Africa". Speaking at the opening of the pre-African Union Summit meeting held on the theme Empowering Women for Agriculture and Food Security, Mr. Lopes said the Continent needs bold policies and critical targeted investments to transform its agriculture and that such policies should highlight gender inequality and discrimination against women in the whole agricultural value chain.
"While Africa is experiencing exceptional growth rates, the growth registered is short of the 7 per cent needed to tackle poverty and put the continent on a more sustainable and predictable path," he said. He noted that trade is still driven by the exports of raw materials and that not adding value to our vast natural and mineral resources results in the failure to retain the wealth and jobs this richness allows. This, stressed the ECA Executive Secretary, must change.
He said that the Continent needs to embark on an ambitious, yet feasible industrialization and that its numerous resources, such as arable land should also provide impetus for a commodity-based industrialization. He cautioned, however, that transforming agriculture and industrializing would not automatically lead to the empowerment of women.
"Evidence, including in Africa, has shown that industrialization can exacerbate gender gaps rather than narrowing them," he said and explained that the shift of labour and resources from the agricultural sector to the industrial and services sectors "can worsen gender gaps because women who used to evolve in traditional agricultural often are not equipped to compete with men in the industrial and services sectors."
"Consequently, women tend to concentrate on low paid jobs with worse working conditions," he noted.
Mr. Lopes called for the recognition and valuing of women's contribution and underscored that their "constraints, options, incentives and needs should be assessed, and factored in the transformation agenda."
"For too long women's role and contribution were unvalued and invisible. Time has come for dramatic change in believes and attitudes. We have the right to ask for it and African leaders should be enlisted for this change," he stressed.
He called for a thorough review of the legal systems to remove all types of discrimination against women and underscored the need to adopt "effective mechanisms to monitoring the full implementation of the gender responsive laws." He said that laws and policies on women's agricultural land and property rights are not implemented in isolation from other socioeconomic policy issues.
He told the conference that ECA's African Centre for Gender will soon be launching a new continent-wide initiative aimed at putting focus on what he described as "the key ingredients for a successful integration of African women into the mainstream policy discussion." The initiative, said Mr. Lopes, will comprise three pillars: women's economic empowerment, rights, and social protection and security. The pillar on women's economic empowerment will focus on the agricultural and extractive sector.
The new initiative stems from the viewpoint that women's socio-economic and political empowerment is the foundation and the condition sine qua non for Africa's structural transformation.