New York — It is a commonly accepted truth that women are critical factors of Sustainable Development around the world, particularly in Africa. As the Millennium Development Goals reach their end dates, and discussions of what will take their place in the post-2015 world begin in earnest, policy makers and non-governmental organizations are looking closely at how women create change in their communities and what can be done to further empower them.
As part of the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women ministers, parliamentarians, and members of civil society from various African countries, gathered at UN Headquarters for a panel discussion on women as key drivers of African development. Dr. Joyce Laboso, Deputy Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly, told eventgoers that as the only continent with a declaration of the rights of women and gender equality, Africa can be a model for the world.
Many of the steps towards achieving MDGs across the African continent are remarkable. According to the UNDP, since the early 1990s there has been a 42 percent decrease in maternal deaths. The percentage of female landholders in Africa has risen from 7 percent to 15 percent. Primary school education has essentially reached gender parity.
On the government level, sub-Saharan countries have doubled the number of legislative seats held by women in the past decade. This trend is led by Rwanda, which boasts a legislature that is 64 percent female. Many countries, such as Burundi, Eritrea, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Angola have instituted quotas to ensure a significant percentage of legislative seats are held for women, and many more are considering them.
Despite these advances, a great deal of work is still to be done before gender equality targets are achieved.
Africa is a leader in committing to gender equality on paper. Numerous agreements, including the African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) of 2004, and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) of 2005, guarantee women political equality, reproductive rights, and protection against violence.
Despite these written guarantees, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and unequal access to land and financial instruments persist. To rousing applause, Executive Director Leah Chatta-Chipepa of the Uganda-based NGO Akina Mama wa Afrika laid out three solutions: "One, implementation. Two, implementation, and three, implementation."