20 August 2015

Zimbabwe: Protocol On Gender, Development

"Botswana to Chair Review of SADC". This is one in a series of articles analysing regional progress on gender equality and women's empowerment based on the SADC Gender Protocol. "The people of Southern Africa will not judge us by the adoption of key strategic documents, but rather by the outcomes achieved, following implementation."

These words, spoken by the incoming chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana at the just ended 35th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Gaborone, are notable for two reasons.

That they may explain why Botswana remains one of only two countries still to sign the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, in a year in which the document is up for review.

And that despite this, the country, as regional chair, is expected to oversee the process of taking forward the principles, objectives and outcomes of the protocol, following the review.

This is an ironic twist, in that the country now has the power to catalyse the assessment of progress and in the process, to seriously reflect on harmonising its position with that of the rest of the region.

Botswana and Mauritius remain the only two countries in the 15-member regional economic bloc to append their signatures to the landmark document adopted by SADC leaders in 2008. While on the face of it, the reluctance to sign is disappointing, the reasons given by both countries are worthy of scrutiny.

For Botswana at least, the principled position appears to resonate with the words of its president.

Botswana Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, recently explained that reluctance to sign was due to their belief that the targets in the protocol were beyond their ability to deliver compounded by the compelling language.

However, Masisi told the regional meeting organised under the ambit of the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance in Gaborone, ahead of the Heads of State Summit, that Botswana was fully committed to the review process and expects to sign up, once their issues have been considered.

It remains to be seen whether this means that Botswana will now go along with whatever position the region will adopt.

The country carries the onerous task of ensuring that whatever its own national misgivings, consensus by the majority should carry the day.

And regional consensus seems to lean towards advancing rather than reversing the gains of the past as far as gender equality and women's empowerment is concerned.

"SADC is one of the few sub-regions that has taken global and continental commitments to gender equality and wrapped them into one instrument with ambitious time-bound targets," notes UNWomen Executive Director, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2015 foreword titled Southern Africa Barometer 2015- Action and Results.

Following on from the 2014 Summit, the 35th Summit urged countries to strengthen their efforts to realise increased representation of women in key decision-making positions.

"SADC noted with regard to representation of women in political and decision making positions and commended member states that have achieved high female representation at state leadership, legislature and judiciary levels, and other senior positions in public and private sector," reads the communiqué.

The Summit reiterated the need for progress by further urging 'member states to adopt appropriate measures to improve and sustain these achievements.'

Theoretically, this leaves little room for processes that do not progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment.

Practically, however, competing priorities at regional and within that, national levels, may mean that the gender dividend is at best compromised or at worst, forgotten.

For Botswana, the country carries the burden of not being the one, in its tenure as chair, that dragged the region back on gender equality and women's empowerment. That it has missed the opportunity to sign up within this phase is reason enough to take advantage of finalising the review process initiated by Malawi as SADC chair in 2013, and advanced in this last phase under Zimbabwe's leadership.

As the outgoing chairperson of SADC, President Robert Mugabe, says, "As we pursue our industrialisation agenda, we must be mindful of the fact that our women and youth are the backbone of our economy, particularly in the micro, small and medium enterprises sector. They are, without doubt, our future."

To date, the status of the protocol is that in 2014, during their meeting in Malawi, the SADC Ministers of Gender recommended the review process. In May this year, the same SADC ministers reiterated the need for review and drew up a roadmap within which the process should occur.

The roadmap seeks to ensure that there are adequate in-country consultative processes to inform whatever outcome may then result. These would include multi-sectoral work by gender machineries to assess progress on the protocol targets, challenges and also proffer recommendations. Focus is therefore both on process and content with some advocacy organisations already lobbying for the incorporation of areas such as climate change which were not included.

The roadmap also includes awareness raising among stakeholders in government (executive, legislature, and judiciary), civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, the private sector, media and any other groups. This is expected to result in a document to be considered by the Gender Ministers and recommended to the Council of Ministers ahead of next year's SADC 36th Heads of State Summit.

In line with the context in which the continent, through the African Union (AU), has already committed to putting women at the centre of development and progressively working towards gender equality, SADC remains a good practice of transforming a declaration which is less binding into a protocol, adopting it, monitoring progress on an annual basis and committing to financing it.

In the wake of the review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) against which the protocol was also formulated, it is incumbent on the SADC region to leverage on that process to also improve its own pace.

The objectives of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development are: to provide for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and to achieve gender equality and equity through the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects; to address emerging gender issues and concerns; to set realistic, measurable targets, timeframes and indicators for achieving gender equality and equity; to strengthen, monitor and evaluate the progress made by Member States towards reaching the targets and goals set out in this Protocol; and to deepen regional integration, attain sustainable development and strengthen community building.

It remains to be seen what legacy on gender equality and women's empowerment Botswana, as chairperson, will leave as it hands over leadership next year.

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and chairperson of the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe which is the focal point to the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance. She is also the director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).

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