Source: The Southern Times

Women in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries continue to be denied equal representation in political and decision-making positions at various levels of governance.

A damning document seen by The Southern Times discussed in the SADC Council of Ministers’ meeting held in Namibia last month shows that there has not been a significant improvement in the number of women representation at various levels of governance. In fact, women representation at various levels of governance has decreased in the last five years (2014-2018).

This is a huge contrast to what the annually updated - SADC gender protocol advocates for. The protocol, which was also revised last month in Windhoek, promotes gender equality and equity in the region.

The protocol’s vision is to see a region where women, men, girls and boys have equal opportunities to participate freely as equal partners in all spheres of public and private life, including in all decision-making processes, and have equal access to and control over productive resources and services, as well as contribute to and benefit from all development processes and initiatives.

Despite the protocol, information shows that none of the member states have achieved the 50:50 gender parity target at the legislature (parliament) and executive (cabinet) levels. Only South Africa comes close to reaching that target maintaining between 43% and 47% in the last five years.

Likewise, the number of female ambassadors remains very low in most member states, with the exception of Madagascar, which has had a constant 47% representation throughout the five years under review. Alarmingly, the closest countries after Madagascar, in terms of women representation at ambassadorial level only recorded at 30%. These are Botswana, the Kingdom of Lesotho, Namibia and Seychelles.

Out of 16 SADC member states, only seven that have more than 30% women representation as permanent secretaries and only six countries have 30% women representation at the deputy permanent secretary level.

At director level, only eight member states have more than 30% women representation in the public sector. More disturbingly, only two member states have reached more than 50% women representation as heads of department. These are Botswana (76.2%) and Seychelles (61%) in 2018.

Based on these worrying statistics, the SADC Council of Ministers has urged member states to intensify advocacy and lobbying campaigns on gender parity as stated by the SADC gender protocol. It also wants member states to advocate for gender-sensitive electoral systems and introduction of special measures as outlined in the protocol.

This, however, will be put to test as 10 SADC member states will be holding elections between 2018 and 2019. The council says there is a need for these member states to aggressively launch gender parity campaigns and sensitisation of the political leadership and electorate to ensure that women representation at both legislature and executive level increases.

Namibia’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said Namibia and SADC or even Africa at large is not short of commitments at political level to improve the plight of women. She added that these commitments need to translate into specific policy measures.

However, the Premier said it is not just policy that affects women’s participation. Social norms play an important role in shaping gender equality.

Globally, the average pay for women in 2017 was US$12,000, compared to US$21,000 for men. These figures are included in the World Economic Forum’s wide-reaching Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which looks at the differences between men and women in four key areas; economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

“It is time to think about the continuing usefulness of some of these norms. For example, norms that tell us: women’s work is less valuable, what it means to be a good wife and mother, what it means to be a leader, what is ‘women’s’ work. Of course, this won’t change overnight. But women need to be heard. Women need to be seen.”

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila added that women who have succeeded – in spite of the institutional and social barriers – need to use it to share the gains by advocating for women and to represent well.

“If our young women do not look at the leaders of industry, at the political leaders, at entrepreneurs and see women, they might not imagine that they might have a place in those kinds of positions.”

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