Mrs. Mahawa Kaba Wheeler addressed the press on activities and theme on Women’s Rights

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler
The Director of the African Union Women Gender and Development (AUWGDD), Mrs. Mahawa Kaba Wheeler

The Director of the African Union Women Gender and Development (AUWGDD), Mrs. Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, addressed the press at the margin of the 26th AU Summit discuss the theme: “ 2016: African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women” The press conference took place in the presence of the Head of Gender and Outreach, Mrs. Victoria Maloka.

Director Mahawa began by introducing the mandate and activities under her directorate. She said, the Women Gender and Development Directorate has the specific mandate to mainstream gender equality and spearhead the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment within and throughout the Union by translating the AU policy agreements and instruments into measurable programmes and projects.

It provides oversight by facilitating the development and harmonization of policy, facilitating co‐ordination and initiating gender mainstreaming strategies. This Directorate, she said, is under the leadership of H.E Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). “The Gender Directorate is located in the office of the Chairperson. This is in furtherance of Article 12 (3) of the Statutes of the AU Commission which recognises “gender as a cross-cutting issue through all portfolios of the Commission” and provides for the establishment of a “special unit in the Office of the Chairperson to coordinate activities and programmes of the Commission related to gender issues”.

Director Mahawa explained that the Gender Directorate oversees the implementation of the AU Gender Architecture, which constitutes six (6) instruments to guide the Union, its organs, Member States and Regional Economic Bodies (RECs) to implement programmes on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The instruments are: the 2000 AU Constitutive Act, which is the foundational constitutional framework promoting gender equality and women empowerment; the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which constitutes the AU legal framework on gender and women’s rights; the 2004 Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) which is the AU’s reporting framework; the 2009 AU Gender Policy providing a policy framework for gender and women’s rights; the 2010 African Women’s Decade, which is the AU’s implementation framework, and the Fund for African Women, which provides the financial framework.

The Director of Gender further stated that, the mandate of WGDD is derived from the many challenges facing the African Union (AU) concerning the persistent gender discrimination and inequalities which the Africa women still face. She stressed that the challenge for the AU is to reduce these gender inequalities and empower African women through mainstreaming gender issues in all its programmes and strategies as well as through implementing special programmes to strengthen women’s rights and increase their access to basic capabilities, economic opportunities and decision-making and to enable them to live violence free lives.

According to Mrs. Mahawa, the AU believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights, can empower the continent. Presenting her directorate, she heighted that some of the core functions of the Gender Directorate, include, among others, to:

Spearhead, monitor and evaluate the mainstreaming of gender into policies, programmes and activities of the AUC;
Champion, advocate for, support and facilitate the incorporation of gender perspectives into all the work of the other AU organs, Member States and RECs;
Undertake policy review, development, harmonisation and monitoring in the AU;
Promote policies and activities to strengthen women’s rights and empower women economically, politically, socially and otherwise;
Conduct gender-related training and capacity building for the AUC, AU Organs, Member States and RECs; and
Undertake advocacy for gender equality, outreach campaigns, partnership building and networking to promote gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment.

The Director announced that, as part of its 2017 plans, the Gender Directorate will develop a new Gender Strategy, which will inform the implementation of its activities in 2017 and beyond. She presented the update on 2017 plans on implementation of key AU gender instruments as follows:

AU Constitutive Act: Constitutional Framework

Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitutive Act commits the Union to function according to the principles of gender equality and to ensure the effective participation of women in decision-making, especially in the economic, political and socio-cultural arenas.

One of the most significant developments in the AU in its commitment to gender equality was the adoption of the gender parity principle in its first summit in 2001. To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five female commissioners, and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority.

As gender equality is enshrined in the Constitutive Act, all Departments and Directorates of the Commission are obligated to mainstream gender equality into their programmes and activities. During this year of human rights with a particular focus on women’s rights, all AUC Departments will include in their strategic interventions, activities that promote women’s rights.

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol): legal Framework

The Maputo Protocol, which is 13 years old in 2017, is the first comprehensive legally binding instrument on the promotion and protection of women’s human rights in Africa.
The Protocol guarantees comprehensive rights for women including the right to take part in political processes, to social, economic and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health, and an end to harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation.

The Protocol emphasises the centrality of gender equality and the protection of women’s human rights to African development.

As of January 2017, out of the 54 Member States, 37 have ratified it and 49 have signed it. Sierra Leone is the latest country to deposit its articles of ratification.

17 countries have not yet ratified the Protocol: These are Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic (currently suspended from the AU), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, São Tomé and Principe, Somalia, South Sudan, The Sudan, and Tunisia. During this year which focuses on women’s rights, the Gender Directorate will conduct promotional activities to encourage Member States who are yet to ratify the protocol to do.

The 2004 Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA): Reporting framework

The Solemn Declaration is an important instrument as it strengthens the ownership of the gender equality agenda and keeps the issues alive at the highest political level in Africa. It provides two very important obligations, which defines its core mandate as the reporting framework of the AU Gender Architecture:

The first is in paragraph 12 where the African Union Heads of State and Government committed themselves to report annually on their progress in gender mainstreaming, support and act as champions of the declaration; and to provide each other with regular updates on progress during their Ordinary Sessions.

The second obligation is in paragraph 13 in which the Chairperson of the Commission is obliged to submit an annual report for the consideration of the Heads of State and Government on measures taken to implement the principle of gender equality and gender mainstreaming at national and regional levels.

Overall, 48 Member States have submitted their country reports to the AU Commission. The following six (6) countries are yet to submit their initial reports for analysis: Cape Verde, Central African Republic(currently suspended from the AU), DR Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Guinea Bissau. WGDD is currently preparing a synthesis report of Member States reports and a chairperson’s report to be submitted during the June/July Summit.

The 2009 AU Gender Policy: Policy Framework

The main purpose of the AU Gender Policy is to establish a clear vision and make recommendations to guide the process of gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment to influence policies, procedures and practices which will accelerate the achievement of gender equality, gender justice, non-discrimination and fundamental human rights in Africa.

The AU Gender Policy has eight (8) target areas. One of the commitments is the creation of an enabling and stable environment to ensure that all political declarations and decisions are geared towards the elimination of persisting barriers that militate against gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender parity and representation is to be enforced in all AU structures.

This has been achieved in the AUC by the appointment of five women and five men as Commissioners. During this year of human rights focusing on the rights of women, the Gender Directorate will continue to promote respect of, and adherence to the principles of gender parity, including in the elections and appointment of the Chairperson of the AUC.

The 2010 African Women’s Decade (2010-2020): Implementation Framework

The AWD aims to advance gender equality through the acceleration of the implementation of global and regional decisions and commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The implementation of the AWD is in two phases. The first phase was 2011-2015 while the second phase starts in 2017 until 2020.

To mark the mid-point of the AWD in 2015 and to celebrate the year of women’s empowerment, the Gender Directorate, embarked on a study, to evaluate the AU Member States’ progress in implementing the AWD between 2011 and 2015.

The purpose of the study is to evaluate the progress in implementing the outcomes, objectives and activities of the AWD at its mid-point in the decade, providing an overview of achievements and challenges with the aim of developing/ strengthening implementation mechanisms in the second and last decade. The Gender Directorate is currently finalizing a report from that study, which will be launched during the June/July AU Summit as part of the 2017 theme celebrations.

The Fund for African Women: Financial Framework

The AU’s financial mechanism is provided for in the Fund for African Women which obliges the AU Organs, Member States and Regional Economic Bodies (RECs) to allocate budgets for the implementation of policies and programmes related to women’s empowerment.

Member States are requested to contribute 1 per cent (1%) of their annual national budgets to the Fund.

In 2015, out of the 85 project proposals received from 23 Member States, ten (10) were approved and 75 reserved

In conclusion, Director Mahawa said the WGDD will also use this year 2016 to follow up on other policies, declarations, etc that Member States have committed to on gender equality and women’s rights. For example, in 2015, AU Heads of State and Government adopted the Declaration and Call for Action on the Year of Women’s Empowerment. A draft Plan of Action has been developed. “WGDD will use this year to popularize the plan and promote its implementation”, she noted.