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Statement by H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zumachairperson of the African Union Commission at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 African Union Gender Pre- Summit on “the Africa Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”

January 19, 2016

Excellences, African Union Ministers in charge of Gender and Women’s Affairs, and representatives of the Regional Economic Communities
Members of the Permanent Missions, Diplomatic Corps, and International organisationsin Addis Ababa,
Representatives of UN Women, UNECA, AfDB, UNDP and other Development Partners
Representatives from GIMAC and CSOs
AU Commissioners for Political Affairs, Dr. Aisha Abdallahi and Economic Affairs Dr. Anthony MothaeMaruping
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

I wish to welcome you all to the 2016 African Union (AU) Gender Pre Summiton “the Africa Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women” and to the African Union Headquarters.
As you may be aware by now, theAU Gender Pre-Summits are organized before each Summit of the AU to bring together the voices of key actors in the continental women’s and gender movement to update and discuss critical developments related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. These meetings have been taking place for a number of years, at a continental level, to ensure that women’s voices, concerns and issues are integrated into the mainstream work of the African Union.
Building on the AU’s obligations on gender equality and women’s empowerment outlined in its legal instruments, these preparatory meetings serve as a vehicle to incorporate gender perspectives into the highest decision-making body of the AU, thus ensuring that gender and women’s concerns remain a constant on the agenda of the AU.
Before I start, I would like to inform you that the Gender Director has a new director, MmeMahawaKaba-Wheeler and that she will continue to lead the AU Commission to mobilise women in the continent and our partners, towards the goal of gender equality. We have very high expectations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Africa has made progress, as indicated by the MDG and since the adoption of the Beijing platform 20 years ago. But, we must remind ourselves, that if we continue at the current pace, we will have to wait another 80 years before we achieve true gender equality. It is incumbent on all of us to change this pace. None of us, nor our children or grandchildren will accept that we just keep up with this very slow pace. This is therefore an issue we must reflect on, as we gather at this important Pre-Summit Gender meeting.
I would not be far off to say that the world and continent have all the instruments to ensure gender equality, but we are still a far way from reaching this goal.Why, basically because these instruments and policies are being implemented extremely slowly. We must ask ourselves who should drive this implementation?
Let me be provocative this morning. Let us look at ourselves and ask, are we driving this transformation agenda, or are we comfortable in the positions, and institutions we find ourselves, or too scared to rock the boat? It may be becoming easier to make into the man’s world, but we are then be sucked into this man’s world and into that culture.
The problem may be that we think that because we are appointed by men (since men still dominate all structures), we must therefore conform to the patriarchal environment, otherwise we may loose our positions.
We must not be scared to rock the boat. We cannot transform gender relations unless we are prepared to stand up consistentlyto raise women’s issues wherever we are. We mustnot care when they say: there she goes again.
We know from our religious institutions, that the same messages are repeated, because they know that if we repeat messages, it will be internalized and help with changing attitudes and behaviour.
Excellences, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
It is for this reason that we introduced the African Gender Scorecard at the Summit last year, asa tool measuring progress, and achievements of AU Member States on Gender equality. The 2015 Gender Scorecard shows, among other things, that only 13 countries have achieved gender parity in secondary school enrolments, only 10 countries have gender parity in ownership of firms of all sizes, and only 7 countries have over 30 % women in senior management positions in the private sector.
At the African Union, we firmly believe that women’s empowerment is a key driver towards the achievement of the Union’s overall vision of a united, integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and playing a dynamic role in the global arena. We believe that the full realization of the noble goals of Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals should be should therefore be grounded on the effective and meaningful participation, representation and leadership of women in decision-making structures across all layers of society, in the AU organs and RECs, and in all 54 Member States of the African Union.
In our discussions of these two days, we must address how to mobilise larger numbers of women to participate in implementing Agenda 2063.
Women are the ones who suffer the most of in war and conflict, what are we doing to mobilise them to silence the guns? In countries are at peace, how do we ensure that nothing disturb the peace, and if there is conflict that they are resolve peacefully through dialogue. Even if people take up guns, they eventually have to sit down and dialogue, why not do it at the beginning. The responsibility to keep the peace are predominantly that of women, since we have to look after children, who end up being raped, displaced and as refugees. We must therefore be active to galvanise women and galvanise the progressive men.
Women are the majority in all countries, how do we influence what happens in government: right from political parties doing their election manifestos and choosing their candidates, so that they address the issues of women. As women MPs and public servants, do the budgets and programmesaddress issues of women and do we advocate and effect change when they do not?
I want to motivate ourselves, to ensure that beyond conferences and meetings, where we are, in our countries, in governments and civil society, in RECs and continental organisations, we continue to mobilise women.
Our Constitutive Act says that we must not be indifferent. As women we must not be indifferent to poverty, to children and orphans suffering, to the destruction of our communities by conflicts and war. Women must be the change that we want to see, and who mustmobilise and influence others.
2016 is the Year is Human rights with a particular focus on Women’s rights. Our partners will work with us on this, because they love human rights. The question however begs whether our emphasis is the same: the right to food, the right to water, the right to health, the right to education, in addition to the right to free speech, of assembly. We must talk about all rights, because we cant expect someone who is hungry or ill, to fully exercise their right to assembly. Socio economic rights must therefore be at the core of our human rights agenda.
And, it is women that can see the bigger picture. Some men can walk away, when the going gets tough, but it is so much more difficult for women. It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure that the agenda of human rights speaks to all these issues.
Ive just quoted a figure from the African Gender Scorecard, that only 13 countries have reached parity in secondary school enrollment, what does it say about the plight of girls on our continent. We all have a lot to do to ensure that they are in high school and remain in school.
It also means that we must refuse to collude in forcing our girls into child marriage. Mothers must fight for girls to remain in school, and to become economically independent, putting them in a better position to choose marriage or not, and when to have children.
As we hold this consultation, within the context of the AU 2016 theme of “African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on Women”. I wish to urge again for the unrelentingfocus on action and results.
We must be motivated to ensure that beyond conferences and meetings, where we are, in our countries, in governments and civil society, in RECs and continental organisations, women are mobilized and their participation is facilitated to bring about change in our continent.

Excellences, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Africa is at a turning point, emerging as one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2% - 11%. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.

Women also perform unpaid labour, to ensure that families are clothed and fed. We should work towards their empowerment and ensure that their rights are protected and that they enjoy the fruits of their work.There is this story I heard and like to repeat, about the couple where the woman was a stay-at home mother and wife. One night the husband during dinner said: ‘I work hard to make money to clothe and feed this family, to provide everyday, but what do you do the whole day, just sitting around and doing nothing?’ The next day, she didn’t get up to give the husband breakfast and he left without eating; and when he came back home the house was dirty, the children hungry, dirty and still in their pajamas, there was no food in the house. When he asked, she replied that this is what it means to do nothing.

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa. This should be addressed as a pathway to economic empowerment of women and achievement of the African development agenda, 2063. Women in the blue economy is important, and we are proud of the initiatives such as Women in Maritime Africa, and other networks of women in various sectors such as ICT, the extractive industries and agriculture.

15 years have lapsed since the adoption of UNSCR 1325, which recognized women as not only victims of conflict, but active agents in peacebuilding. In addition to this global commitment, Africa has developed a host of legislative and policy instruments that advance the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda at various levels. Despite this normative consensus, implementation on preventing conflict and violence against women; the participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution processes; and the protection of women in times of conflict and peace-progress notwithstanding- is still poor. This should change and it will take all of us to work together for this to be achieved. It is our believe that we women’s participation is critical to our goal of Silencing the Guns by 2020.

We just emerge from COP21, and though there is a binding agreement, commitments by developed countries fall short of the target of 2 degrees to reverse climate change. We must not rest on our laurels and do our bit, without compromising industrialization and clean growth. Renewables as part of our energy mix is critical, because it contributes towards job creation, clean energy ensure good health, and it means that even the most remote villages can have access to electricity through micro and off-grid solutions. Access to affordable, reliable and clean energy, in addition to clean water and to sanitation, are important for women and girls, to free their time for other productive activities.

Excellences, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude, by urging us to ensure that we mobilise and galvanise women, and bring more of them into these processes, especially the women at grassroots level.
It is an indictment on all of us, that the Pan African Women’s Organisation is not as strong as it should be; we must strengthen its voice. We must also strengthen women’s voices in other ways, so that we build strong national, regional and continental women’s movement, in all different sectors and that are united.
The same goes for the youth, the Pan African Youth Union is also not strong. We have talked about mobilizing youth participation, since they are the majority and especially young women. We are therefore encouraging young people to form AU Clubs in higher education institutions and communities, so that they can participate in the life of the continent and their country, and advance Pan Africanism and integration. It should not be bureaucratic, but instead each AU Club unique, to bring forward the creativity and participation of young African men and women everywhere.
We must be the change we want to see
We must be the agents of change,
We should not Conform, but Transform.

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