Your Excellencies, Members of the PRC
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of UN System,
Representatives of RECs,
Representatives of CSOs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am deeply honored to be with you here today and to deliver the Closing Remarks at this celebration of International Women’s Day. The 8th of March is an important date in the history of humanity as we honour women, the mothers of humanity. We mark this day to remind ourselves of the great contributions women have made to build our societies, while at the same time recognise the challenges that women still face in fully enjoying their fundamental rights. Women, like all of us, are entitled to human rights, including, civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as well as the right to peace.
I would like to thank you all for joining us and especially for standing as witnesses to all the pledges that have been made by the African Union Commission’s Departments and other stakeholders committing to implementing at least two high impact actions that support gender equality and women’s empowerment in furtherance of Agenda 2063. I can assure you that these are not empty pledges, as the AUC will develop a performance management plan that will track and report on progress, capture lessons learned and best practices as well as outcomes that will inform future decision-making on the implementation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the AU. The AUC is also reviewing its internal mechanisms to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, among others the workplace gender policy and the staff rules and regulations. In collaboration with the AU Partners, the AUC is reviewing the 2016 Gender Score Card, which will serve as another tool to assess and monitor Member States’ implementation of commitments.
This call for greater collective action and performance monitoring and reporting was amplified throughout the recently concluded 8th Gender Pre-Summit and the 26th African Union Summit. Indeed, Africa wants to see progress and concrete results that demonstrate how the lives of women have been impacted and changed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In our continued efforts to strengthen the African Governance Architecture including the democratic structures of our continent, elections and electoral laws play a huge role. The Debate that we had this morning about electoral laws and parity is indeed opportune, as we continue to explore effective ways of closing the gender gap, especially in women’s political participation and representation in high- level decision making structures. The AU Constitutive Act, in Articles 3 and 4, 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.
You may recall that during its first Summit in 2001, the African Union adopted the principle of gender parity, which is the most progressive decision on gender equality anywhere in the world. Today, we are the only multilateral body that maintains gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. This is indeed a demonstration of the AU’s commitment to reverse gender imbalances that characterize decision-making structures within the continent. The parity principle also seems to percolate the AU Member States as a number of African countries have registered an impressive record of women’s representation and participation in decision-making structures. According to the 2015 MDG report, the overall representation of women in national parliaments in Africa as of 2015, is estimated at 20%, an encouraging improvement of 7% since the 1990s (IPU). Africa has also witnessed the appointment and election of women in strategic and executive positions in governments, non-governmental organisations and in the private sectors including as Deputy Presidents and strategic ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Defense and Finance Ministers.
As you may be aware, while the 30% affirmative action quota agreed upon at the UN 4th World Women Conference in Beijing in 1995 has been a target for most countries, the AU envisions a 50% representation of women in decision-making and we expect our Member States to use that as a yardstick, if not do better.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation in AU Member States, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life. In some Member States, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses. Elections, therefore, present an important avenue for the improvement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women constitute more than 50% of the populations of each of the 54 AU Member States. In most Member States, women make up the largest majority of registered voters. Their participation rate in elections is also often higher than that of men. However, women are less represented as candidates in elections compared to men. Thus, women are poorly represented in elected offices such as councils and legislatures. Women (compared to men) are also poorly represented in other organs of the state, such as the executive and the judiciary.
Part of the challenge with women’s participation in elections and representation in the executive relates to their poor representation and participation in political parties as it is political parties that recruit and select candidates for election. This year, Africa will hold 23 elections. I would like to encourage political parties to take concrete action across the entire electoral cycle, including using quotas, to fully incorporate women into the structures of the parties, and to finance women’s candidature, as well as create conducive environments for women to compete and participate equally.
The AU also recognises the negative impact that conflict has on women and their ability to effectively participate in political and public life. In line with various AU commitments to increase women’s participation in peace and political processes, and in recognition of the fact that election observation is a mechanism for conflict prevention, the AUC has taken deliberate initiatives to build the capacity of women and deploy them as election observers and Head of Missions.
Ladies and Gentlemen
As I indicated in the past, “we must be transformers not conformists”. Thomas Sankara, the late President of Burkina Faso once said that we must have “the courage to turn our backs on old formulas, the courage to invent the future. We must dare to invent the future”. Agenda 2063 is, therefore, our invention of a future where Africa will have full gender parity, with women occupying at least 50% of elected public offices at all levels, and half of managerial positions in both public and private sectors.
It is on this note that I would like to make a special call to AU Member States, all men and women in the continent and all stakeholders, on this International Women’s Day, and during the African Year of Human Rights with a Specific Focus on the Rights of Women, to reaffirm their commitments to gender equality, freedom and the advancement of women. I highly encourage AU Member States to implement their commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment and to use the occasion of the International Women's Day celebration to revisit some aspects of our culture and beliefs that keep women from effectively participating in political and public life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, please allow me to express my appreciation, particularly, to the esteemed panellists who presented very convincing arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Thank you also to the AUC Departments for the pledges made.
I would also like to thank the African Union Partners who supported this event. Special gratitude also goes to our young performers and the Zumba Instructors who offered their services free of charge to the AUC. We thank you for your selflessness.
Allow me to recognize the team at the African Union Commission, who worked tirelessly to make this event a success.
I thank you all for coming and I would like to invite you to the Cocktail here in the Foyer of the New AUC Complex and the AU Women’s Exhibition in the Old AU Complex for various African food, clothes, arts and crafts.