Recognising the crucial role that women can play in various spheres of society is not a new trend. In the past, a number of global, regional, and sub-regional frameworks, protocols, and declarations that focus on gender equality have been adopted. Memorable are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted as far back as 1948, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that called for gender equality during the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995. From an African perspective, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa adopted in 2003 and the subsequent 2004 Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) are prominent. More recently, women's rights have been entrenched in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Many of the targets specifically call for the achievement of women's equality and empowerment as both an objective and as essential part of the process of moving Africa towards becoming an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent.
The African Union (AU) has therefore been at the forefront of lobbying for the protection of women's rights and has emphasised the essential role that women play in development and that gender mainstreaming should be accelerated across the African continent. However, despite the widespread commitment to ensure gender equality in Africa, substantive change to women’s lives has been subdued. Globally, the IMF noted in a recent report that more than 90% of the countries in the world have gender discrimination codified in their legal systems. Furthermore, the Human Development Report published by UNDP in 2017 reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the lowest Human Development Index values in the world, and gender inequality is far higher than in the rest of the world. If we accept that women’s rights as individuals and equal citizens are important components of just, democratic societies then we must also note the increasing urgency of promoting those rights: the lack of gender equality contributes to poverty, gender-based violence and slow economic development. Furthermore, gender equality can only be truly accomplished when legal and political reform is combined with societal and cultural change. Women are, frequently, the agents of such change. Ensuring that the women of tomorrow have equal rights, requires teaching the women of today that they deserve these rights.
The core objective of the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment was to provide funding to projects that enhance the rights of women in Africa. These projects, amongst others, addressed: improving gender equity and justice; reducing discrimination against women; increasing the involvement of women leaders in governance; ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa; providing capacity-building workshops and training; engaging in constitution review mechanisms to entrench women rights; promoting the rights of women through social awareness campaigns; engaging women as community peace facilitators; supporting young women to run their own businesses; helping women to improve agricultural production processes; facilitating women’s access to potable water and sanitation; securing equitable access to land-based resources; securing land tenure for women; empowering women engaged in informal trading; addressing GBV; supporting African women’s movement groups and strengthening national networks of African businesswomen.
Key lessons learned from projects:
- Institute awareness campaigns to sensitise women and communities to women’s rights
- Engage with political, religious and community leaders to ensure the success of a programme to promote women’s rights
- Implement training and capacity building to effectively advocate for women’s rights
Institute awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights
A number of the NSF projects reported that the success of their initiatives to promote women’s rights can be attributed to the effective awareness campaigns that they mounted. For example, in Guinea-Bissau, the Aid Association for People Development (ADPP) effectively used social awareness campaigns to engage with farmers and communities to promote gender equality. Likewise, the project initiated by the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) successfully used awareness campaigns to improve gender equity and justice, reduce discrimination against women, and increase the involvement of women leaders in governance. A key lesson learned by CRUDAN was that when women’s awareness is raised on gender policies and women’s rights, it strengthens their resolve to pursue their rights in all spheres of life.
The Water and Sanitation for Africa (Eau et Assainissement pour l’Afrique, EAA) project examined policies relating to water, sanitation and hygiene in Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Togo with the aim to assess to what extent they embodied gender perspectives. Consideration was then given on how institutions and other stakeholders could raise consciousness about the incorporation of gender neutrality into polices governing the sector. The project team reported that an important component of the project was involving local media. Media coverage helped to raise awareness of the issues women face pertaining to water rights and facilitated the success of the project.
In Kenya and Uganda, CLEAR (Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women) aimed to improve female livelihoods by engaging with policy, research, advocacy, networking, and capacity building on women’s land rights. They found during the project that while women are increasingly using the legal system to exercise their land rights, lack of awareness of the existence of these rights remains an obstacle. It was therefore important to engage in campaigns to motivate women to assert their rights and attain equality regardless their level of education and socio-economic status. In Niger, the DIMOL-Safe Motherhood through Reproductive Health (SMMSR) project sought ratification without reservation of the Maputo Protocol by making communities more aware of women's rights. They contend that community views and behaviour can only be changed through effective communication.
Engage with political, religious and community leaders to ensure the success of a programme to promote women’s rights
The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) in Kenya engaged in various constitution review mechanisms to entrench women human rights in the Kenyan constitution. They found that one of the main challenges was lack of political will and commitment by the government to reform in Kenya. They overcame these obstacles by engaging with and lobbying civil society organisations and parliamentarians to recognise the importance of prioritising women’s rights in the constitutional process.
The Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) successfully involved traditional and religious leaders in their advocacy initiatives to improve women’s human rights in Nigeria. They maintain that this enhanced ownership and subsequently the project’s sustainability. In Mali, Consortium Six Grapes carried out awareness-raising activities targeted at community and village leaders to promote women’s rights. They, thereby, overcame the inherent reluctance to involve women in local governance structures.
Implement training and capacity building to effectively advocate for women’s rights
Despite legislation for decentralised public participation in the governance of the Republic of Mali, the level of involvement of women in rural areas is weak. The Consortium Six Grapes project sought to overcome this by providing capacity building training and workshops in rural villages to effect behaviour change. Using a decentralised training model, the project benefitted 2,901 women. Implicit in the structuring of the training was the strengthening of associations between village leaders, community councillors and village communities to ensure the mobilization and strategic orientation of women and girls during local elections.
The project undertaken by the Graça Machel Trust focused on the economic advancement of women in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Specific objectives included strengthening national networks of African businesswomen, launching a Regional Network of African Businesswomen, supporting women in running their businesses, and strengthening women’s rights. As part of the capacity building of the networks, businesswomen in the networks received training in gender advocacy and how best to engage with their constituencies. Important components of the CRUDAN’s (Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria) initiative were to improve gender equity and justice, reduce discrimination against women and increase the involvement of women leaders in governance in Nigeria. These objectives were addressed at capacity training interventions and change monitoring workshops.