|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press conference by high-level African women officials
on addressing economic, food, climate change crises
A panel of high-ranking African women officials today called on the international community to promote gender-specific plans and programmes to help women better address the economic, food and climate-related crises plaguing the continent.
Women in all regions were feeling the impact of the current crises, but women in developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, were facing serious challenges, said Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice-President of the Gambia, during a Headquarters press conference held in conjunction with the 2009 session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The panel also included Micheline Ravoronalisa, African Regional Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and Houda Mejri, African Centre for Gender and Social Development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Along with the gender-specific impacts of, and responses to, current global crises, the officials discussed, among other things, violence against women, financing for gender equality and the importance of collecting data as a precondition for establishing best practices and monitoring the effectiveness of overall action on the women’s empowerment agenda.
Giving an overview of the plight facing Africa as the global economy slowed to a crawl, Ms. Nijie-Saidy said it was hard to believe that some trend watchers were actually reporting that Africa would be immune. While it was true that Africa had made some real socio-economic process over the past decade, the converging crises were threatening those gains at every level.
For instance, women were most dependent on remittances, which were diminishing sharply; women were the majority of small business owners and workers serving Africa’s fledgling tourism industry, which had been seriously hard hit by the downturn. Moreover, she said foreign direct investment was dropping, and lingering gender inequality was compounding the impact of the economic and financial crisis.
As for the food crisis, Ms. Nijie-Saidy said Africa’s past agricultural policies and import/export policies that it had been forced to adopt had left it exposed to the wildly fluctuating commodity prices over the past year. Women were the most adversely affected, as they made up nearly 60 per cent of the continent’s small farmers.
African Governments, for their part, needed to address the continent’s antiquated and discriminatory land tenure laws and promote better land development and management strategies, including ensuring the provision by development partners of adequate agricultural technology and up-to-date farming tools and equipment.
On climate change, she said Africa’s greenhouse gas emission rates were about 2 per cent of the global total. So, as longer-lasting droughts and more frequent floods continued to devastate parts of the continent, Africa was being punished for something it had not done. It needed to be helped out of that quagmire, especially since the impact of global warming seriously affected agriculture and, by default, women.
Ms. Ravoronalisa said that UNIFEM was continuing its effort to spotlight violence against women and the need to combat that scourge, even as the current global crises dominated the headlines. Indeed, while violence could be physical, it could also characterize the social, economic and political fallout from the crises that hindered the development of Africa and African women. She said that, while the continent had adopted the world’s largest number of instruments and statutes aimed at ensuring gender equality at all levels, there was a dearth of implementation.
She said that violence against women was a phenomenon throughout the world and that one in three women worldwide was battered. Women also suffered “institutional violence” in that they were routinely coerced, marginalized, excluded and “gagged” from raising their voices and using their influence to affect policy- and decision-making processes.
As UNIFEM pressed ahead with its 10-year campaign to end violence against women, it was conscious that the initiative was fragmented and implemented differently around the world. The agency would aim to ensure the campaign was better integrated into the global development framework, especially as regarded Africa, and that it took into account best practices. Implementation of the campaign should be owned by national partners. Finally, she said UNIFEM was coordinating with United Nations agencies and had already established a relevant working group.
Ms. Mejri said, with the fifteenth anniversary of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women fast approaching, a system-wide stocktaking on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action was under way, being led by the regional commissions. For its part, UN-ECA was carrying out a series of activities, including the drafting of a questionnaire that would be sent to the Commission’s 53 member countries to be used in the compiling of national reports.
ECA would draft a synthesis report that would be submitted to the Division on the Advancement of Women ahead of the global Beijing review. The Commission was also setting up an e-network of African gender machineries to facilitate contacts between, and exchange of, information about those entities. She said, in October 2009, the Commission was convening, in Addis Ababa, the Africa Regional Ministerial Beijing Review Conference. That meeting would conduct a crucial, regional stocktaking of what still remained to be achieved towards equality and women’s empowerment.
During the run-up to the global review, UN-ECA would continue to stress the importance of, among others, gender responsive budgeting; financing for gender equality; and gender disaggregated data. She added that gender responsive budgeting was an absolute necessity for Africa and UN-ECA had launched a relevant training programme on the continent. Finally, she stressed that the current economic downturn was exactly the time when gender budgeting should be increased, not curtailed.
Responding to questions on implementing existing commitments, Ms. Njie-Saidy said that, in the Gambia, the Government involved women non-governmental organizations in writing the reports it presented to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Such “shadow reports” made Government responses more broadly representative.
She said that, while it was a Government’s responsibility to raise awareness about the various international and regional instruments promoting gender equality, such as the African Union Protocol of the Rights of African Women, such efforts were very expensive, especially translating such instruments into local dialects, and because illiteracy was very high in many countries.
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