GENDER: A policy imperative - African Business Magazine
GENDER: A policy imperative

GENDER: A policy imperative

2015 will be a reference year for the Gender Equality debate in Africa, 20 years after the Beijing Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA). African countries have made progress on most of the metrics set then, but they still far behind the overall targeted goals. One key success, from a good governance standpoint, is gender.

Indeed gender inequality has now become an imperative for public policy, taking into account the economic and sociological landscape of the continent. It is clear that we must integrate gender-based approach into national planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation.

The starting point must be the incorporation of the gender equality principle in the legal and institutional framework.

That is what Cape Verde achieved. In Cape Verde, we started adopting a legal and institutional framework favourable to gender equality since 1975. Our legal framework guarantees equality and non-discrimination before the law. It is in fact the responsibility of the state to remove obstacles to equal opportunities among the sexes, whether economic, social, or cultural. The family code enshrines equal rights for both spouses. Similarly, the labour code preserves gender equality by recognizing women’s special role in society and making available provisions. Welfare laws have also facilitated social protection through establishing a non-contributory system and allowing the enrolment of informal sector workers and domestic employees. It is now the norm for laws to contain dispositions that promote equality between women and men in Cape Verde.

While it is important to have an enabling legal and institutional framework it is also crucial to incorporate the gender equality perspective in the decision making process at the national level as an integral element in the planning and budgeting exercises so it becomes a framework for action and with strong political leadership. Otherwise, the laws are simply manifestations of intentions.

In economic terms, Cape Verde offers another example on how to tackle gender inequality. Recognising the persistence of gender gaps in income and poverty, the strategy paper prioritised investments in agri-business and the modernisation of agriculture to maximise work opportunities, given the important role women play in the sector.

More importantly, the gender issue is not a policy option, it is an imperative because we need everyone. Using an analogy from sports, a team plays better and has a higher probability of winning if it plays with all its members. Africa cannot continue to marginalise half of its team. Women are clear positive contributors. They are the main workers in agriculture, constituting over two-thirds of the agricultural labour force. Yet, in some of our countries, women do not even have the right to own land, nor are they allowed to inherit property, while some social practices do not allow women to get access to loans. This is not acceptable for a continent with some of the most entrepreneurial women in the world.

In an increasingly competitive world, Africa must exploit its women’s intrinsic role as champions of human development. African countries need to compete to structurally transform their economies and this requires skilled labour. Unless we invest in the development of women and ensure we provide them with the necessary opportunities, we will be handicapping ourselves as a continent. Africa must ensure that women have the opportunity to be leaders. This is not about token positions but true equality and opportunities for them to be engaged in politics and governance.

The challenge now is not the lack of policies or that we do not know what works. The issue is lack of vision and political will. Is this important enough for our leadership? Are our societies pushing and agitating enough to ensure that women are fully integrated into the society, with equal opportunities? We know that vocational skills development and entrepreneurship interventions work. We know that cash transfers and school feeding programs have been successful in reducing the gender gap in school enrolment and that agricultural extension services can be critical for the adoption of better farming tools and methods. We know that quotas like those in Rwanda to ensure women participation is a major step forward. But are our leaders ready to act beyond declarations?

It is time that we move from speeches to actions with impact, as the Africa Union (AU) declares 2015 as the year for building women’s capacity. The problem of gender in Africa, above all, calls on political leaders to act. They must be ready to activate all the levers within the disposal of the continent to effect change while we the followers must ensure that they are held accountable.

This is an issue that I am particularly sensitive to as an African woman. It is close to my heart. For me, above all, it is a human issue. But the economic aspect cannot be neglected. Africa, as a continent, is in a competition with the rest of the world and we cannot afford to enter a competition with half of our team unprepared and kept off the field, unless we want to continue losing the championship.

By Cristina Duarte, Minister of Finance and Planning of Cape Verde

To read the full special report on World Economic Forum, 2015 please click here

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