Whenever gender empowerment is a vibrant topic of discussion internationally, some of the countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America are invariably singled out for their success stories in politics, education, health care or civil liberties even as Africa is mostly left out of political reckoning - and wrongly so.
Rwanda has provided global leadership in terms of women holding elected office, with more than half of all its parliamentary seats filled by women, says Litha Musyimi-Ogana, director of women, gender and development directorate at the 53-member African Union (AU), the largest single coalition of African nations.
Cape Verde, another African high achiever, has 'had the highest level of cabinet ministers in the world:' at last count, about 12 out of 17.
But still, Musyimi-Ogana points out, the AU is aware that although 70 percent of its members have gender policies, there are 'huge implementation challenges'.
The reason why most of these policies are not implemented is primarily lack of financial resources.
As a result, the AU has set up an African Women's Development Fund to tide over 'resource constraints'.
At the same time, it has also established a protocol - an addendum on the 'Rights of Women' ratified by 27 countries - to the existing African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Lalla Ben Barka, deputy executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), claims Africa has made 'impressive gains' in closing the gender gap in primary education, largely due 'to free, universal, compulsory education' - continent-wide.
She told the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concludes a two-week session Friday, that 65 percent of the region's countries were conducting research on the situation of girls, and some countries had revised school curricula to present positive images of women.
Still, there were gaps in several areas: inheritance rights for women, higher education and the elimination of cultural practices and barriers to women's advancement.
She said Liberia has had the distinction of having elected the first female African president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took office in January 2006.
Ben Barka also said that 47 percent of countries had enacted laws to combat female genital mutilation (FGM), and many offered comprehensive services for victims.
According to Tsegga Gaim Misgun of the National Union of Eritrean Women, efforts to abolish FGM began as far back as the late 1970s - even before the formal independence of Eritrea in 1993 - by the then de facto government, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front.
As a result of these efforts, the people of Eritrea had initiated community laws banning FGM. On the basis of these initiatives, the government of Eritrea banned the practice in March 2007.
'The proclamation made female genital mutilation a criminal offence,' Misgun said.
Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, South Africa's minister for women, children and persons with disabilities, told delegates that although violence against women and girls remains a 'major concern of government', the country is in an advanced stage of developing a comprehensive framework to address gender violence.
These include, among others, legislation on sexual offences; trafficking in persons; domestic violence; and the children's act.
The Thuthuzela Care Centre, described as a comprehensive one-stop service centre for victims of domestic violence, was hailed as an example of 'best practice' in the 2007 report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on violence against children.
'These are replicated and piloted in some countries at the global level,' she said.
Mayende-Sibiya also said that South Africa was proud of the high number of women deployed in peacekeeping missions, averaging about 40 percent of peacekeepers from her country.
Alphonsine Mbie N'na, Gabon's minister of health and social affairs, said her country had created a poverty reduction strategy as well as an exam to promote socio-economic activities among women, with winners receiving 40,000 dollars and an overseas trip.
In the field of employment, Gabon has no hiring or salary discrimination. Schooling and text books were free.
In Ethiopia, the ministry of women's affairs was an integral part of the executive branch of the government.
And to boost gender equality in agriculture - the country's main economic sector - Ethiopia registers names of spouses for land certification in order to ensure that women can own their economic assets.
© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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