One of the eight Millennium Development Goals is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women”. The reporting on the status of the progress on gender equality in Africa indicates that all target areas, including education, employment and political participation, is below the expected level of output at this time of the MDG’s lifespan. The final status will be reported by 2015.
Statistics, figures and charts are indications of estimated results based on research done by individuals or groups of people. The outcomes are not always showing the situation in clear terms, especially the emotional implication to a woman’s life when she is marginalized, cannot read and/ or write and what she feels deep in her heart; who is unemployed and does not have much to feed her family; has no say on what is being decided for her by others, are not, and could not possibly be reflected in the reports and findings put forward for public consumption. Faced with these kinds of situations, it is useful and will help to take into account inputs reported from the field by those who witness the realities of the day-to-day life patterns of women, be it in Africa and/ or in any other region of the world. One can look at a woman’s face and deduce her life pattern even without speaking to her. The different faces tell you that she is struggling to survive today but does not know what might happen to her and to her children tomorrow. Her face also shows that she lives in violence and that she is afraid, and it shows that she is desperate and needs help.
In these gloomy circumstances, it is a hard job to bring out the positives while the challenges are tremendous. It is like going one step forward and two steps backwards. It is, however, necessary to also focus on the achievements, no matter how limited they may be, in order to acknowledge those who are committed to making a difference to a woman’s life in Africa, be it with institutions and/ or individuals. It is also important to note that, thanks to the efforts and insistence made by the United Nations and its family organizations since the first World Conference on Women organized in 1975 in Mexico, followed by three major World Conferences and many more meetings and gatherings on the issue of gender equality, the fate of African women in general has improved though not sufficiently. Awareness creation is one specific area that the UN family organizations and its development partners deserve to be commended for. One of the many examples of these efforts is the recent “Compendium on African Women Professionals (AWPs)”, published in 2010 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Liaison Office to AU and ECA in Addis Ababa prepared in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC). The main objective of the Compendium is to create awareness on the professional capabilities and availabilities of AWPs, hence contribute to the efforts being made by many to bridge the current information gap on AWPs. It is with the hope and belief that this readily available information would be useful for organizations and institutions who would like to consider AWPs for high-level executive positions, at the international, regional, sub-regional and national levels. The Compendium on AWPs is now posted on ECA’s website (http//www.uneca.org) and will also be soon posted on AUC’s (http//www.africa-union.org) and other UN system organizations websites.
Furthermore, in order to enhance the efforts being made by those who are advocates of the advancement of women in all spheres of life, the United Nations, on 2 July 2010 created an organization under the name of UN-Women. The purpose of this organization is to expedite gender equality and the empowerment of women. The UN-Women is merging four of the world body’s agencies and offices including the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), and the Office of Special Advisor for Gender issues (OSAGI) and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). This was done to promote efficiency in terms of harmonization of financial and human resources, technical support, focus, and mandates, with the view to advancing the issues of women and strengthening the presence of the United Nations at the country level.
Efforts being made by Member States are also to be commended although the challenges that remain are much more than the achievements. Participation of women in the economic sector of their countries, as well as in governance in general leaves much more to be desired. Poverty continues to have a woman’s face in Africa which are compounded by the impact of climate change and a lack of access to productive services are among many serious shortfalls on the African continent. African Member States need to deliver on their commitments in order to expedite the realization of wishes and dreams of more than 50 per cent of their populations as well as those who have been tirelessly working to make a difference in a woman’s life.