Summary of Electronic Discussion hosted as a preliminary activity to ADF VI

Action on Gender Equality, Women's Empowerment and Ending Violence Against Women in Africa

19-21 November 2008, Addis Ababa , Ethiopia

The sixth African Development Forum (ADF VI), which is being held on 19-21 November 2008, will tackle the following theme: “ Action on Gender Equality, Women's Empowerment and Ending Violence Against Women in Africa ”. The overarching objective of ADF VI is to review progress made towards gender equality and women's empowerment and to articulate concrete actions that could be taken to accelerate the process.

The Center for Gender and Social Development of the Economic Commission for Africa hosted and moderated an electronic discussion entitled “Gender, Governance, Conflicts, Peace and Security” from 02 October to 08 November 2008, which was open to the public.

The purpose of this on-line discussion was to generate and exchange knowledge on gender, governance, peace and security; identify and share good practices in promoting greater participation of women in governance, peace and security initiatives at national, regional and sub-regional levels; and to suggest recommendations and actions that can foster the strategic role of women in governance structures and in peace-building initiatives and accelerate the implementations of the commitments made by African countries.

This paper summarizes the contributions received and puts forth the main areas of concern, the achievements as well as the recommendations discussed by participants.

The discussion on Gender, Governance, Conflict, Peace and Security has identified the following discussion topics:

•  Women's Participation in Governance

•  Women's Participation in Peace and Security Initiatives.

Discussion questions aimed at guiding participants' responses were prepared.

Week 1 and 2: Women's Participation in Governance

The first topic of discussion selected was women's participation in governance. A number of questions have been prepared in order to stimulate discussion and encourage participants to share their views on the effective participation of women in decision-making, on the main obstacles that hinder women from participating in various governmental structures and systems as well as to identify the necessary actions to increase the effective participation of women in decision processes and institutions.

The experience of women's effective participation in governance and in policymaking at different levels: (community, national, sub-regional and regional)

Many participants confirmed that the effective participation of women in governance at community, national, sub-regional and regional levels was improving. An increase in the number of women in assemblies, parliaments, and governments as well as in public administration has been noted. Numerous contribution proudly reminded participants of the election of Her Excellency Ellen Jonhson-Sirleaf to Liberia 's presidency and Rwanda 's 50% ratio of women in the country's parliament.

However, participants unanimously agreed that the number of participants was still insufficient while for the most part the qualitative level of participation remains low. Women are still under-represented in decision-making positions at all levels and are discriminated against in the area of governance at the local, the national and the sub-regional levels as well as in the public and private spheres. Participant stated that international legal instruments such as CEDAW, the Millennium Development Goals, the Beijing Platform of Action, the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality, the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality adopted by African Heads of States as well as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which stipulates that African governments have the responsibility to ensure that women equally participate in governance and in political decision-making arenot implemented.

The quality of participation of women in decision-making and its impact on gender equality

Participants agreed on the importance and the usefulness of the role women play in decision-making processes, notably when they are fully empowered to act and have the benefit of a favorable environment that enableswomen to fully exercise their mandate. Participants noted that despite the comparatively small number of women who hold or have held in the past decision-making positions, their impact on the countries political environment has been positive.

A participant from Sierra Leone notes that since the creation of Sierra Leone 's Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, the country has made serious efforts in improving the promotion of women to decision-making positions at all levels. In 2000, the Government of Sierra Leone developed two policies for the integration of gender dimension in development policies as well as for the promotion of women in development. Three legislations pertaining to gender and aimed at tearing down the socioeconomic and cultural obstacles used to derail women's effective participation in the development of their countries were adopted in 2007. A National Commission tasked with reviewing discriminatory laws was established. Moreover, the Electoral Commission, which impeccably organized and carried out the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2007 that are classified as amongst the most successful in the world, was directed by a woman. Additionally, a Kenyan participant noted that when women are well informed on laws and regulations, they can effectively contribute to parliamentarian debates including Bills addressing gender issues. She illustrated her position by pointing out that the Kenyan law on sexual offenses was developed after a woman parliamentarian initiated it.

However, some participants view the nomination of a handful of women to the high offices of certain African countries with skepticism. They wonder if the political will to promote equality between men and women really exists or if these women are nominated in order to simply satisfy and attract donors who are increasingly demanding women's inclusion in decision-making positions. Similarly, within political parties, women are commonly marginalized, are rarely allowed to contribute to decision-making processes, and often are relegated to the role of hostesses.

Major obstacles that hinder women from participating in the governance of various governmental structures and systems


In spite of all the achievements registered, participants noted that women still encounter numerous challenges. The dearth of financial resources, time constraints, lack of self-confidence, illiteracy, health problems, the patriarchal system, violence against women, the structure of political parties and the astounding costs associated with electoral campaigns are all factors that hinder women's participation in governance:

•  The lack of financial resources, knowing that the costs associated with running elections are high and knowing that women have very limited access to and control of production and financial resources.

•  Time was also mentioned as a factor that discriminates against women. Women are often involved in multiple activities, including domestic chores, which often restrict the available time they have for other activities. Domestic chores are mostly unpaid and unaccounted.

•  Lack of self-confidence. Illiteracy, which is more common amongst women and girls, health problems, lack of information and skills, are some of the factors behind women's lack of self-confidence.

•  Failure to implement affirmative action measures such as quota system as per the recommendation of numerous international legal instruments.

•  Women's attitude towards each other: they do not trust one another as fit enough to participate in the leadership of the country.

•  The patriarchal system, customs and tradition remain strong barriers. As men dominate our societies, both men and women perceive governance to be a domain for men.

•  Violence against women: the most difficult aspect of governance is at the local level due to amount of violence occurring at that level. A Nigerian participant revealed that such violence deters many women from participating in elections, pointing out that during the 2007 elections, a female candidate for the post of governor was nearly assassinated while five members of her campaign team had their throats slit by opponents.

•  The structure and operation of political parties do not facilitate the integration of women.

•  Existing corruption in some countries discourages women's involvement in politics.

Best practices that can be improved to promote the effective participation of women in governance and the necessary actions to increase the effective participation of women in decision processes and institutions:

Following the identification of obstacles, participants suggested strategies to tackle the many challenges women are faced with. Some have suggested affirmative action measures such as a quota system that would reserve 30% of decision-making position for women, the ratification and domestication of international legal instruments, the establishment of a solid core of women in political parties, capacity building of women and girls in education and gender awareness campaigns.

A Ugandan participant noted that the effective participation of women in institutional processes and decision-making can be achieved only through the establishment a legal framework and an enabling environment. Many agreed with this observation. Citing the example of the Constitution her country adopted in 1995, she noted that the provisions of affirmative action contained in favor of marginalized groups and women have allowed increased representation of women in national legislative bodies. The 'Self Help Approach' initiative attempts to strengthen the capacity of poor women who mostly live in rural areas by bringing them together as a homogeneous collective to allow them to draw tremendous strength from each other.

A participant from Sierra Leone , indicated focus should be on law reform agendas especially on national constitutions, electoral laws and gender equality policies including recruitment policies. She emphasizes on the necessity to effectively implementing laws and policies given the disparities that exist between some countries between the law and the reality on the ground. Meanwhile, another participant from Nigeria noted that the domestication of international conventions as well as the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women is of crucial importance.

Several other possible course actions have been identified. First and foremost, this involves the education available to women and girls, access to trainings, to capacity building leading to their empowerment, to the provision of funds and budgets dedicated to election campaigns, to media coverage and to the promotion of a positive political environment.

Strengthening women's networks that allow resourceful women to meet each other, exchange information and knowledge has also been suggested. The idea is to identify existing networks and use them as role models for others. To do so, women need to become ICT-literate. In addition, collaboration between networks of women activists and human rights activists must be strengthened.

A Cameroonian participant, who believes that politics and money go hand in hand, emphasizes need to economically empower women.

It was also suggested that civil society plays a greater role in the mobilization of women at community level. A Ghanaian participant said her country has registered two women vice-presidential candidates and over one hundred women candidates in the forthcoming legislative elections. It appears that Ghana is making real progresses compared to previous years. She further suggests that countries need to establish a platform with specific goals on gender equality in governance and set up measures for capacity building, leadership training, for transparent criteria of appointments to decision-making positions, for training and awareness programmes on gender issues and women's rights targeting a large number of men and women.

A fellow colleague also pointed out that civil society associations need to conduct an impact assessment survey of their actions on the ground and inform policymakers of their findings. Evaluating their contributions to the development of society in different fields such as education, economy, political is a determining factor in gender equality awareness efforts.

A participant form civil society suggests that recognizing and appreciating the impact of women in governance at all levels (community, national and international) serves as model to future generations. This means documenting, their journeys and the roles they played. ‘Femmes Africa Solidarité' (FAS), an NGO that promotes gender equality in governance has already started this process by formulating clear strategies and producing publications to this end.


Week 3: Women's participation in peace and security initiatives

Main obstacles to the full participation of women in peace consolidation processes, lessons learned and best practices to promote greater participation of women in peace processes

The third week thematic focus was on women's participation in peace and security initiatives. Although we though this choice of topic would generate great interest, we received very few contributions, this in spite of the importance of the subject, particularly in light of the tragedies currently unfolding in African countries such as the DRC and the Sudan .

A participant from Togo noted that separating the issue of women and peace or the meaning of peace for women is as impossible as separating the broader question of relations between men and women in society at large or within a family. However, because of the lack of visibility afforded to women's social, political and economic contributions, and no matter how valuable these are, they remain unaccounted for. This same phenomenon is also noted in the area of peace. Indeed, not only is the role played by women in times of conflict unrecognized and its real value unappreciated, but women are simply excluded from peace processes. Whenever conflicts threatening the stability of the community at the local or national levels arise, women organize themselves to sound the alarm, in spite of the risk this may pose to their lives. Although these actions are very commendable, they often are spontaneous, unstructured and unsustainable. Women deserve to be supported, and their efforts need to be channeled and framed for permanent effects, recorded and distributed nationally and internationally.

Women's participation in peace missions is being increasingly raised as an issue. South Africa 's policy on this matter, which has translated in 40% of the workforce to consist of women, is cited as an example. South Africa has developed an action plan for the implementation of the Security Council's resolution 1325 (SCR), which includes the establishment and coordination of programmes that involve the Department of Foreign Affairs, the police, prison services and the Department of Defense. Furthermore, a national consultation on gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping missions was undertaken and recommendations were made to reform this legislation, to develop mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, to collect sex-disaggregated data to assess progress, and to train peacekeepers on gender issues and women's and human rights. A report on best practices for mainstreaming gender in peacekeeping missions has been produced and will be used for the development and improvement of the action plan for the implementation of SCR 1325 that is currently in progress.

A participant from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stressed the importance of taking the gender dimension into account when dealing with the reforms on security systems entailed in SCR 1325 and. She informed fellow participants of the OECD's forthcoming publication of guidelines for the integration of this concept in the reforms of the security system, which is planned for the end of 2008.


Week 4: Review – Key issues, recommendations and perspectives

During the final week of discussions, a participant from Togo proposed the following recommendations with regards to issues of peace and security. She called on governments to:

•  Establish the elimination of violence as a national priority;

•  Undertake sweeping legislative reforms to protect women against violence, sexual harassment and abuse;

•  Establish training programmes targeting judicial services personnel, health and social workers as well as law enforcement officers;

•  Provide legal literacy programmes and peace education in schools and in the media.

At the national level, civil society in collaboration with development partners are called to:

•  Create or strengthen networks of women or any other persons of good will in favor of peace. Their objectives would be to get involved in the protection and promotion of peace, provide network members and women leaders appropriate training on technical knowhow for conflict negotiation and settlement and to ensure women's role in children's education in order to teach them the basic principles for lasting peace;

•  Plead with the public authorities to implement policies to prevent, contain and reduce violence against women in the family, the workplace and in society at large.

At the sub regional and regional levels, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs are called to:

•  Capitalize from the efforts of national networks in a dynamic manner;

•  Identify peace initiatives in Africa , particularly those involving women and their institutions;

•  Support the nascent movement of African Women for Peace and their initiatives in conflict resolution and peace building;

•  Promote networking among African movements for peace by promoting peace and solidarity missions and exchange of experiences;

•  Facilitate participation in dialogues and negotiations on regional and global issues related to peace;

•  Build the capacity of networks;

•  Ensure that members of networks receive trainings on advocacy, negotiation, conflict management and in preventive diplomacy;

•  Provide institutional support to various national networks.

Specific recommendations for the African Union, which is expected to plead with governments to:

•  Promote women's participation in decision-making at all stages of peace processes;

•  Establish a quota system of men and women in decision-making bodies of the delegations participating in negotiations on peace and disarmament;

•  Support the methods of conflict resolution that would call for mediation and negotiation rather than aggression;

•  Promote women's participation in education programmes for peace in schools, in conferences and in peace campaigns to highlight the importance of women's contributions in mediation and negotiation efforts.