African women set to drive continent’s resurgence: AU official (Interview)

July 23rd, 2012 - 3:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Addis Ababa, July 23 (IANS) It’s a dream come true for African women, says Litha Musyimi-Ogana, the African Union’s chief pointsperson on gender issues as she hails the election of the first female head of the AU Commission, saying more women in positions of power will spur the continent’s resurgence.

“We are extremely elated about the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has broken the glass ceiling by becoming the first elected woman head of the AU Commission. It’s good news for Africa and for the African women,” Musyimi-Ogana, director, women, gender and development directorate, in the AU Commission, told IANS in an interview here.

After a bitterly-fought election for the 54-nation AU’s top job last week, it’s business as usual at the glittery Chinese-built AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

But one can still sense a surge of jubilation among women who are still rejoicing in the victory of Dlamini-Zuma, who has joined a small club of power women in Africa, which includes Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, and Malawi President Joyce Banda.

“There can’t be a better person than Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma to occupy this post as she actively fought for gender parity even when she was the foreign minister of South Africa. It’s a dream come true for us,” said Musyimi-Ogana, an impassioned advocate for women’s rights.

“Africa is providing leadership in the area of women’s empowerment, transforming things on the ground and opening doors for women to enter public life,” she said. She reels off an impressive array of statistics to underline the unstoppable march of African women as they conquer new heights in their quest for empowerment and parity.

“In Senegal, 42 percent of the legislators are women. In Rwanda, 56 percent of parliament comprises women. In South Africa, around 40 percent legislators are women.”

Sporting floral headgear and a traditional African gown, Musyimi-Ogana is upbeat about the prospects of women empowerment in the continent and envisages new milestones that are waiting to be scaled.

“Unlocking the potential of women can unlock the potential of a nation. Putting women in power and decision-making bodies will help spur the African resurgence,” she said.

Musyimi-Ogana’s enthusiasm chimes with the spirit of the AU declaring the 2010-2020 period as the decade of women’s empowerment.

The AU has set up a fund for women which includes 1 percent of contributions made by member-states for the AU. The AU is supporting 53 grassroots projects in 27 countries to advance the empowerment of women.

True, there are formidable obstacles in the path of gender empowerment with high child mortality rate, poor health services, disparity in education and scant economic opportunities, despite the fact that women are integral to Africa’s food security.

But the situation of women in Africa, said Musyimi-Ogana, has shown a steady incremental improvement over the last decade. It’s a silent revolution in the making, with pan-African institutions like the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) incorporating gender parity and empowerment in their polices and practices.

Musyimi-Ogana has been among a handful of spirited women in this battle for gender parity in Africa. She played an important role in getting the NEPAD to create Gender and Civil Society Organizations Unit in 2004 that seeks to bring women’s issues into policies, programmes and activities of the organization.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which includes periodic audits of the policies and practices of African countries to evaluate progress in promoting democracy, good governance and economic management, now also includes steps taken by them to promote and protect women’s rights, and the laws and policies they have adopted to enhance the participation of women in society.

According to estimates by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an average 16.8 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women in sub-Saharan Africa.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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