A ‘Radical Mind Shift’ is Needed in the Count Down to 2015

Woman-power swept onto the Southern African scene in a visible way in 2012. First, Joyce Banda unexpectedly assumed the post as the first woman President of Malawi in April. She also has the distinction of being the first woman Southern African Development Community (SADC) head of state. Next, South Africa's Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, worked her way through several barriers to become the first woman chair of the African Union Commission after a tough fight in July.

These developments gave an outward show of progress, but only thinly masked the rising anxiety as the clock clicks louder in the count down to 2015. For every step forward, activists counted one-step backward in the collection of data from the 15 countries that informed the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Barometer.

For example in South Africa, while the women's ministry championed a bill for gender equality that covers many key provisions of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, a Traditional Courts Bill that gives sweeping powers to customary courts has prompted women's rights groups into protest action.

The Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance - 15 country networks and eight theme groups that campaigned for the protocol, its ratification, and now its implementation - is gearing up for 2015 - the deadline for the 28 targets of the Gender Protocol and Millennium Development Goal Three (gender equality). Over the last year, the Alliance slogan has progressed from 2015, yes we can! to 2015, yes we must!

The Alliance Think Tank or working group will take the key findings of the barometer to the parallel civil society meeting at the SADC Heads of State Summit in Maputo. The main message to leaders meeting in the Mozambican capital, 16-17 August 2012, is not only that time is running out, but also that there are new priorities and concerns on the agenda.

No sooner had the SADC Gender Protocol gone into force with South Africa becoming the ninth signatory (giving a two-thirds majority of the 13 countries that have signed) that the alliance sought to push the envelope with a new addition to the protocol. Over the last year, momentum has mounted for an Addendum to the Protocol on Gender and Climate Change - a principle accepted by gender ministers in the lead up to the 17th Congress of the Parties (COP17), hosted by South Africa late last year.

An issue close to the heart of Mozambique, the alliance is targeting the 2012 Heads of State Summit in Maputo to make a significant push on this front, under the leadership of the Mozambique country focal network - Forum Mulher. The full alliance steering committee will gather in Johannesburg in mid-August to debrief with the Task Team and the Mozambique delegation. The alliance will use this information to plan a strategy for 2012/2013, including several country and a regional summit early next year under the banner: Count down to 2015!

A few high profile changes in female leadership do little to detract from the underlying patriarchal attitudes, reflected in the shockingly high levels of gender violence revealed by recent prevalence surveys; gender stereotypes in schools; the work place and the media, as well as predominantly male decision-making structures in all areas. Customary law contracts constitutional provisions with few ramifications in many countries.

With few exceptions, the last set of elections have been disappointing: the decrease in women's representation both at national and local level in Zambia last year; persistent low levels of women's representation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the marginal increase in women's representation in the Lesotho national elections in May 2012.

Women still lack access to economic decision-making (26 percent), land, credit and other means of production. They constitute the majority of the poor; the unemployed, the dispossessed and those who work in the informal sector.

Whether in the bedroom or the boardroom, women are effectively rendered voiceless, with little say for example, in the use of male condoms so essential to preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. Women's lack of ‘voice’ reflects in the media, where the proportion of women sources remains stubbornly at 19 percent of the total.

Evidence emerging from prevalence studies in three diverse countries - South Africa, Mauritius and Botswana - shows that one in three if not more women have experienced some form of gender violence over their lifetime, often multiple times, and multiple forms of violence.

One of the major Alliance successes over the last year has been getting gender onto the agenda of constitutional reviews in several countries, notably Zimbabwe and Zambia. Activists are especially fighting for the removal of claw-back clauses and constitutional guarantees of gender equality.

Since the re-launch of the 50/50 campaign in August last year, activists have realised that the way to achieve women's equal representation and participation in decision-making is through Constitutional and legislated provisions. The amendment of the Mauritius Constitution and local government electoral law to allow for quotas is a strategic breakthrough for the island and the region. Detailed projections in the barometer show that if rigorously pursued, these could still raise the level of women's representation to over 30 percent in the remaining twelve elections at local and national level by 2015.

Now that the protocol has been ratified, the focus has shifted quickly to implementation. The SADC Gender Unit, Alliance national focal networks, and Gender Links as the Alliance coordinator, have worked or will work with seven countries over two years to align their action plans to the SADC Gender Protocol and cost its implementation. Alliance members have gathered 100 case studies of the Protocol@work - how this instrument is being used to ring up the changes for gender equality.

In her foreword to the South African Business Womens' Association annual survey on women in the private sector inspired by the SADC Gender Protocol, the president of the association, Kunyalala Maphisa, summed up what is needed when she said: "A radical mind shift: what we need is to shift gear from the slow, incremental changes."

Colleen Lowe Morna and Loveness Jambaya-Nyakujarah, co-editors of the 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer report, are Gender Links CEO, and Alliance and Partnerships Manager, respectively. The article forms part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh view on every day news.

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