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Date: Thu, 25 Nov 1999 16:18:00 -0600 (CST)
From: Arthur R McGee <amcgee@igc.apc.org>
Subject: AFRICA: Assessing Women's Empowerment Since Beijing Summit
Article: 82846
Message-ID: <bulk.23118.19991126211512@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/* Written 8:08 PM Nov 23, 1999 by newsdesk@igc.org in africa.news */
/* ---------- "IPS: RIGHTS-AFRICA: Assessing Women" ---------- */

Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Assessing Women's Empowerment Since Beijing Summit

By Farah Khan, IPS, 23 November 1999

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, Nov 23 (IPS) - Amidst a swathe of colourful cloth and in glorious billowing dresses, 1,500 participants, kicked off the Sixth Regional Conference in Addis Ababa this week, to assess 12 critical areas of concerns which African leaders set out at Beijing, China, and in Dakar, Senegal, in 1995.

The delegates, of whom one third are men, are in the Ethiopian capital to assess how far the continent has come in women's empowerment since the Beijing world conference on women five years ago.

Among the chief challenges they must debate this week (Nov 22- 27) include poverty, the education of girls and women and health. The delegates will also consider the political representation of women at all levels of society.

They might even ask when one of the regular world conferences on women could feature a female African president? The Ugandan vice-president who will lead a discussion on women and peace on Wednesday is the most senior female politician who will be at the African assessment meeting.

Proceedings kicked off Monday when 53 African governments and their shadow non-governmental organisations (NGOS) presented very different pictures of gender advancement on the continent. Government versions painted a far rosier picture than an NGO report, which questioned whether women had moved backward and not forward in many areas of female life.

For the first time, their differences were aired on the same international platform.

Previously, NGO's and government held parallel conferences. For Gladys Mutukwa, who presented the NGO report, the joint venture was an opportunity to "talk to each other and not at each other".

It made for a vibrant - and more honest - dialogue than previous global gender conferences where governments usually use the opportunity to showcase their successes. The government report, which was synthesised into a single summary, shows that countries have prioritised female poverty, health promotion and education as the most critical areas for women's development. Most governments said that new critical areas have emerged in the past five years.

War, economic restructuring and the Aids pandemic have wrought a destructive path through Africa. New economic models have meant that governments must keep a tight rein on spending: thus, education and health budgets are suffering. Wars have diverted resources to military spending.

The Ethiopian president, Negaso Gidada, said, "Africa needs to overcome both the inter-state and intra-state conflicts that continue to sap the energies of its people and to destroy the opportunities for development of women."

And Aids is throwing up several challenges from the growing numbers of Aids orphans who must be cared for to the fact that in some countries, many infected men believe that sex with a girl child will cure them.

The impact of these "new" pressures has been nd NGO's over the next five years.

African governments won conference kudos for constitutional reforms to entrench equality; the national structur some best practices. Women's juries, mobile schools, school enrolment quotas for girls and a children's parliament were all cited as examples of a "culture of hope" that imbued African women.

The report concluded, "Five years is a short time in which to measure development. Durable change is built over time and needs a change in values. The action that has been taken must be lauded." That is the view from government.

The influential NGO's represented at the conference had their own. They found that the past five years has witnessed "some progress" but "considerable deterioration" for

Some rights - like free health care and employment opportunities - have been eroded as African economed. They also complained of a new patriarchy gripping the continent.

The NGO's have called on African governments which have not yet ratified CEDAW to do so by June 2000. CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and it sets a framework for good gender practice.

Signatories to the Convention must pass national laws to turn paper rights into real rights - many countries have not yet done so.

The NGO report has also called for one inor education with specific focus on girl children. Mutukwa concluded, that "The gaps between male and female are growing at all levels."(END/IPS/fk/mn/99)

Origin: Harare/RIGHTS-AFRICA/ [c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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