Global Policy Forum

Fifteen Years After Beijing




Kudzai Makombe

February 23, 2010

With the Beijing +15 review coming up next week at the Commission on the Status of Women, it seems an appropriate time to have a look at where we are globally in terms of gender equality and women's empowerment in line with the 12 Critical Areas under the Beijing Platform for Action.

Women and poverty
Vulnerable employment has decreased globally by three percentage points since 1997, says UNIFEM in its 2008 annual Progress of the World's Women report. But about 1.5 billion people are still in this category and the share is larger for women at 51.7 per cent. While global progress is important, national-level data indicate that women are still more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in access to education, healthcare and control of assets. For example, in Malawi, there are three poor women for every poor man, and this proportion is increasing.

Education and training of women
According to findings from the twelve African countries where the UN Economic Commission for Africa's African Gender and Development Index (AGDI) was piloted, at primary level, South Africa and Tunisia show higher female enrollment compared to males. Parity in primary enrollment also appears imminent in seven countries (Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda), while for Benin, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia achievement of the MDG 2 target of ensuring that girls and boys will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015 is likely to take longer.

Women and health
HIV, pregnancy-related conditions and tuberculosis continue to be major killers of women aged 15 to 45 globally, the World Health Organisation says in its November 2009 report, 'Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda'. The report also notes that lack of access to education, decision-making positions and income may limit women's ability to protect their own health and that of their families. Though major differences exist in women's health across regions, countries and socio-economic class, women and girls face similar challenges, in particular discrimination, violence and poverty, which increase their risk of ill health.

Violence against women and Women in Conflict
According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 8,000 women were raped by warring factions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year, while over three million young girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation worldwide. The scourge of gender based violence is worsened by the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that out of nearly 1,000 sexual abuse and over 1,500 domestic violence cases reported in Sierra Leone last year, there wasn't a single conviction.

Women in power and decision-making
Women currently comprise an average of 18.7 percent of both the lower and upper houses of parliament globally, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Rwanda, with 56.3 percent, heads the list, followed by Sweden (46.4%), South Africa (44.5%), Cuba (43.2%) and Iceland (42.9%). But according to UNIFEM, even at the current rate of increase of less than one percent from 1975 to 1995, it will take developing countries nearly 50 years to achieve parity unless countries continue establishing quotas or other temporary positive action measures. You can check IPU to see where your country stands.

Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
Although most countries have established national machineries to deal with the Beijing Platform for Action commitments, inadequate financial and human resources, lack of clear focus; uncertainties in co-ordination and limited research have rendered the vast majority of these institutions ineffective.

Human rights of women
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the international human rights treaty for women. Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 18th December 1979, it recently marked its 30th anniversary and has been ratified by 186 countries. Among the AGDI pilot countries, all 12 countries have ratified CEDAW. However, three (Egypt, Ethiopia and Tunisia) have maintained reservations to date. Particularly in the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, these reservations relate to "CEDAW core areas": Articles 2 and 16, which deal with enforcement of non-discrimination and equality in marriage and family life.

Though many countries have integrated non-discriminatory clauses into their constitutions and put in place gender sensitive legislation on marriage, family and property relations, implementation tends to be limited by the continued operation of customary law and limited capacity of enforcement agencies.

Women and the media
According to the 2009 Gender Links study, 'Glass Ceilings: Women and Men in Southern African Media', men remain the predominant employees in media houses in the 14 Southern African Development Community member countries, with men constituting 59 percent of employees. In top management, women comprise only 23 percent of top managers.

On the positive side, where reporting is concerned, there is gender parity (50/50) in the coverage of sports in Botswana, while women constitute 40% of sports reporters in South Africa. Women (83%) also dominate in the coverage of economics/business/finance in South Africa and in Namibia (71%).

Women and the environment
According to the U.N. Population Fund and the Women Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), poor and disadvantaged women are disproportionately affected by natural disasters and are overrepresented in death tolls. For example:
• Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters;

  • More than 70 per cent of the dead from the 2004 Asian tsunami were women; and
• Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans, USA, in 2005, predominantly affected African American women-already the region's poorest, most marginalized community.

The girl/child
Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains one of the commonest harmful traditional practices in many parts of the world, says the UN. It is practiced in more than half of the countries in Africa, with the prevalence ranging from 98 percent in Somalia to five percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 100 million women and girls in Africa have been victims of FGM.

Girls also continue to be affected by son preference, early marriage and pregnancy, trafficking, violence in conflict and post-conflict situations and other forms of gender based violence.


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