Assessment of the Implementation of Gender Equality in the African Union Agenda 2063

The African Union’s ( AU ) Agenda 2063 breaks down into seven aspirations Africa’s development vision for the next 50 years. To ensure the realization of all these aspirations, a ten-year plan for the implementation of the Agenda has been drawn up. This extends from 2014 to 2023 and defines “ a set of objectives, priority areas and targets that the continent intends to achieve at the national, regional and continental levels ” (1 ). Aspiration 6 highlights an “ Africa whose development is people-driven, that relies on the potential of its people, especially women and youth, that cares about the well-being of children “. To this aspiration are added several objectives. In relation to the goal entitled “full equality between men and women in all spheres of life”, the ten-year action plan identified as priority areas the empowerment of women and girls, the reduction of violence and discrimination against women and girls. The transformational results expected by 2023 are ( 2 ):

  • All barriers related to women owning or inheriting property or a business, signing a contract, owning or managing a bank account will be removed.
  • At least one in five women would have access to and control of productive assets.
  • Gender parity in control, representation and advancement will be the norm in all AU Organs and Regional Economic Communities (REC).
  • All forms of violence against women would have been reduced by a third.
  • All harmful social norms and customary practices will be gone.

As the first ten-year action plan for the implementation of the AU ‘s Agenda 2063 draws to a close, it is appropriate to question the achievements of this objective. An assessment of the forecasts and actions associated with the gender equality goal suggests a mixed result due to several obstacles in the implementation of the planned goals.

Mixed Results in Taking Gender Equality into Account

Parity is a principle strongly encouraged by the AU both at the level of standards and institutions. Understood in this way, the Member States are called upon to respect this regional commitment by guaranteeing, by all means, the personal, professional and economic development of women. It is in this perspective that the first ten-year implementation plan for Agenda 2063 established a set of results to be achieved by 2023 ( 3 ). An overall analysis of the state of the areas identified highlights mixed results.

With regard to the removal of all obstacles related to women owning or inheriting property or a business, signing a contract or owning a bank account by a woman , the progress is not significant. Access to land ownership, for example, remains a thorny problem. Although women make up 50% of the agricultural labor force ( 4 ), they are less than 15% of landowners ( 5 ). In North Africa, the issue of women’s possession and inheritance continues to be taboo. The Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian Family Codes operate a gender discrimination in the division of family property, because of a rigorous interpretation of the Koran. Indeed in these Maghreb countries, “ the woman inherits only half of what a man of the same degree of kinship inherits, the rest going to male family members, even distant ones ” ( 6 ) . At the level of business management, the trends are also low. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 16% of women are business managers ( 7 ). Only South Africa has the highest percentage of female business managers, at 39% (Ibid.).

These early data negatively impact women’s access to productive assets and market outlets ( 8 ). As for gender parity in terms of control, representation and advancement in the organs of the AU and the RECs , the results are appreciable. We note for example that out of six commissioners of the AU , four are women ( 9 ). Similarly, in the composition of all organs, including the African Court, there is a majority of women (Ibid.). Since February 2021, a woman has occupied for the first time the post of Vice-President of the African Union Commission ( AUC ) ( 10 ). Data published by the Women, Gender and Development Division of the AUC in 2017 thus show that even if the principle of parity is not yet effective in all the organs of the AU , we observe a satisfactory progress between 2013 and 2017. Only the AUC and its organs have respected parity since 2013 , or 50%. At the level of liaison officers, the representation of women increased from 8% to 25%; at the level of representation offices, it has increased from 15 to 25% and at the level of general services, there is a very slight increase of 36 to 37% ( 11 ). At the level of the REC, on the other hand , no woman holds the presidency of the general secretariat.

With regard to the reduction by a third of all forms of violence against women and the eradication of all harmful social norms and customary practices, some countries have achieved more satisfactory results than others. For example, The Gambia and Tanzania have banned child marriage and instituted harsh penalties for violators ( 12 ). In contrast, Niger (76%), the Central African Republic and Chad (both 68%) have the highest rate of child marriage in the world (Ibid.). These early marriages continue to fuel practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced in some communities from 29 countries ( 13 ). In addition, there is still a high rate of feminicides in several African countries (Nigeria, Cameroon). In South Africa, crimes against women increased by 50% in 2022. According to data released by the police in this state, rape and sexual assault have increased by 13% since 2021-2022 ( 13 ). These various mixed results are caused by a number of factors that make it uncertain whether the expected results will be achieved in 2023.

Factors Slowing Progress on Gender Equality

The achievement of the transformational gender equality results envisioned in the first 10-year implementation plan of the AU Agenda 2063 is uncertain. Several factors obstruct the actions undertaken by the AU.

The first factor is the differential commitment of states and the heterogeneity of African political customs and traditions. More explicitly, not all African states give the same importance to regional legal instruments that guarantee gender equality or parity. For example, out of 55 countries in the AU, 36 have signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol, 15 have signed and not ratified it and 3 have neither signed nor ratified it ( 14 ). This is the consequence of the existence of several customs and legal traditions in Africa. Indeed, the Christian-Muslim opposition impacts the integration of regional laws into national laws as well as the existence of certain customary practices. Several bishops of countries mainly populated by Christians have, for example, opposed article 14 of the Maputo protocol, which advocates the liberalization of abortion ( 15 ). In Muslim countries, the opposition is fiercer insofar as the Maputo protocol prohibits several practices that are still common in these countries (limits imposed on the age of marriage for girls, abortion, etc.) ( 16 ). Furthermore, the persistence of problems related to women’s inheritance in all African countries is the result of a lack of political will. Some legal systems continue to keep the woman under the guardianship of her husband in the management of family property. Still others allow traditional customs to predominate in the distribution of inheritance, while the laws in principle make no gender distinction in access to land, land ownership or any other possession.

The second factor is the multiplicity of plans and programs which identify the objectives to be achieved in terms of gender equality at disparate dates. For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Program plans to achieve the SDGs , including the one on gender equality by 2030; Agenda 2063 as well as the ten-year plan envisages the achievement of the same objective in 2063. All these programs with different deadlines can negatively influence the expected results. Local governments may perceive a lack of synergy and a loophole to circumvent or slow down the equality process. By way of illustration, we observe a regression in terms of gender equality in Tunisia, due to the modification of the electoral law initiated on September 15, 2022 by the Tunisian President. This removes the principle of parity between the sexes in elective assemblies. However, this principle of parity enshrined in the Constitution and the electoral law of 2014 had enabled the country to have a female representation of 68 women in Parliament ( 17 ). Moreover, all these challenges mentioned above are not irreversible. Overcoming them relies on the implementation of practical solutions that adapt to different national and customary contexts.

For a Better Consideration of Gender Equality

Some avenues favorable to taking into account gender equality should be considered in the second ten-year plan for the implementation of Agenda 2063 of the AU . First, African states should ratify all regional instruments on gender equality without making reservations. If the provisions of these instruments conflict with the religious or customary values specific to certain countries, the disputed articles may be reinterpreted. For example, States that are against medical abortion (Christians and Muslims) advocated in Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol, must take legislative measures that punish the perpetrators of incest, marital rape, sexual assault and provide high-quality medical follow-up at a lower cost to pregnant women. The direct consequence of such measures will be that women will no longer need to resort to medical abortion, because the threats that justify this measure will have disappeared or drastically diminished. To ensure the success of this strategy, African governments must set up public and private cells (in association with NGOs) for the liberalization of speech, as well as psychological cells to allow women victims of violence to denounce the culprits and the facts without undergoing family and social pressures.

With regard to early marriages, African governments must adopt measures against local and traditional authorities who continue to perform the marriage of minors. In addition, similar measures must be taken against individuals who practice female genital mutilation. In terms of the representation of women in the RECs , the AU must guarantee parity within the various commissions, so as to fill the gender gap that exists at the head of these institutions.

Finally, the AU must harmonize the deadlines for the achievement of gender equality objectives. For example, maintain the strategy of the decanal plan by asking each State to identify gender inequalities according to political and customary specificities and commit to eradicating them in ten years. More explicitly, each State will have to choose, per decade, a set of objectives on which it intends to focus for total eradication on the scheduled date. It is at this price that the objectives enshrined in the AU Agenda 2063 in terms of gender equality will be achieved.

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Aboudi Vanessa is a Research Associate in the Democracy and Governance Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Yaoundé II and is particularly interested in governance and gender issues. She is the author and co-author of several articles published in national and international journals.

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