Urgent action and commitment: African girl child’s demand from new chair of the AU

Of utmost importance, African women and girls are convinced the reduction of the ever-increasing military budgets should be reallocated to country-specific development priorities such as health, education, environment and poverty eradication

Congratulations President Cyril Ramaphosa, on your assumption of the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2020! Your ascension into this critical position comes at a significant period when globally, gender equality and women’s rights demand substantive importance and seeks transformative processes that guarantee a life of equality and dignity for all women and girls.

Sir, on this year 2020 and at the ushering in of a new decade, your leadership stands at a pivotal point of significant change as the world convenes to mark the end of the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020), the commemoration of 25 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace, and security, which aligns with the African Union’s theme for the year 2020; Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.

From our expansive experience spanning 32 years and working as a network organization with links in 47 African countries on gender equality and women’s rights, we, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) hereby submit to you our extremely urgent demands to realize the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights during your tenure.

Your excellency, as the Head of State of South Africa, you have demonstrated your political will for the safety of the women and girls of South Africa by your stated national level commitment to end violence against women and girls through the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) launched last year (2019) during the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence.  African women have acknowledged and seen how you listened and acted firmly to the forceful voices and echoes of the lived realities of women and girls, we are certain that if all the commitments you signed to are implemented they are poised to make a difference.

Therefore your Excellency, as demonstrated in your commitment to pick up the gauntlet of ending all forms of violence against women and girls in South Africa, we demand that in your current position you extend the very same commitment to ensuring that no violence against women thrives anywhere in Africa…because no woman is truly free until all women are free!

You cannot fight an evil disease with sweet medicine

As you assume this position as the AU Chairperson for 2020, we remind you that it is extremely concerning that persistent cases of femicides, rape, gender-based violence, xenophobic attacks, abduction and denial of teen pregnant girls to continue with school continue to rise across the continent. The scourge of femicide taints an ugly dent in any leader’s capabilities to safeguard the lives of women and girls in their country. It is time that you and the Heads of State that you will preside over this year adopt an iron-fist approach against offenders as a sustainable deterrent, as the wise Zulu saying goes; Awukwazi ukulwa nesifo esibi ngomuthi omnandi – You cannot fight an evil disease with sweet medicine!

The case in South Africa is representative of all our 55 African countries. We therefore demand at this juncture that your forthright mandate to end all forms of violence against women and girls in Africa will be firm and stern.

We know that all African Heads of State and Government have a primary duty to address systemic and structural barriers that perpetuate gender inequalities and block the fulfillment of women’s human rights. However, despite progress in the enactment of legal and policy frameworks in some countries, a huge gap is lack of the requisite political will to match commitments with adequate investment in resources and reforms.

Why must women and girls in Africa suffer endlessly, demanding for their rights and dignity even in the existence of necessary policy frameworks? Why must women carry the yoke of victimhood year in, year out on our great Continent that was redeemed by the flowing blood of our foremothers and forefathers? Your Excellency, will you also sit back and watch the year go by without acting and committing to the rights of women and girls of Africa? Will you strip us further of our dignity and rights by merely brushing aside our rights to equality and dignity?

We the women and girls of Africa demand your prioritized focus for women and girls of Africa within your mandate in 2020 as the Chairperson of the AU.

We urge you to not only lead in respecting and advancing our rights, but also engage all AU institutions and machineries towards practical and sustainable process to ending violence against women and girls.

We therefore substantively call on you to:

Deliver your commitment to ending violence against women at home and at their places of work by setting the pace in Africa and ratifying the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190 and Recommendation on ending violence and harassment in the world of work including at the African Union Commission.  We are optimistic that as the chair of the AU, you will mobilize other Head of States to ratify, domesticate and submit to ILO progress reports on the progress of implementation;

Ensure that African States accelerate the implementation of the various laws, polices and frameworks like the Maputo Protocol, the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals  and Africa Agenda 2063 that have been adopted to address discrimination of women and gender inequalities. In doing so, States should consider the intersectional identities of women considering the vulnerabilities of adolescent girls and young women, women living in rural areas and informal settings, women with disabilities and sexual minorities among other diversities; 

Ensure structural transformation of African economies by adopting progressive tax systems that ensure resources for social services (education, health & social protection), undertake gender budgeting and adopt national action plans that prioritize women’s rights concerns, engender their national development plans and macro-economic policies and ensure that they are gender transformative and increase allocations for social protection in order to support women and girls to reduce and redistribute domestic and unpaid care work;

Silence all the guns blaring in Africa now! It is a travesty of leadership your Excellency for Africa to be defined as a Continent of endemic wars and conflicts. It is even sadder to note that women and girls carry the entire brunt of these conflicts. In line with the AU 2020 theme of silencing the guns in Africa, we urge you Mr President to ensure annual budgetary allocations to military expenditure in all African countries are transparent and available to the public. Of utmost importance, African women and girls are convinced the reduction of the ever-increasing military budgets should be reallocated to country-specific development priorities such as health, education, environment and poverty eradication;

Galvanize commitment from all African Heads of State and Governments to deliver on the promises of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for equality, sustainable development and peace. Your Excellency, there is a great opportunity towards positively addressing this during the Generation Equality Forum in Paris in July 2020.

Your leadership of our great Continent of Africa comes at a decade that has been declared as the “Decade of Action”. Let this opportunity to accelerate the equality and rights of Africa’s women and girls not pass you by.

Let your legacy be marked as the AU Chair who delivered his commitment to well-being of Africa’s women and girls. We urge you to commit the requisite tangible resources for sustaining an equal and just African society, not only on behalf of South Africa as the President of the Republic of South but also on behalf of Africa as the chairperson of the African Union.

As the women and girls of Africa, we reiterate our hope that you will indeed listen to the voices of women and girls because they matter! Your excellency, remember Ozonda unina, uyazizonda! (He who hates his mother, hates himself).  

A letter by the African women and girls to the new AU chair, 2020, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, on assumption of office at the 33rd AU Summit in Addis. It was signed by leaderships of women organisations across the African Continent

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