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Again Morocco not on agenda of ECOWAS summit

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ECOWAS Heads of state still wont discuss membership of Morocco. (NAN)

Morocco is not on the agenda of the 54th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS’ Heads of State and Government, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.

Morocco had requested to be a member of ECOWAS while Tunisia requested to be an observer country.

The 51st Ordinary Session held in Monrovia, Liberia in June 2017 agreed, in principle, to Morocco’s membership of the sub-regional bloc and directed the commission to consider the implications of the country’s membership.

The commission confirmed that study on the impact of Morocco’s membership was carried out and the outcome would be submitted to the Authority.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry had reportedly said that the country had to wait until the first quarter of 2018 to know the decision of the ECOWAS Heads of State, which would be announced at an extraordinary session.

The decision was, however, expected to be considered at the 2018 session taking place in Abuja on Saturday.

The summit would, nevertheless, consider the reports on ECOWAS Single Currency, the political situation in Guinea Bissau and Togo among any other business.

According to the Draft Work Programme, the session would also sign Community Acts and Decisions and read to the ECOWAS Political Declaration and Common Position on the Return of Cultural Artefacts to Africa.

The Authority would also consider the Annual Report of ECOWAS, reports of the 41st Ordinary Meeting of the Mediation and Security Council and the 81st Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers. (NAN)

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Women Empowering Africa

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Women in Egypt Via Wikimedia Commons

CAIRO – 7 January 2018:The Business for Africa and the World summit, Africa 2018, focuses during its first day on the theme “Women Empowering Africa.” The summit will discuss ways to further empower African women and to enhance their engagement as agents for change in the continent through active participation in shaping economic and social policies. It seeks to mobilize established and emerging women leaders from across Africa to propel their success as well as provide a platform for them to showcase and celebrate their achievements.

Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path toward gender equality and respect for women’s rights, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. But they often face discrimination and persistent gender inequalities, with some women experiencing multiple discrimination and exclusion because of intersectional identities including ethnicity or social class. Gender discrimination means women often end up in insecure and low-wage jobs. It restricts women’s access to economic assets such as land, loans and productive assets. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities. Hence, women’s participation in shaping economic and social policies is very limited.

Having empowered women in any country means great reduction in dependence rates, reduction in violence against women, increased house- hold income leading to an improved standard of living. Women’s economic participation and empowerment enables them to have control over their lives and exert influence in society. It leads to independent decision making regarding career, education, health in general and reproductive health in particular, investments and rights. Therefore, it is inevitable that empowering women economically will directly enhance sound public policies leading to any country’s development and equal distribution of resources.

The approach to empower women economically was first recognized at the Beijing conference, the fourth global conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace in 1995. Ac- cording to the Beijing platform of action, the areas that need improvement if the position of women is to be improved include: reducing poverty among women, stopping violence, providing access to education and healthcare and reducing economic and political inequality. Twenty years later, the Sustain- able Development Goals (SDGs) were launched, in line with Goal 5 called for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030. The global development agenda suggests that emphasis should be placed on the preconditions necessary for women to become economically empowered and that gender-aware economic policies should be promoted to advance both economic and social development.

Both the Beijing platform of action and the SDGs should no longer be viewed as a set of aspirations, but must be used as a tool to push for the adoption of gender-sensitive policies and to emphasize the accountability of all actors. They should also in- form partnerships for women’s economic empowerment and translate to increased dialogue among development actors to improve support for women at the global level.

Despite global improvement in the health and education levels of women and girls, no such progress has been seen in economic opportunity as women continue to consistently trail men in formal labor force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship rates, income levels, and inheritance and ownership rights. Women can no longer be discounted as the weaker sex, particularly given their impressive success as micro-entrepreneurs around the world and as thoughtful leaders and community-builders. Under-investing in women limits development, slows down poverty reduction and economic growth.

Status of gender equality in Africa

Gender equality in the African continent witnessed some progress; but African women are held back from fulfilling their potential by many constraints, whether as leaders in public life, in board- rooms, or in owning and growing their businesses. The constraints are not only limited to widespread poverty, but also include social constrains, lack of access to education, poor health and highly segmented labor markets. Despite the fact that women of Africa make a sizeable contribution to the continent’s economy by growing most of Africa’s food, they remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some areas of the law, such as family laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and land rights, limit women’s economic rights, hindering their economic and social decision-making and restricting their ability to enter into contracts to own, administer, or inherit assets and property.

By limiting women’s options and alternatives, such laws hinder their ability to contribute as economic and social actors to Africa’s development. Furthermore, gender inequalities are exacerbated by weak institutional structure, particularly among those mandated to promote gender equality such as ministries for women, and by lack of reliable gender statistics.

In 2015, the African Development Bank (AFDB) launched the “Africa Gender Equality Index”, a comprehensive tool that provides ongoing evidence on gender equality for 52 of Africa’s 54 countries. The index is designed to promote development and inform actions in three important dimensions of gender equality that can bring out change: economic empowerment, human development, and laws and institutions.

The Gender Equality Index concludes that across

Africa, women and men often experience different opportunities conditions and privileges; they earn different wages, do not have the same access to education and are not always equal before the law. It also shows that gender inequality in Africa is exacerbated by the fact that primary development policies in many African countries, known as poverty reduction strategies, still do not take into account differences in income and power between men and women, hampering efforts to finance programs that reduce inequality. This in turns holds back the productive potential of more than one billion Africans and negatively affects the continent’s economy.

It also highlights that the most inhibiting factor is that women in Africa continue to be denied an education, often their only ticket out of poverty. Disparities between girls and boys start in primary school and the differences widen up through the entire educational system. Since the early 1990s, Africa registered the highest relative increase among region in total primary school enrollment due to policies specifically targeting girls – but the continent is still far behind. African education-gender-responsive policies included special programs to sensitize parents through media, reducing school fees for girls in public primary schools in rural areas and increasing the proportion of female teachers to equalize the gender balance among teachers as Africa has the lowest global proportion of female teachers. Also, many African countries embarked on programs to build latrines, assist pregnant students and distribute free textbooks. On the high school and collage levels, the gender gap becomes even wider especially in science, mathematics, computer sciences and technical programs. On the bright side, the index shows that Africa has registered improvements in adult literacy rates. However, in some countries the female illiteracy rates are still much higher than the regional average of about 50%.

Widespread poverty also hampers the expansion of education in Africa; poorer families often face the stark choice of deciding whom to send to school and often it is the girl who stays home. Costs of tuition, the requirement to wear uniforms, long distances between home and school, in- adequate water and sanitation, all are factors that further re- strict girls’ access to education. Moreover, poverty in Africa continues to wear a woman’s face as women make up the majority of the poor, as much as 70% in some countries.

The gender gap in employment remains high in terms of pay, labor segregation and access to support from institutions such as banks. Women dominate informal sector employment and they work 50% longer than men but they rarely own land.When they do, their holdings tend to be smaller and less fertile than those of men. Removing the hurdles women face in their economic activities, which are mainly concentrated in the informal sector, will help unlock potential for economic growth in the continent. For example, the Gender Equality index shows that if women farmers had the same access to inputs and capacity building as males, overall yields could be raised by between 10 and 20%.

Poor infrastructure, including clean water, sanitation, electricity and transport, in the majority of African countries also limits women’s economic participation and impacts how women allocate their time. Thus, efforts to provide affordable infrastructure for water, food and energy in Africa will help women engage in more productive market activities and promote growth.

One area where Africa is showing progress in relation to world averages is in women’s political participation. Seventeen African countries established quotas for women’s political participation at the national and sub-national levels. As a result, in women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments in 11 African countries, more than in Europe. African women also have made significant strides in the continental political body, the African Union (AU), in 2003 five women and five men were elected as AU commissioners. The following year, the AU’s Pan-African Parliament was headed by a woman and ever since; women make up 25% of AU members.

Actions by Africa countries to achieve gender parity

Despite the presence of national government bodies that deal with gender issues in almost all African countries, since Beijing, these units, departments or ministries showed weakness and inability to be responsive to the challenges presented by the struggle for gender justice in the continent, according to discussions at the African Social Forum in Lusaka, Zambia in 2004. They have poor resources, few staff and no power or authority within governments to advance equality and justice for women.

However, a number of African countries took action to redress the bias in macroeconomic policies that favor men and boys at the expense of women and girls through adopting an approach known as gender budgeting. This approach drives countries to allocate a percentage of its national budget to implement gender-trans- formative programs; guided by a thorough analysis of governments’ spending choices and their impact on women and men, boys and girls to identify dis- parities. In turn, it helps mobilize more financing to narrow the gaps.

Some African countries also adopted a women- quota system to increase attention to reform in areas like family law, and affirmative action policies that address economic inclusion, land rights and increasing women presence in decision making positions including in businesses.

Women Economic Empowerment themes discussed at Africa 2018

Pro-women policies can drive change

To enable women to escape poverty, African development policies should place more emphasis on women contributions to the economy through labor force participation or entrepreneurship. Policies should also facilitate the process of obtaining basic opportunities for women and actively thwarting attempts to deny those opportunities.

Promoting African women’s ability to influence how decisions are made, how public policies are shaped and how resources are allocated can have a significant impact on boosting their productivity rapidly.

The first step is to build knowledge for evidence- based policy making that is based on real-time diagnosis and analysis of the current landscape. Next is reforming and enforcing laws. While all African countries recognize the principle of nondiscrimination in their constitutions, the traditional practices are not in sync especially in areas like marital property, inheritance, land ownership and labor where women are not treated as full citizens. By custom, often only male heads of households are able to enter into contract, travel and access markets. Many men also exercise sole control over household finances even when the women contribute equally to the household’s earnings. As a result, women’s participation in society and the economy continues to be mediated by male members of their families.

Introducing reforms to available laws, including family laws, to increase the minimum marital age for women, remove the husband’s ability to deny the wife permission to work outside the home, requiring the consent of both spouses to manage marital property and guaranteeing women access to reproductive health services including family planning commodities; can lead to increased levels of women’s labor participation and levels of vocational skills that increase women ability to move from self- employment into more sustainable entrepreneur- ship.

Adopting a pro-women agenda of action

Translating gender-sensitive policies and laws re- quires a progressive pro-women economic agenda of actionable strategies, plans, justice mechanisms, programs and interventions to strengthen African women’s economic empowerment in all sectors. Such an agenda can also facilitate the elaboration of a clear road map that supports increased country level dialogue on gender equality, contributes to closing the gender pay gap and maximizing women’s economic security.

Actionable steps to promote gender equality include adopting gender-responsive free trade agreements and agriculture policies that ensure women’s access to local and regional markets, support women’s access to agroprocessing and post-harvest management, investing in regional centers for excellence and business incubation hubs to foster training and learning processes focusing on women’s financial literacy training for women and entrepreneurs, increasing countries’ focus on providing financial services for women, including loans, savings, guarantee schemes, insurance and grants, and building partnerships with the private, social and voluntary sectors. Countries should also seek to address constraints on women’s access to quality employment in the formal sector and invest in promoting women’s access to new and labor-saving agricultural technologies to boost production, including innovative technologies aimed at supporting climate-smart agricultural approaches.

Removing hurdles faced by African women can create future business leaders and drive growth

To end poverty and accelerate development in the continent, women in Africa must be able to develop their full potential as business leaders. According the AfDB Gender Index, African women are both economically active and highly entrepreneurial. They form the backbone of Africa’s agricultural labor force, and they own and operate the majority of businesses in the informal sector. However, they are predominantly in low-value-added occupations that generate little economic return and they face an array of barriers that prevent them from moving into more productive pursuits. The challenge in Africa is not one of encouraging women to be more economically active, but rather to remove the barriers to women becoming more efficient business leaders.
Outside agriculture, African women’s labor force participation rates are high throughout Africa, except in North Africa. However, African labor markets are heavily gender segregated, with women working primarily in low- paying occupations. African women are far more likely to be self-employed in the informal sector than to earn a regular wage through formal employment where they earn on average two-thirds the salary of their male colleagues.

– EGYPT TODAY

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Unimaginable horror faced by African migrants – UN Report

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Migrants in Libya: Migrated into slavery and suffering

Migrants and refugees are being subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the moment they enter Libya and throughout their stay in that country, a UN report has stated.

The report, released by the United Nations Political Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), also showed the horrors of attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The findings were based on 1,300 first-hand accounts gathered by UN human rights staff in Libya itself as well as from migrants who had returned to Nigeria.

It also featured accounts of Nigerians who managed to reach Italy, tracing the entire journey of migrants and refugees from Libya’s southern border across the desert to the northern coast.

“There is a local and international failure to handle this hidden human calamity that continues to take place in Libya,” said Ghassan Salamé, head of UNSMIL.

From unlawful killings, arbitrary detention and torture, to gang rape, slavery, and human trafficking, the report covers a 20-month period up to August 2018.

It detailed a terrible litany of violations and abuses committed by a range of state officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees.

The climate of lawlessness in Libya provides fertile ground for illicit activities, leaving migrants and refugees “at the mercy of countless predators who view them as commodities to be exploited and extorted,” the report said.

It noted that “the overwhelming majority of women and older teenage girls” report having been “gang raped by smugglers or traffickers.”

Many people were sold from one criminal group to another and held in unofficial and illegal centres run directly by armed groups or criminal gangs.

The report said: “Countless migrants and refugees lost their lives during captivity by smugglers after being shot, tortured to death or simply left to die from starvation or medical neglect.

Migrants struggling at mid sea after boat capsizes
Migrants struggling at mid sea after boat capsizes

“Across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert.’’

Those who managed to survive the abuse and exploitation, and attempted the perilous Mediterranean crossing, were increasingly being intercepted or “rescued” by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Since early 2017, the approximately 29,000 migrants returned to Libya by the Coast Guard were placed in detention centres where thousands remained indefinitely and arbitrarily without due process or access to lawyers or consular services.

UN staff visiting 11 detention centres, where thousands of migrants and refugees were being held, documented torture, ill-treatment, forced labour and rape by the guards.

Migrants held in the centres were systematically subjected to starvation and severe beatings, burned with hot metal objects, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment with the aim of extorting money from their families through a complex system of money transfers.

The detention centres were characterised by severe overcrowding, lack of ventilation and lighting and insufficient washing facilities and latrines.

In addition to the abuses and violence committed against the people held there, many of them suffered from malnutrition, skin infections, acute diarrhoea, respiratory-tract infections and other ailments as well as inadequate medical treatment.

Children are held with adults in the same squalid conditions, the report found.

The report pointed to the apparent “complicity of some state actors, including local officials, members of armed groups formally integrated into state institutions  and representatives of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence in the smuggling or trafficking of migrants and refugees.”

Dead migrants washed up on shores of Italy
Dead migrants washed up on shores of Italy

The UN independent human rights expert on torture, Nils Melzer, estimated that given the risks of facing human rights abuses in the country, transfers and returns to Libya could be considered a violation of the international legal principle of “non-refoulement”.

Non-refoulement protects asylum seekers and migrants against returns to countries where they have reason to fear violence or persecution.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, while reacting to the condition faced by migrants and refugees in Libya, said: “The situation is utterly dreadful”.

“Tackling the rampant impunity would not only end the suffering of tens of thousands of migrant and refugee women, men and children seeking a better life, but also undercut the parallel illicit economy built on the abuse of these people and help establish the rule of law and national institutions,” Bachelet said.

The report called on European States to reconsider the human costs of their policies and ensure that their cooperation and assistance to the Libyan authorities are respectful of human rights and in line with international human rights and refugee law.

This is to ensure that they do not, directly or indirectly result in men, women and children being trapped in abusive situations with little hope of protection and remedy, the report said. (NAN)

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Africa’s richest woman speaks on economic empowerment of women

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At a United Nations debate in New York, Isabel dos Santos, who is currently the richest woman in Africa, spoke of the economic empowerment of African women as a key to transforming society.

This and many of her other hopeful and encouraging messages have inspired many citizens in African countries, mainly young women, to pursue their ambitions in business.

Dos Santos believes that some of the most promising and successful businesspeople in the world have been African because of the continent’s entrepreneurial spirit.

This spirit, however, has been weighed down by the stigmatization of women in the workplace.

This has robbed the economy of valuable innovators and has barred women from achieving their ambitions. But by ensuring that young women can access the same education, job opportunities, and potential for growth as men, dos Santos believes that she can change this attitude and instill a national confidence in women.

This type of thinking falls in line with her more general philosophy of reform: “First the seed, then the future.”

This dictum seems to urge against immediate change and, instead, encourages slow and steady growth.

The seeds that Isabel dos Santos thinks ought to be planted are also tied up in the economic freedom of women – by creating jobs, providing training, and breaking sexist stigmas, she believes that women can experience increased financial stability while giving their home countries more influence in the international economy.

Isabel Dos Santos has spent a lot of time planting these seeds in Africa, focusing her efforts in her home country of Angola where she meets with young people and speaks with them about the power of entrepreneurship. Sometimes, she visits them in small, personable rooms at universities and other institutions, other times in much larger ones during her speeches and debates. Most tellingly, she refers to famous African entrepreneurs as a “great family” and invites everyone with the motivation to work hard and come join them.

She often encourages young women to leverage the world’s increased reliance on technology and artificial intelligence, which she refers to as “digitalization”. She believes working toward innovations in technology is key to increasing Africa’s presence in the international economy while flooding the continent with unique employment opportunities. With just a computer and internet connection, unemployed or underpaid citizens can find more work, sometimes with the higher wages that are more commonplace in developed countries, to support their families and stimulate their local economies.

During a conversation with students at the University of Warwick interested in developing Africa, dos Santos tells a young woman who is eager to accomplish her ambitions “now” that she has to be patient and have not just a goal but a string of subgoals to reach it. She goes on to encourages the student to involve herself as deeply as she can in the decision processes that influence that goal, and also to understand that sometimes it’s important to just focus on school, other times on a career or starting a business. This type of advice for strategic hesitance can be found in many of her speeches.

Isabel dos Santos is the daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s long-time former president. Much of her wealth came from her investments and her previous position as the chairwoman of an oil company owned by the state called Sonangol. Dos Santos considers herself an independent businesswoman and investor and has become Africa’s first females billionaire. Forbes ranks her as the 9thwealthiest billionaire in Africa for 2018.

For young businesswomen in various African countries, her success story has been a beacon of hope. But dos Santos has told various reporters that her rise to riches was marred by the sexism she had to endure in a male-dominated African business world. She has no shortage of stories concerning prejudice and discrimination based on her gender, such as during business meetings where the people she’s negotiating with would look to her male assistant, advisor, or lawyer for validation though she already stated her offer. She is also frequently asked what business her husband is in when her wealth is made clear.

Despite her tribulations in the business world, Isabel dos Santos has maintained a charitable and hopeful perspective on life and takes on many projects geared toward improving small communities and local economies. One of these projects was in Humpata, in the province of Huila, where dos Santos helped establish a strawberry field, “planting the seed” to empower citizens. This project gave 120 women a place to work and a new income. On her website, dos Santos says:

“Creating opportunities and employment for women means betting on the progress of the communities themselves. When they thrive, women invest their income in the family, health, and education. I value this as a sense of duty, commitment, and dedication. The impact that women create around them is powerful and transformative.”

She calls on other African entrepreneurs to give back to their countries by investing in similar projects. Though they seem small-scale, she believes that with enough support, this type of philanthropic work can create a value chain large enough to impact the national economy. As a result, smaller communities will have more prosperous citizens and influence. Should those new entrepreneurs be African women, then dos Santos hopes that their success will help chip away at the stigma that women are less competent than men.

This is all part of one of Isabel dos Santos’ larger goals to increase the prosperity of African countries as a whole. She plans to accomplish this by working from the ground up, focusing on the individual, such as the promising young men and woman of various African countries. By empowering them, she is, in turn, empowering their communities. This creates value within towns that have historically not had the chance to prosper, and by strengthening local economies, the national economy itself is bolstered.

“This is the true transformation of a country,” she says. It starts with a little hope and promise, with planting the “seeds”, and then, through the hard work of a community’s individuals, a brighter future can be earned.” (APO)

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