Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro has warned that glaring gender disparities experienced by African countries will undermine efforts to achieve sustainable development across the continent, adding that climate change and economic turmoil impact women’s lives disproportionately.
Speaking at the close of the Sixth African Development Forum, Ms. Migiro called on government leaders to “act decisively and urgently” to include women in all levels of decision-making, and to develop policies and legislation that promote women’s land and property rights.
The conference, which wrapped up on Friday, was aimed at identifying practical and concrete action for members to take on gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women.
The Deputy-Secretary General noted that clear gender gaps exist in health, higher education, employment and empowerment, and that these inequalities were likely to threaten recent gains evidenced in some African economies.
She also warned that the combined crises of climate change, the global financial meltdown, and high food and fuel prices affect women in ways that are different to men and have the potential to deepen and widen existing gender inequalities, underscoring remarks she had made earlier that day to the Africa Commission.
“Women in Africa, and throughout the developing world, are largely responsible for household water supply and energy for cooking and heating. They are also largely responsible for food security,” Ms. Migiro told the three-day meeting in Addis Ababa.
“[But] they suffer unequal access to resources, land, technologies and other assets,” she added.
“Food protests in some African countries and elsewhere in the world show the potential of this crisis to generate instability. Indeed, food protests have been precursors to civil conflict and unrest.”
To achieve fair and sustainable rural development, it is necessary to go beyond short-term solutions, such as emergency food aid, and address the underlying causes of food insecurity by providing women and girls with access to secure land rights, irrigation water, clean energy sources and agricultural technology, according to Ms. Migiro.
“Women’s empowerment is central to raising levels of nutrition, improving production and distribution of food and agricultural products and enhancing the living conditions of rural populations in countries where income and livelihood are derived from these resources.”
She added that if women are involved in the decision-making process, the solutions will be more responsive to their concerns and to the concerns and needs of communities, and that women’s perspectives are a prerequisite for sustainable development.
“We cannot afford to exclude women and girls from mainstream development. I call on government leaders to act decisively and urgently. When it comes to women’s empowerment, there can be no more business as usual.”
The three-day conference was jointly organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).