Since the adoption of the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development by the Heads of State and Government in September 1997 in Blantyre Malawi, a new impetus for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in the SADC region was demonstrated. While the adoption of the Declaration was an important development and achievement in itself, the practical implementation of measures to achieve the commitments and objectives of the Declaration should point to important areas of progress and achievements.
Notwithstanding the positive actions and efforts taken by Member States to initiate the necessary improvements, the pace of implementation of programmes and initiatives on gender equality and the empowerment of women is slow and uneven across the SADC countries. Political will and efforts have, however, too often not been systematic and not developed with a deep understanding of how critical gender equality is for democratic governance and development. Adequate funding and resources for the effective implementation of commitments is often still sadly lacking. Member States’ attention should also be drawn to the creation of enabling environments needed for the realization of women’s human rights. Where this basic ground work has not been established, efforts to achieve women’s empowerment and gender equality encounter obstacles.
As the regional body of Parliaments in the SADC region, the SADC Parliamentary Forum is motivated by the Heads of State and Government’s endorsement of the process to come up with a SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. A Protocol as opposed to a Declaration would move the SADC region from the realm of commitment to that of implementation as well as placing this region at the forefront and cutting edge on the achievement of one of the frontiers of democracy and human rights, namely, gender equality. It is also a recognition of going beyond numbers in order to transform societies. By pointing out to what has been achieved it also demonstrates how much remains to be done and that success is still possible in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Parliamentarians have a primary role of monitoring the implementation of agreements and policies which have been agreed to by the Executive. This can only be effective when Parliamentarians are committed to performing their oversight function on the implementation of the Protocol on Gender at national and regional levels. The Forum catalyses parliamentary actions that contribute to the attainment of a conducive environment for peace, gender equality and equity, human rights and democratic governance. Gender equality is achievable if political leaders act now and there is a clear need for political leaders to take urgent and concerted action or many millions of people will not realize the basic promises of development. This will require inclusive sound governance by both women and men, good policies and practical strategies and budgets for investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment. If all concerned live up to the commitments already made more could be accomplished.
In addition, the Forum realizes that attention to the participation of women in positions of power and decision making is essential to achieving gender equality and sound democratic governance in the region. The present ideal of participatory democracy implies the participation and contribution of all parts of the population without regard to class, sex, gender, ethnic or religious background. Including women, who constitute half of the populations of SADC countries will necessarily imply an important democratic advance.
Since the development and implementation of the Engendering SADC Parliaments initiative, the SADC Parliamentary Forum has been in the forefront of facilitating reliable and timely information on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the SADC region to Parliaments. Such information is key to the lawmaking, representation and oversight mandates of Parliamentarians and make gender equality achievable. This report assesses what can be achieved in the area of gender and women’s political participation and help to show how much still needs to be done.
KASUKA SIMWINJI MUTUKWA SECRETARY GENERAL