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Africa is in an encouraging pathway regarding women’s rights, said Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the ECA during his opening remarks at the Beijing Platform for Action meeting that was held at the UNECA this week.
Over 150 delegates, experts and governments from across Africa participated in the meeting that opened on Monday and lasted for three days.
“Today more African women are literate than ever before and more girls are attending school. Bold implementation of policies in some countries has gone a long way in increasing overall school enrollments and reducing gender differences,” Lopes stated.
During the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the 189 Member States of the United Nations adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA). The Declaration was a statement of the political commitment by governments to work towards equality between women and men, with a special focus on women’s empowerment. The main aim of this week’s meeting was to deliberate on the progress made during the past 20 years.
According to Lopes, the gender parity index is higher amongst high income groups and to address this inequality, there is an urgent need to deal with early marriages, the high cost and poor quality of education, as well as increasing the chances and opportunities for women to attain tertiary and higher levels of education.
When it comes to power sharing, Africa has witnessed a gradual increase in the proportion of women in decision making processes, particularly in national parliaments. Health is also another sector where there has been a lot of difference; as the rate of maternal mortality has been reduced by 47 percent from 1990 to 2013, participants at the conference said.
“Whilst we have a cause to celebrate this significant reduction, the mortality rate remains high. The bottom line is that it is morally unacceptable in this day and age, with the advancement of science and medicine, to lose lives from preventable conditions. Reproductive and sexual health remains a cause for concern. We need to do more in this front as well,” said Lopes.
With regards to slow progress, women still only own 25 percent of land despite the fact that they are the backbone of the agricultural sector. “We know too well that ownership of agricultural assets such as land increases agricultural outputs, which has a critical impact on food security and self-sufficiency. This is essential in the rural areas where women represent half of the agricultural workforce. FAO has found that closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger,” Lopes said.
Violence against women, however, has actually gotten worse, which is something needs to be dealt with, Lopes underlined.
“It is a tragedy. And it points to a worrying trend. According to an ECA study of 2011 the incidence of violence against women in some African countries may be up to five times that of some developed economies.  Equally disturbing is the mounting evidence that violence against women where reported, may actually be increasing,” Lopes said.