African countries have made tremendous progress in narrowing gender gap but several barriers must be overcome to ensure women have access to education, health services and economic opportunities, a UN official said.
UN Women ‘s Deputy Regional Director, East and South African Region, Simone Ellis Oluoch-Olunya told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Nairobi Wednesday that African countries are still grappling with gender inequality that bodes ill for the continent’s socio-economic progress.
“In terms of gender parity, this continent has covered a milestone. To be precise, we have three female heads of state and the engagement of women and girls in political processes is robust,” Olunya said.
Olunya noted that progressive policy and legal tools, investments in social programs and political goodwill are crucial to empower women and girls.
“In some countries, there are strong legislations that address barriers to women’s progress. We hope rapid economic growth in the continent will improve status of women,” Olunya told Xinhua.
The UN Women in its periodic reviews contended that African governments are committed to achieving gender parity but outdated cultural beliefs, rampant poverty and disjointed policies have undermined the achievement of this goal.
Olunya regretted that violation of women rights is still rife in some African societies while their involvement in national duties is negligible.”In some communities, female genital mutilation is a standard practice that is difficult to break. It offers an economic life line to mutilators,” she said.
Africa’s recent economic growth has not radically transformed the plight of women and girls. Olunya noted that African women remain at the bottom of the social pyramid despite their huge contribution to economic growth.
“The outstanding economic growth in the continent has marginally improved the welfare of women. They are at the end of the value chain toiling with a hoe to feed their families and communities,”Olunya said.
She emphasized that quality education and adoption of new technologies will enable African women compete favorably in the labor market.
“Countries must ensure that women have access to education, vocational skills, land and finances to enhance their contribution to economic growth and social renewal,” said Olunya.
She noted that globally, an estimated 255 billion U.S. dollars is lost annually due to a huge gender gap in the workplace.
She said civil strife engulfing several African countries have impacted negatively on women’s empowerment.
“Women in countries engulfed with conflicts have to contend with sexual violence. The United Nations and partners have initiated projects to assist women affected by conflicts in the great lakes region, South Sudan and Somalia recover from trauma,” she said.