The Africa Ministerial Pre-Consultative Meeting on the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61st) on the theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” opened in Addis Ababa Thursday with Deputy Executive Secretary Giovanie Biha of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) urging Africa to repeal legislation that discriminate against women and girls.
In her remarks welcoming Africa’s gender ministers to the pre-CSW61 consultative meeting, Ms. Biha said sound actions must be taken to ensure that women’s rights to employment are fully secured and protected as this would enhance their prospects in the changing world of work, She stressed that the need for African governments to enforce the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW) and the African Charter on the Rights of People. by removing all discriminatory national laws.
Ms. Biha said for a long time, women have been on the receiving end of discriminatory legislation and laws need to be changed to help them access the labour market freely and in turn, improve their social and economic well-being.
“Investment in women’s secondary, tertiary and higher level education as well as vocational training, with particular attention paid to their access and achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEMs) is important,” she told delegates, adding: “African governments need to respond to women and girls’ burden of unpaid care work by implementing the triple R strategy of Recognition through measurement, Reduction by investing in social infrastructure and services, and Redistribution by encouraging a fairer intra-household allocation.”
“Pervasive gender gaps prevent women, especially young women, from acquiring the skills sets required to access medium, high level and technical job opportunities. Consequently, the majority of African women (more than 70%) are in informal employment, characterized by precariousness, endemic low pay and difficult working conditions,” she said. “This situation exposes women to risks as they lack access to social protection or social security services linked to formal employment leading to double discrimination, related to gender equality and discrimination inherent in the nature of the informal sector.”
For her part, Ethiopia’s Women and Children Affairs Minister, Demitu Hambisa said “as growing evidence shows, women’s participation in the economic sphere is narrow and largely confined to domestic work.” She said in Ethiopia, while women were contributing to the country’s economy, they largely remained behind their male counterparts in economic status, adding efforts are being made by the government to address such issues to strengthen the political, social and economic empowerment of women.
In a speech read on her behalf, African Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the theme is critical to Africa’s Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
“It is also timely that we are discussing women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, given that the African Union’s theme for this year is on the demographic dividend. The two themes are closely interlinked. In the changing world of work, women in Africa are the most affected as they are already disadvantaged,” said Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, adding it is time for serious action to be taken to address issues affecting women and girls, especially in the rural areas of Africa.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women said CSW is an opportunity for Africa to speak with one voice on issues affecting women, adding the continent has much to gain from a changing work environment.
“Without united voices from Africa, there’s a danger that women in the rural areas and girls will be left behind,” she said. “We need to discuss here the challenges and make the best of the opportunities ahead of us as we move towards CSW61.”
She also called on African leaders to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention to protect domestic workers who often work long hours with little pay and benefits.
Also echoing the importance of the theme were Mlambo-Ngcuka and Karen Ellemann, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Denmark, who delivered the keynote address and promised that Denmark would continue to work in close partnership with Africa as it seeks to empower its women and girls.
“Encouraging women’s participation in the labour market, is crucial to GDPs, crucial to economic growth and more generally to ensure the full use of all available talent and human resources,” she said, adding women’s participation in the labour market is also a prerequisite for their independence.
African Center for Gender Director at the ECA, Thokozile Ruzvidzo, said the pre-consultative meeting, which was organized by the ECA, the UN Women and the African Union, is crucial to ensure an agreed position for the continent ahead of the CSW61 in New York in March.
“Our goal here is to build consensus among African countries around issues pertinent to gender equality in the world of work in Africa with the view to promote an African voice essential to shaping and influencing the global CSW61 agreed conclusions,” she said.