Today, the 10th of March 2014, I find myself here in New York, where one of the biggest events on women’s rights; the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) is kicking off. The history of CSW dates back to 21 June 1946, when the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) set up the Commission, whose core function is to promote the rights of women in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. So every year, representatives of states which are members of the United Nations as well as women’s rights activists gather at the UN Headquarters in New York to assess if any progress has been made in achieving gender equality, to see what challenges remain, to set global standards and be innovative at devising means to formulate policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.
This year’s CSW comes amid the growing discourse of an Africa that is “rising.” Indeed the dictates of mainstream economics suggest that this is the case. Africa’s economy is said to be growing faster than any other continent’s economy. 33 % of African countries are said to be recording annual gross domestic products (GDP’s) of 6%. Many predictions have been made by forecasters:
- By 2015, mobile penetration in Africa would have reached 84%;
- By 2020, 50 % of African households will be so economically sound that they will have discretionary spending power;
- By 2030, 50 % of Africa’s populations will be living in urban areas;
- By 2035, Africa’s workforce will be bigger than China; and
- By 2050, Africans will make up 25% of the world’s workers.
Analysts are justifying why Africa’s time is now with one Jonathan Berman giving his 7 reasons why Africa’s time is now. I have dared to explain Berman’s idea as I have understood it namely that:
1. Africa has a huge market opportunity.
[Africans love consuming and the fact that our own industry is underdeveloped means we rely heavily on imports hence providing a market for other continents’ goods.]
2. Africa is increasingly stable.
[Though ridden by conflicts as compared to other continents, the trends of conflict in Africa have seen a decrease rather than an increase. Governance patterns are also changing, with the biggest challenge being stolen elections rather than military coups. Previously coups were the norm, with Africa recording an unprecedented 85 violent coups and rebellions from the time of the Egyptian revolution in 1952 until 1998, 78 of these between 1961 and 1997, but more recently coups are uncommon and considered pretty uncool.
3. Africa is recording increased intra-Africa trade although it still is in its infancy.
[Trade within Africa has increased particularly along the lines of the regional blocs which promote regional economic integration. The most successful being the East African Community (Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya) and the Economic Community of West African States (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) where regional integration is being fostered through, among other things, the removal of trade barriers such as the requirement of travel documents and other limitations to freedom of movement of people and goods , the creation of a common market, and standardisation of customs tariffs .
4. Africa will soon have the world’s largest workforce.
[Africa’s population is rising so much that in projections to 2030, the African population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion from 1.0 billion in 2010, which would represent 19% of the world’s population. The demographic boom on the continent is expected to be an asset in the form of a workforce, which will drive Africa’s economy forward.
5. 20% of African governments’ budgets are going to education.
[Increasingly, governments are allocating a significant amount of money to education budget lines. This commitment towards the education of African populations will eventually yield results as Africa increases its local technical competence.]
6. Africa’s mobile networking and connectivity is exploding.
[Africa’s mobile network coverage is increasing and more so, spreading to traditionally marginalised communities in the rural areas. This is directly translating into easier and quicker access to information and at the same time the transfer of money more efficiently through mobile banking and cash transfer services such as Ecocash and Telecash in Zimbabwe. Consequently, doing business in a time of mobile phones is much easier and much more efficient as it reduces costs, saves time and increases efficiency].
7. Africa contains most of the world’s uncultivated land.
[ Africa holds almost 50% of the world’s uncultivated land. This is about 450 million hectares of land that is not forested, protected or densely populated. According to the World Bank, if this land is fully utilised by 2030, it could have created a trillion-dollar food market for Africa.]
It is well and good that these positive trends are taking place on the continent, however one question remains largely unanswered; which Africa and who in Africa is rising? Are the women of Africa part of the rising? If so, how many of them are part of it and how many are being left behind? Who is prospering and are the majority of citizens benefitting from the rising?
15 years ago, in 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and many other deprivations culminating in the development of a strategy to eradicate these deprivations. This strategy, to try and address the unequal rising of citizens in different economies, was centralised in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs) a set of goals serving as milestones for all the countries of the world to achieve development in their countries.
MDG 1: This goal focused on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Notably, the goal did not seek to achieve the eradication of poverty but extreme poverty.
MDG 2: This goal focused on achieving universal primary education. Notably, the goal is not to ensure universal education at levels relevant to increasing citizens’ critical competence and competitiveness in the global sphere, such as tertiary and technical education.
MDG 3: Focused on promoting gender equality and empowering women.
MDG 4: Focused on reducing child mortality.
MDG 5: Focused on improving maternal health.
MDG 6: Focused on combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.
MDG 7: Focused on ensuring environmental stability.
MDG 8: Focused on developing Global Partnerships for Development.
2014 marks the last year for the observance of the Millennium Development Goals. As the women of the world are converging in New York to state their position on what they consider to be the priorities in mapping the post-2015/post-MDG agenda, at #CSW58, I shall be exploring the progress and challenges that Zimbabwe has faced in achieving the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I shall also be reflecting on the main outcomes from the discussions at #CSW58.