No. 266: Gender justice key in goals / Antonia Porter and Zanele Khumalo / The Star
1 August 2013

The 2015 deadline for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is rapidly approaching and African policymakers and academics are increasingly arguing the merits and demerits of the global pledge to halve poverty contained in these grand targets. A frenzy of international conventions and discussions, usually dominated by Americans and Europeans, and often excluding African development actors, have been convened to consider these goals which were agreed in 2000 by 189 states, including 53 African countries.

In particular, the debate has concerned what sort of framework, if any, should be put in place to guide global development after 2015. In light of the appointment of South Africa's former Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as head of the UN Women organisation, Africa's voice must be heard on these critical debates.

But what do any of these discussions or proposed systems mean for ordinary Africans, especially the poorest and most disenfranchised, whom frameworks like the MDGs were specifically supposed to benefit?

Why should African institutions buy into another global framework which holds them accountable to global organisations rather than to African citizens?

In fact, they should not. This was the sentiment largely expressed at a gathering of African policymakers and scholars, recently held by the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Cape Town to discuss "Achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Africa". The meeting was a rousing call to strive to address inequality rather than just poverty, which has been a main critique of the MDGs framework.

The seminar also articulated the widely-held view that the MDGs disregarded other gender-specific risks and power relations that lead to social exclusion. Development approaches must seek to improve the lives of those who are particularly marginalised and vulnerable. This is especially important for women on the continent, who — despite the existence of a specific Millennium Development Goal which promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women — still experience severe discrimination and unequal treatment, including high levels of gender-based violence in many African countries.

This is certainly the case for South Africa, where a woman is raped every 35 seconds according to the SAPS, and "corrective rape" of lesbians is widespread. Many will wonder what the MDGs have really achieved for women in this country who experience these and other such violations. And, can any system grounded in patriarchy and neoliberalism — which focuses on economic growth rather than achieving social equality, and which has been dominant globally over the past three decades — genuinely transform the lives of ordinary women in communities?

A new framework is needed to guide future socio-economic development in Africa: one which does not see economic growth as the central meaning and ultimate goal, but which is grounded in social justice and gender justice, and is based on principles such as reciprocity and solidarity.

The application of these key feminist principles will benefit all humankind, not just women.

In charting a way forward beyond 2015, one must ask to what extent the international community and African development actors are prepared to provide support for these principles at the grassroots; the marginalised and poorest sections of Africa's population.

The vision and values enshrined in development frameworks and international movements such as the MDGs must embody the spirit of equality, freedom, and justice which gave rise to them, and should offer a framework for tackling the full range of inequalities that contribute to the social exclusion of marginalised groups, including women.

What is also necessary is a framework that is based on listening deeply and thoroughly to the experiences of local communities, and African women, especially those living at the grassroots level. These groups have the most at stake in implementation of global development frameworks and so must be given meaningful opportunities to participate in the processes on which these mechanisms are built.

There have been some efforts to listen to the views of different stakeholders: some regional and sub-regional consultations have recently taken place, hosted by various African and UN institutions, to gain the perspectives and input from stakeholders such as government, civil society, and academia on a post-2015 development agenda for Africa.


But are these approaches likely to garner the views of any other than Africa's elite, or at best, the middle classes? What about those who are just struggling to eke out a living? Are institutions like the AU — now led by its first woman, South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — doing enough to listen to the priorities of all its people as it plans for the next 50 years?

African actors, including the AU, must urgently put in place thorough and effective means of gathering the views of ordinary people on the continent, and especially socially-excluded and vulnerable groups. This is certainly crucial when it comes to building a framework for tackling gender inequality and patriarchy after 2015. The views of ordinary women and girls in urban and rural communities must be sought.

Of course, it is not possible to gather everyone's views. However, seeking the insights of women's groups, including at the grassroots level — which are often key agents of societal transformation — is an important way in which the views of ordinary women can be garnered.

A systematic and intensive process of consultations with such groups must therefore be put in place in each African country as soon as possible in order to achieve real progress before the 2015 deadline.

Antonia Porter and Zanele Khumalo are project officers at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town

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