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African Union Summit Calls for Redoubled Efforts to Improve Lives of Women

  • Douglas Mpuga

The 15th African Union Summit is underway in Kampala. The theme of the meeting -- “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa” – reflects the commitment of the Maputo Plan of Action endorsed by African heads of state four years ago.

The focus of that plan – and this week-end’s summit – is to help African countries reach the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) that aim to boost women’s rights, health, and livelihoods by 2015. In particular, the Maputo plan emphasizes MDGs 4 and 5, which advocate cutting in half maternal and infant mortality in Africa over the next five years.

Some summit participants, however, lament what they say is the lack so far of meaningful change.

“It’s all rhetoric; in terms of commitment and action, you wonder why there is no impact in the lives of ordinary people in Africa,” said Bineta Diop, the Executive Director and founder of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), a women’s rights NGO focusing specifically on African Women’s Peace, Security and Human Rights.

Speaking from Kampala, Diop, who has attended many AU summits, said it is time for action.

She said although she doesn’t doubt the commitment of African leaders on these issues, she still wonders why things are not happening.

Diop said she met with President Yoweri Museveni to discuss the impact of violence – and armed conflict -- against women. “They [leaders] might tell you it’s about [lack of] resources, but that must be addressed.”

“There are a lot of things about the Maputo Protocol that have not been implemented”, she said. “When you look at reality on the ground, a lot still needs to be done. But we are appreciative that they are sitting down and saying ‘let’s review and see what didn’t work.’ I think that takes political will.”

Diop said that even civil society should review the progress toward meeting the MDGs, and look at the impediments to improving the lives of ordinary women in Africa.

She called on the continent’s leaders to take women’s issues more seriously because “even in issues of peace and security and terrorism, it is women who bear the brunt and pick up the pieces.”

Women, she said, are half the population in Africa, and they should be fully involved in finding solutions to the problems they face.