International Research from WISERD’s Civil Society Programme Reveals Gender Equality Challenges across the UN’s five sub-regions of Africa

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Research by Professor Paul Chaney examines civil society organizations input into African states’ implementation of the gender mainstreaming (GM) goals set out in the United Nations’ Beijing Declaration. The Declaration is explicit in its requirement that, in the course of their efforts to promote gender equality, state signatories secure: ‘the participation and contribution of all actors of civil society, particularly women’s groups and networks and other non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations, with full respect for their autonomy’ (UN 1995, Article 20). In the two decades since Beijing, this goal has been restated in an extensive range of policies and treaties, including the African Union Gender Policy Plan of Action: ‘Progress must be made through fruitful dialogue between civil society and governments, backed by political will, reflecting in changing constitutional, legal and social platforms, through which more women can exercise voice and accountability in decision-making that affects their well-being’ (African Union 2009, 3). In response, governments across the continent have espoused engagement with civil society.

Prof Chaney argues that whilst GM represents a generational opportunity to apply Feminist Political Economic Framework to development in Africa, current practice falls short of the sought-after participative democratic model of promoting equality and tackling discrimination.  Instead of thoroughgoing government responsiveness to NGO input, the findings reveal key differences in state and civil society organisations’ framing of gender equality issues. Moreover, the analysis reveals issues over conceptual clarity and a disjuncture in the prioritization of key gendered issues such as poverty, economic inequality and conflict resolution. Crucially, it is argued that governments’ failure to fully engage NGOs diminishes the capacity of the civil sphere to act as a political arena from whence they may challenge the traditionally male-dominated power structures of state and society in Africa today.

The study looked at African states’ Beijing +10 and +20 reports, as well as civil society organisations’ reports drawn from the UN’s five sub-regions of Africa (East, West, Central, Southern, and North).  When the two reviews (2005 and 2014/15) were compared the analysis found shifts in policy framing. Notably, the downplaying of ‘participation’ was a concern, as was the marked decline in attention to gender and economic inequality. A further issue was geographical inconsistency; with some states upholding the universal principles of the Beijing Declaration – and others playing scant attention to lead policy issues such as gender-based violence.

Review of African Political Economy 43(150)

Chaney, P. (2016 forthcoming) “Civil Society Policy Engagement and the Pursuit of Gender Justice: Critical Discourse Analysis of the Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in Africa 2003-15” Review of African Political Economy, T&F Routledge, 2015 Impact Factor of 0.892