The two-day Women's Conference at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) themed “Women and the Transformation of the African Continent” closed on Saturday after tackling a number of issues impacting on African women.
Focus areas of the conference included; the Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa, Female Genital Mutilation, Women in Conflict Zones, the Gender Dimension of the Transformation of the Pan-African Parliament and the ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
On the matter of Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa it was emphasized that the number of women dying during pregnancy or child birth is alarmingly high. Vicki Okine from the Fairplay for Africa campaign said “Some governments have created policies to deal with this matter. Policies are great but if no funding is allocated it will become pointless.” She added, “We must not forget that the children we bear for you can take our life.” According to Okine, it is important to tackle Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa and “scrabble” to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health by 2015.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced for cultural reasons in many parts of the continent. Activists have spoken against it saying it creates irrevocable harm to young girls. Typically, the procedure is done on young girls up to the age of fifteen. Parliamentarians at PAP pledged their continued commitment to ending the practice. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda told attendees about the success that her country has achieved in trying to curtail FGM. In Uganda any one found guilty of aggravated FGM can get a life sentence and even up to ten years for any who performs the act on themselves. This was met with approving applause.
Addressing the issue of women in conflict zones, the Second Vice President of the PAP, Hon. Mary Mugyenyi, said, “The situation of women and children in conflict zones is a matter of grave concern which calls out to all international communities, but in particular to women parliamentarians who are urged to direct the attention of all African leaders to the plight and suffering of women and children.”
Hon. Mugyeni also commented on the Gender Dimension of the Transformation of PAP into a legislative body, saying, “Reinforcing the powers of the Pan-African Parliament will enable our continent to achieve success in economic and political integration…this transformation will grant women a much more significant position as major political players.” She emphasised that the role of parliamentarians is to facilitate the definition, preparation and application of policies, strategies and interventions which would allow the advancement and protection of women's and children's rights.
The Second Vice President also encouraged the women gathered in Midrand to play an active role in ensuring that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance is ratified. “Our women parliamentarians, academics and members of female organisations of Civil Society, must campaign.”
She drew the conference to a close saying, “We firmly believe that the resolutions and recommendations shall resound favourably with our governments, our parliaments and our peoples, on whose behalf we speak.”
Speaking at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) 2010 Women's Platform as a special guest, the Premier of Gauteng Province, Ms. Nomvula Mokonyane, urged African women to be in the forefront of promoting good governance and peace as they are the ones who are hard hit in an event when there are civil wars. Ms. Mokonyane said women should be champions of peace as they are the ones who were abused when civil wars break. “The greatest victims of these shenanigans are women and African children. It is us who suffer most. It is women and children who suffer. The women are raped and abused,” she said. She added that peace and stability is what Africa needs now and could be realized if all of African work in unison.
The Premier also said that women's efforts should be channelled towards strengthening of democracy and its values. Africa would emerge as a winner if good governance practices and respect for human rights is upheld, she added.
Ms. Mokonyane, however, urged the women's conference to ensure that it found solutions to the many challenges the women folk were facing. Such challenges included poverty, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and poor education.