By Akanimo Sampson
A quarter century after the Beijing Conference on women, delegates gathered last week in the Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union (AU) to press for economic inclusion of forcibly displaced and migrant women in Africa and reflect on their situation since that 1994 conference.
Participants from embassies, the AU Commission, civil society, humanitarian aid organisations and refugees all took part in Tuesday’s meeting, which was organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the AU Commission, as a side event during the Beijing+25 Africa Regional Review.
The meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which emerged from the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, to draw attention to the fact that economic inclusion is a pre-condition for women’s empowerment and equality.
Panellists stated that the African Continental Free Trade Area, the AU’s Free Movement Protocol, the Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migrants, and the coming Global Refugee Forum in December cannot be effective for refugee and migrant women in Africa unless the advancement of women is fully prioritised.
They highlighted the vital economic role of women, including migrants and refugees, and the huge loss to many African economies created by the barriers to cross-border trade of women. Sexual assaults, bribes and intimidation are a common thread in the stories of women traders and business owners.
They called for an end to gender inequality, for free movement, action against discrimination, enhanced action against physical and sexual abuse, and better security for women engaged in economic activity.
“Though a lot has been accomplished, a lot remains to be done,” senior IOM official Maureen Achieng said at the meeting, while comparing the present to the 1995 adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which she referred to as “a significant turning point for the global agenda on gender equality.”
Achieng is the IOM’s Chief of Mission in Ethiopia and Representative to the AU, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“As the international community begins to work towards the economic inclusion of refugees, and migrants under the two Global Compacts, we must ensure that refugee and migrant women are not left behind”, warned Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR Representative to the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Commenting on the Beijing Declaration, South Sudanese refugee Suzan Duku said, “UN Women told me about it. I did not see an immediate link between Beijing and myself. But now I see that if the Beijing Declaration were to be fully implemented, it would dramatically transform my life.”
Mrs. Minata Semate Cessouma, Commissioner for Political Affairs, on her part stated, “as Africa seeks to catch up with the higher income nations, facilitating free intra-Africa’s trade and movement of persons will be an essential and key strategy in realising the goals of Africa Agenda 2063.