KINSHASA – The chairperson of the Regional Women Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum, Regina Esparon says they will continue to lobby and advocate for inclusive governance which effectively serves and engages all people, without discrimination based on gender or sex.
Esparon said this in remarks made at the official opening of the 52nd Plenary Assembly Session of Sadc PF in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently.
“It is our conviction that fostering inclusive governance is a cardinal ingredient to advance democratic values, including peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity, human rights and equality before the law,” said Esparon.
She contended that gender equality is an essential element to the realisation of regional, continental and international development frameworks, namely the Sadc Vision 2050, AU Agenda 2063 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set out through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“There is indisputable evidence that having more women decision-makers will serve as a catalyst towards more diverse and inclusive policies that are beneficial to all, including on emerging issues such as the climate response, energy efficiency or the reinforcement of peace and security frameworks,” the chairperson, a Member of Parliament from Seychelles, said.
She said over the years, the RWPC has “continued to serve as a strategic platform for women parliamentarians across the Sadc region to mobilise and advance a comprehensive agenda for women, including advocating for effective representation of women in Parliament”.
The RWPC had also lobbied for women’s inclusion in political parties and in key decision-making positions. Additionally, it had promoted women empowerment initiatives; protection of women’s rights; advancing more inclusive policies that contribute to increased gender equality in terms of income, employment and other economic opportunities; and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls.
On a sad note, Esparon lamented: “A general trend of regression when it comes to women representation in Parliament” across the Sadc region in recent years, with “most legislatures struggling to reach an overall average of 30%, against the target of 50% parity”.
She noted: “In some countries, women representation in Parliament is as low as below 20%. The global situation is equally bleak, with women making up only 26% of MPs across the world.”
Esparon called for concerted efforts to improve women’s participation and attain gender equality, saying the current rate of progress in that regard was sluggish.
“The UN SDGs Progress Report estimates that it will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and the removal of discriminatory laws; 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace; and at least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments,” she said.
Stressing that the current state of affairs with respect to gender equality is “untenable”, Esparon called for collective action towards inclusive governance, including gender parity, “within a foreseeable time frame that gives a chance to the current and next generation of women and girls to bloom and prosper”.
She welcomed the theme for the Plenary Assembly Session, namely, “The Role of Parliaments in Strengthening Legislative Frameworks for Peace and Security in the Sadc region”.
“The theme serves a stark reminder of the global commitments our countries made 22 years ago to champion gender equality in the areas of peace and security, in the form of the UN Security Council landmark Resolution 1325, which was adopted in October 2000.”
Esparon called for greater efforts towards the integration of gender perspectives during conflicts.
“This calls for us to be deliberate in considering the special needs of women and girls during conflict, repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction, such that those key issues may be integrated in legislative and oversight initiatives by Parliamentarians.”
She urged MPs to use their oversight roles to counter the current under-representation of women in peacebuilding initiatives.
“Participation of women in decision-making and policy drafting is crucial to the advancement of any peacebuilding process, and to achieve lasting peace within and across borders,” she said.
Esparon urged all Sadc member states to strive towards peace and security, and said women and girls suffer disproportionately during conflicts and wars, as existing inequalities get magnified, and the social fabric is broken down, rendering them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation.
“Since women and children account for the majority of those that are adversely affected by conflicts, it is only logical for the role that women play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts to be given prominence,” she reasoned.
Esparon said data from the Sadc Gender and Development Monitor for 2022 “reveals a distressing situation regarding gender equality in our region”.
She added: “Whereas women constitute more than half of the population and the electorate in Sadc member states, they paradoxically continue to be seriously under-represented at all levels, including in political and public decision-making positions, thereby rendering the achievement of gender parity unattainable.”