Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 466-474
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
African Women, the Vision of Equality and the Quest for
Empowerment: Addressing Inequalities at the Heart of the
Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future
Ani Casimir1, Ome Emmanuel2, Maudline Okpara3
1Department of Philosophy, Institute of African Studies/Political Science,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
2Department of Philosophy, Universi ty of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
3School of General Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Enugu, Nigeria
Email: cepperngo@yahoo .com, drommema@y ah, maudlineokpa
Received January 7th, 2013; revised February 7th, 2013; accepted February 17th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Ani Casimir et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
The history of women has been defined by a world enmeshed in woes, frustration, oppression, maltreat-
ment and inequalities. Feminism as a philosophy of change sought to fight, end and change this woeful
scenario of women that denied their self respect, dignity and led to a loss of self confidence. Fundamen-
tally, feminist philosophy sought for explanations and justifications why women were denied a voice and
why they were historically not treated as coequals of men. The basis of inequality is historically rooted in
cultural and philosophical falsities that were not evidenced based but were used to justify oppression
against women. The Universal Declaration of human rights gave women and the world the platform that
empowered them with rights and led to fresh processes that sought to end oppression and their underde-
velopment inspired by inequality, iniquities, denial of opportunities for growth and empowerment. The
millennium development goal of ending inequality and oppression against women should achieve equality
and women’s empowerment in Africa. Since the declaration of the MDGS, considerable gains had been
made in Africa but challenges and problems are still identified in the areas of cultural inequality compli-
cated by the weakness of the major governance institutions and corruption. Other challenges centre on
women’s lack of genuine empowerment, violence against women, trafficking in women, denial of human
rights, lack of participation in policy and governance. Since empowerment is the key to achieving main-
streaming and gender equality, this paper seeks to redefine the concept of empowering women as the
platform to ending inequality, social injustice and achieving equality in the context of the unique chal-
lenges of underdevelopment facing Africa. It will identify the policy implications of establishing empow-
erment structures that address multiple challenges facing gender inequality and how these structures will
assist in building the necessary feminine human resources that will make women as partners of sustain-
able growth and development after 2015.
Keywords: Gender Equality; Women Empowerment; Policy Participation; Post MDG Africa
Research Methodology
The paper will use the gender analytical framework to ex-
amine and analyze the situation of women and how far the
MDGS and other policy actions by government have served to
either empower or dis-empower women in Africa using select
examples from Nigeria, Uganda and other parts of Africa. The
theoretical framework of empowerment as applied by Addanna
Madu (2010) and Jo Rowland (1997) with the African Union’s
report documents on condition of women in Africa will be used
as primary theoretical models with data drawn from the United
Nations for women. An examination of the secondary sources
drawn from NGOS and Government women ministries will
complement the data sources used to support the new empow-
erment paradigm applied by the article. The central focus and
thrust of this research methodology are that when the recon-
structed cultural cosmology and ontology combined with asso-
ciated core gender values free women in Africa from the
thralldom of cultural patriarchy (Ani, 2013: p. 20) they can
seamlessly participate in development planning, programming
and implementation and become genuinely empowered in the
real empirical sense of the word as applied by Oxfam’s feminist
writer Rowland Jo and Addanna Madu of the Rights Initiative
for Justice.
Women in Africa need a bottom-up, grassroots and partici-
patory communication for development model to be truly em-
powered through governance and development policy. The
challenge of clearing all obstacles that confront and weaken
women’s participation in policy and decision making processes
of development planning in Africa is the single most potent
factor that stands between them and genuine empowerment;
and it is also the biggest variable that will account for sustain-
ability in post 2015 gender equality successful drive and
achievement (Ani, 2013: p. 13).
In other, words, the achievement of gender equality in
developing countries is fundamentally prevented by cul-
tural and traditional norms. And since these norms are
handed down from generation to generation, and are
deeply embedded in our daily practices, measures such as
legislative reforms of government policies to expand the
coverage of services for women cannot have long-term
effectiveness in reaching gender parity, and indeed, as
argued by Szekely, may have inverse effects on women.
Although such measures are a necessary condition, they
are not sufficient. What can be most effective in the long
run is to challenge long-held beliefs and traditions about
the role of women in society: the value of their work in
the household, their ability to be productive, and the pro-
vision of private assets to vitalize this productivity.
The Challenge of Policy Participation
Empowerment through policy will positively affect and
catalyze women to participate and benefit from the policy and
civil society initiatives of development programs because what
happens in the other areas of the MDG goals will have policy
and social implications for women’s search for empowerment,
and, hence, equality, in the continent. Empowerment will ele-
vate and support women with the philosophy and the capacity
to achieve national development objectives in real terms
through human rights based approach. In the realm of genuine
empowerment, women need to participate in identifying their
needs, problems, challenges and contribute in generating sus-
tainable solutions to their predicament. This will help women to
move from mere project participation into the realm of policy
making. The state, civil society and the economic structures all
shape and constrain women’s lives in Africa as stakeholders in
formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating policies
aimed at empowering women.
It is important that women of Africa are allowed to partici-
pate in redefi ning the processe s and strategies of empowerment
schema to achieve sustainability after 2015 to scale up the
tempo of gender mainstreaming and equality.
Cultural Challenges of Empowerment
The achievement of policy and governance participation by
women will help them to confront also the cultural challenges
inherited from the past and the structural impediments to policy
integration and mainstreaming in the work place and in their
homes to redress the structures of inequality in the development
process. To achieve this will mean empanelling policy, pro-
grams and institutions that will lead to the achievement of
genuine empowerment in Africa. Miguel Szeleky, discussing
the challenges facing the achievement of the Millennium De-
velopment Goal on promoting gender equality and empower-
ment of women, says that the third MDG “challenges cultural
norms and traditions and requires deep changes in day-to-day
individual behaviour and practices, which are normally re-
garded as a ‘private matter.’ This feature is also the main
challenge for implementation” (World Bank, 2007). He goes on
to specify:
The Problems Facing Women in Africa and
Making the Paradigm of Empowerment to
Work in the 21st Century
The problems of the African woman are in the same breath
quite like and unlike the global problems of women qua women
every where. The problems faced today in Africa are funda-
mentally and uniquely African in terms of empowerment, dis-
empowerment, culture and its unique historical praxis. The
European woman of today has surpassed the cultural barriers of
acceptance, respect and recognition by her society. She has
moved to the stage of empowerment at the level of decision
making, policy making and power sharing both in the private
and public sectors of the European society. However, the ma-
jority of African women are still tied down and burdened by
cultural ignorance, selfish institutional patriarchy, prejudice and
discrimination from a patently paternalistic cultural heritage
that fail to give the average woman a pride of place. This cul-
tural hubris creates enormous disempowerment linkages and
structures in the homes, villages, religions and the professions
that effectively close the cultural door of freedom on her and
her aspirations, consistently prevents her from joining and tak-
ing part in the decision making processes of African society.
For her to move into the policy and decision making structures
of the modern African state and be fully integrated in govern-
ance she will need to be fully liberated from the realm of cul-
tural disempowerment. This liberation will make her untapped
energy, resources, abilities and competency framework to be
available to be placed at the portals of service for African de-
velopment. The great potential synergy and collateral abilities
of African women remained chained, untapped and unexploited
despite the aspirations and goals of the United Nations Millen-
nium Declaration as documented under the item three of the
Millennium Development Goals (2015).
On the one hand, changing the role of women and em-
powering them modifies household arrangements substan-
tially, and in many cases this is not regarded as a desirable
change for specific family members. On the other hand,
identifying effective public policies for promoting gender
equality is especially difficult in the context of deeply
entrenched traditions and cultural patterns… Moreover,
the enactment of specific policies may generate intense
resistance from different sectors of society (Ibid).
The challenges of cultural disempowerment prevent more
African women from being unburdened and constitute a signi-
ficant her efforts to be part of the continent’s development
planning. The cultural environment debilitates her and effec-
tively stops her from contributing towards the collective achi-
evement of the socio-economic goals of development. Culture
stops her on her tracks from being considered as a partnership
factor in planning for development. The injustice in the status
of those who find their way, after a hard won struggle, inside
arena of planning and governance are presented when they are
deliberately prevented from enjoying equal pay for equal work
as recorded by the men. The non-reception of her massive con-
An unnamed MA student at An MA candidate-International
development studies, Dalhousie university in his term paper
Human Rights, Gender and Development” supports this nega-
tive cultural role that inhibits women empowerment and ques-
tions if development can take place in societies where the
human rights of women are systematically abused? He gives
further elaboration thus:
Open Access 467
tributions to the domestic economy of African families is part
of the fallout and outcome of the her cultural travails in Africa.
The African woman is culturally disempowered and needed
to be culturally empowered to be available for socio-economic
and governance development. The cultural concepts and struc-
tures that disempowered her needed to be fully researched
clarified and reconstructed in a manner that empowers her mind
with the right education, tools and disabuses the minds of the
abusive traditions setup by the male-folk who had oppressed
and discriminated against her for centuries. The reasons and
factors why the gender-oriented goal three of the MDGS could
not be wholesomely achieved in Africa is because of the failure
to factor into state the programs and goals the culturally and
socially limiting variables that force the African women into
submission, denying partnership status to women as equals in
development. The sustainable goal of achieving gender quality
and women’s empowerment in Africa would become a reality
when these cultural problems are identified as factors for plan-
ning and programming of a post 2015 agenda. The problems
facing women in the African socio-cultural environment had
been variously researched and identified: women in Africa
suffer violence, discrimination and oppression triggered by
limiting cultural factors that emanate from prejudices and bi-
ases within micro cultures in the continent. The psychosomatic
negative impact of the constructed myths/customs from this
limiting socio-cultural environment is such that even the
women start to believing that their limited capacities, inabilities
and weaknesses to self realization and achievement are God
ordained. In other words, their thinking and false gender con-
sciousness engendered by historical oppression against them is
that “our culture must be right”. This false consciousness has
become the self-credo of most oppressed, violated and dis-
criminated women, who, most of the time are afraid of crying
out of their shells, refusing to accept the need to challenge the
status quo and partnering with willing males to deconstruct,
reconstruct and construct a new cultural set of values, mores
and customs that would engender equality, end violence against
women and empower them in every stage of the decision mak-
ing process of the African state and local communities.
In Africa, these distinctive patterns of traditions and their
limiting ideas, beliefs and norms are embedded in the African
way of life that disempowered women personally and collec-
tively. They determine the cultural group’s gender ideologies
that define the rights, responsibilities, dos and donts, appropri-
ate, inappropriate behavior for either men or women. These
gender behavior template determine primary access, mode of
access, length of access and control over resources and the
decision making process for every part of Africa. The African
gender empowerment template has favored men and paternalis-
tically disfavored women for centuries. The African paternal
grind over women led to the creation of customary laws that
created unequal/gender relations that have reinforced male
domination, recreated the myth of feminine inferiority and
made impossible the promotion of gender equality and the em-
powerment of women as effective ways to ending poverty,
hunger, disease and to stimulate sustainable development.
While gender equality and empowerment of women are central
to the achievement of all the goals set by international and na-
tional governments for women, empowerment in real and sus-
tainable terms is the very key to achieving gender equality,
gender mainstreaming and ending poverty for women and sus-
tainable development in a post 2015 African context. Under the
Beijing Conference initiative, 12 problem areas were identified
as crucial in achieving genuine empowerment of women.
The 12 areas of women empowerment we should focus upon
and be concerned with (Beijing, 1995) included poverty, educa-
tion, health, ending violence, armed conflict, economic dispar-
ity, power sharing, institutions, human rights, mass media, en-
vironment and the “girl-child” education. In addition to the
Beijing 12, it relevant to this discourse to add “culture” as the
13th area of concern and focus, in accordance with the theo-
retical model promoted by this research work. This because
culture forms the historical motif under which women had been
both negatively and positively disempowered under an un-
favorable gender ideology that affects and determines their
gender challenges, needs and aspirations. The sustainable em-
powerment of women in Africa must begin and end in culture
where paternalism has been seen as a factor of disempower-
ment. The roots of women’s disempowerment must be sought
in the cultural norms and mores of various African traditional
societies that have denied them equal respect, status, reward
and recognition as partners in progress.
Culture will define the nature, context measure of empow-
erment tools programs and education that will reposition
women in a post 2015 context in Africa. The 12 critical areas
drawn up under the Beijing platform of action (1995) must
emanate and draw their relevancy and potency from the nature
of the cultural challenges facing the African woman in her en-
vironment. The non inclusion, investigation and reconstruction
of the missing cultural gaps in the agenda of the millennium
Development Goals (MDGs), other international, regional and
national programs required for women’s empowerment have
accounted for the non-realization and non-achievement of its
goals. To draw up a workable and gender sensitive post 2015
programs for women in Africa which will effectively empower
them in a sustainable sense, one must factor into the equation
and agenda the forces of culture and social ideology that have
severed to undermine women’s empowerment and drive for
The notion of clearing the cobwebs of gender bias in culture
frees women for genuine empowerment programs and proc-
esses. Empowerment of women in history by several organiza-
tions and programs had been questioned and challenged as
programs that claim public acclaim without making any impact
in the lives of the targeted group of women. This claim is but-
tressed mostly by the rhetoric that emanates from government
Houses where, the governments pose as champions of women
empowerment with huge expenditure profile supposedly meant
to empower women but, which in fact, end up inside the private
pockets of Africa’s First Ladies (wives of the Heads of Gov-
ernment). In her work, “questioning empowerment”, J. O. Row-
lands (1997) re-examined the traditional concepts of power and
empowerment as it relates to social change and women devel-
opment. Quoting Kabeer (1994) Row land observes that if there
is a single most important lesson for feminists to learn from the
past decades of development, it is that the practical will which
addresses women’s strategic gender interests is contigent on
women themselves organizing to demand and promote change.
Row land went ahead in her theoretical framework to provide a
definition of empowerment especially how it can be used in
relation to women with the use of a gender and development
analysis. Most importantly, it relates how theoretical and prac-
tical dimensions of empowerment offer us the leverage needed
under the 2015 context that can do with a lot of disciplined,
Open Access
precise and useful tools for women activists, gender activism,
planning, monitoring and evaluation of dynamic processes and
programs targeted at achieving gender balance and main-
streaming. In this context, the empowerment grid as fostered by
Row lands (p. 4) has led to a new window of understanding the
concept of women empowerment and its related terms:
Terms such as participation, consultation and partnership
began to enter the development vocabulary, reflecting the
increased importance being given by many development
organizations to an enabling approach which respects
people’s abilities to identify and express their own needs
and priorities. It also indicates a commitment to change
practices based on neo-colonial attitudes that perpetuate
relations of inequality. The term empowerment has also
arisen within this context.
Allowing people to integrated or to be involved in their own
development became the credo of empowerment that later crept
into the literature of women and gender studies. Esther Boserup
(1970) came up with her ground breaking work known as
“women in development” (WID) and attacked the paternalistic
development theories which completely ignored women as
primary producers but saw them as receivers of welfare and
patronage. WID sought to include women components in wider
development projects and programs so as to achieve “the inte-
gration of women into development as an efficient approach
that utilized women’s productive potential”. However, this ap-
proach was criticized since it failed to question “the existing
social structures or causes of women’s subordination, focusing
instead on women’s role in production (Row land: 5). In its
place emerged the concept of “gender and development” (GAD),
an approach concerned with the dynamics of gender relations.
Gender relations is seen as vital to the achievement of the dif-
ferent goals of development since it highlights the power rela-
tions between men and women with focus on situations of sub-
ordination suffered by women in every society. Gender rela-
tions yield to gender analysis to expose the relation of empow-
erment and disempowerment within the socio-cultural, eco-
nomic, political and state constructs of every society. Every
culture exposes its unique cultured challenges, problems and
needs in the area of empowerment. The notion of empowerment
of women has increasingly been seen as the anti-dote and
panacea to the historical challenges faced by women as part of
the gender and development debate.
The “WID” GAD and other concepts of empowerment have
flowed into a wonderful global stream that have energized and
synergized a genuinine empowerment model that had proven to
be useful to the United Nations and acceptable worldwide, not-
withstanding that factoring the culture gaps into the equation
will help to establish women’ practical and strategic gender
interests as well observed by Row land (7):
the focus on empowerment is on the distinction, useful for
analysis and planning, between practical and strategic
gender interests. Women’s practical needs result from
their position in society ; that position means that women
also have strategic needs, that challenge the gender hier-
archies and other mechanisms of subordination. Eliminat-
ing male bias and moving women out of the condition of
near-universal subordination they still currently occupy
will not be achieved by tinkering with conditions of em-
ployment or national accounting procedures; it will re-
quire cultural, economic and political changes. The power
dynamics between men and women will have to be ad-
The cultural, practical and strategic experiences and needs of
women in Africa should be focused upon elevating women at
the grassroots village level through the urban communities for
effective ways of supporting women, sustaining their self help
efforts to define their needs and empowering them to make
changes within their cultural milieu. Thus we can say that em-
powerment implies “some unspecified recognition of the need
for changes in the distribution of power’s” (Rowland ibid). In
furtherance of this idea, Chambers (1989) discusses “enabling
and empowering poor clients and the need to “see that they
know their rights and have power to demand them, enabling
them to ensure quality of service and access”. The women em-
powerment failure in the development equation in Africa comes
from “a failure to define and explore the practical details of
how empowerment can be achieved as a tool of analysis or as
part of a strategy for change” (Rowland: 8). The kind of em-
powerment needed by African women revolves around the
personal and collective approaches as conceived by Jo Row
lands both kinds enable women to challenge basic socio-cul-
tural inhibitions and attitudes that limit their participation and
contribution in developmental matters of the society. For both
personal and collective empowerment, there are a set of core
processes, core values, encouraging and inhibiting factors that
may contribute to or mar changes in women’s lifestyles as
identified by Row land (110-128).
Personal Empowerment
According to Row lands (1997: p. 15), personal empower-
ment means “developing a sense of self and individual confi-
dence and capacity, and undoing the effects of internalized
oppression”. Any empowerment program meant for sustainable
development in a post 2015 development scheme in Africa
must seek to empower the individual woman to give her a sense
of freedom from cultural, socio-economic and political oppres-
sion. Till now, this has not been the case in Africa. Personal
empowerment of the African woman will lead to collective
empowerment and create relational freedom that will establish
gender equality in the Continent.
Collective Empowerment
Equally illuminating is Rowlands’ paradigm shifting defini-
tion of collective empowerment framework for women in the
real sense which relates practically and pragmatically in chang-
ing the condition of the grassroots women groups at the village
level in Africa. According to her, this will enhance the possibil-
ity of international programs being institutionalized and leading
to huge positive impacts in the lives of women:
Where individuals work together to achieve a more ex-
tensive impact than each could have done which includes
involvement in political structures, but might also cover
collective action based on cooperation rather than compe-
tition. Collective action here may be locally focused-for
example, groups acting at village or neighborhood level-
or be more institutionalized, such as the activities of na-
tional networks or the formal procedures of the United
Personal empowerment supports collective empowerment in
Open Access 469
a cooperative sense since it helps women to individually and
collectively to understand their situation and to move from
insight, education and mobilization to action to change the
situation. This enables women to work on their relationships
and understand the power dynamics of the situation and seek to
change the oppressive power dynamics that oppress them and
infringe on their rights. This particular angle given to the
meaning of collective empowerment has been well explained
by Mc Whirter (1991:222-227) as: “the process by which peo-
ple, organizations or groups who are powerless (a) become
aware of the power dynamics at work in their life context, (b)
develop the skills and capacity for gaining some reasonable
control over their lives, (c) exercise this control without in-
fringing upon the rights of others and (d) support the empow-
erment of others in the community”. Personal and collective
empowerment of the African woman will lead to relational
empowerment in the context of the existing gender relations in
Africa and help her to participate in the decision making proc-
esses, structures and institutions of development. This is the
sense in which women empowerment will lead to sustainable
development and the achievement of gender equality in the real
sense in Africa. This brief review of the framework of empow-
erment demonstrates that the concept could be of value when it
comes to planning, formulation and programming for special
development interventions meant for the continent at the inter-
national, regional, national or local government levels. This
view supports women getting involved in decisions on pro-
grams meant for not only their own good but also meant for the
good of the entire continent.
Examining the MDG Actions Taken to Redress
Gender Inequality and Empower Women in
When we look at actions taken by African countries to com-
ply and commit moral and material resources to global com-
mitments on empowering women, we discover that so far, with
regards to the protocol on Elimination of all forms of Dis-
crimination Against Women (CEDAW), 51 out of 53 African
Member States have ratified the Convention and 17 have signed
the Optional Protocol. On the general response to regional trea-
ties such as the African Women’s Protocol a total number of 25
countries have ratified the Protocol, while an additional number
of 23 have signed. These countries are: Angola, Benin, Burkina
Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Libya,
Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique,
Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Seychelles,
Tanzania, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Countries which have
only signed are Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African
Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Democratic Republic of
Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea Bissau,
Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Sahrawi Arab
Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland
and Uganda. Those which have not taken any action at all are:
Botswana, Egypt, Eritrea, Sao Tome and Principe and Tunisia.
Sixteen (16) Member States have reported on the implementa-
tion of the SDGEA, namely: Algeria, Burundi, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali,
Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa
and Tunisia.
In the first place, constitutional domestication of interna-
tional gender sensitive treaties is central to the achievement of
the MDG equality protocol and the achievement of the goal of
sustainable development in Africa. This is because the adoption
of state constitutions that promote gender equality in Africa,
makes it possible for states in Africa to institutionalize gender
equality and the empowerment of women as national constitu-
tions guarantee equality before the law and non-discrimination,
while directing their respective state Governments to embark
upon affirmative action measures to correct pre-existing cul-
tural and socio-economic and political imbalances. These im-
balances could only be addressed as they occur between males
and females in thei r daily soci etal enga gement s. But while most
governments have adopted constitutions that take on broader
gender equality and empowerment, only five countries-Benin
(1990), Ghana (1992), Ethiopia (1994) and Malawi (2006) and
Uganda (1995)—have made progress in real terms. For exam-
ple, Article 35 of the constitution of Ethiopia recognizes and
states as follows:
The historical legacy of inequality and discrimination suf-
fered by women in Ethiopia taken into account, women,
in order to remedy this legacy, are entitled to affirmative
measures. The purpose of such measures shall be to pro-
vide special attention to women so as to enable them to
compete and participate on the basis of equality with men
in political, social and economic life as well as in public
and private institutions.
However, the establishment of institutional mechanisms and
gender structures in African countries are also vital to the reali-
zation of women empowerment and the achievement of sus-
tainable development in a post 2015.When we examine actions
and progress made in this area, we find a dismal record too.
Though efforts had been made by African governments to
structure gender mainstreaming into national development and
poverty reduction strategies data segregation and lack of capac-
ity building to realize these efforts had been poor and uncoor-
dinated between the different sectors and levels of Government
within a particular country. The example of Nigeria is note-
worthy where there are no available data on indicators on pro-
gress, gaps identified and challenges faced in institutionalizing
women empowerment initiatives in the budgets of the different
Ministries (Adanna, 2010).
Another area where actions had been taken, albeit by a few
countries, is mainstreaming women budget matters and needs
into the annual budgets of African countries. This gender re-
sponsiveness in resource allocation enables women to partici-
pate in development activities by accessing public resources
and getting equal pay for equal work. Good gender budget ini-
tiatives and policies have been identified in South Africa, Tan-
zania, Uganda, Rwanda, Mauritius, Senegal, Ghana and Mo-
rocco. However paucity of human and financial resources
needed to build capacity of the institutions to correctly formu-
late, implement and monitor the budgets remain a huge chal-
lenge for Governments in Africa. Again, lack of involvement of
women in the budgeting process keeps sabotaging the real ob-
jectives of empowerment.
In the area of initiating legislative reforms to take care of
socio-cultural and legal constraints to equality in Africa, some
African countries have taken substantial measures while the
majority still lack behind. Article 13 of the Protocol to the Af-
rican Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of
women in Africa states that Parties shall adopt and enforce
legislative and other measures to guarantee women equal op-
portunities in work and career advancement and other eco-
Open Access
nomic opportunities. However although the legal framework for
women’s equal rights to land is in place, structural, cultural and
economic constraints are still likely to limit women’s access to
and control of land (Akinyi-Nzioki, 2006). In Nigeria, some
states such as Enugu and Lagos states have enacted the wid-
owhood bills to guard against culturally motivated violence and
oppression of widows and women, the other 34 states are still
prevaricating whether or when to do so in their states. As these
constraints exist to sabotage the empowerment of women and
the achievement of equality in Africa we should also recognize
that the lack of good governance that could have facilitated the
realization of these gendered goals had been responsible for the
slow process recorded by many countries on gender equality on
the continent.
Policy Actions Taken in the Context of
Empowerment and Gender Mainstreaming
in Africa
African countries have in various ways shown commitments
to ending gender inequality and disparity in the continent.
These commitments have enhanced the empowerment of women
through policy actions that demonstrated a regional willingness
to redefine the future of women in the continent. These areas of
demonstrated commitments are women’s rights, addressing vio-
lence against women, access to quality education, quality health
care, economic opportunities and resources and women agency
in formal and informal decision making instit u t i ons.
Challenges Faced in Addressing Gender
Inequality in Africa
It is recognized that within the continent that major commit-
ments had been shown by Governments to address inequality in
Africa, but they had been not been done in such a way to ad-
dress the decade-old dis-empowerment of women. Commit-
ments made are not sustainable, not enough to redress the gaps
and to empower women in real terms both at the personal and
collective levels. As a result, the ratification of both interna-
tional and regional instruments have not positively resulted in
substantial changes in the lives of women, with huge gaps still
existing between policy and practice, current practices and in-
ternational best practices and a prevalence of still to be resolved
cultural regime of patriarchy that still believes that women are
inferior and second class citizens. There are seventeen obstacles
and challenges responsible for this baleful scenario as identified
by the report of the sixth session of the African development
forum focused upon “achieving gender equality and women’s
empowerment in Africa” (2008: pp. 26-29):
1) Continued presence of strong cultural and traditional prac-
tices constraining progress in achieving gender parity in the
areas of public/private/domestic attitudinal discrimination, edu-
cation, health, access to justice, ownership of land and property,
unjust widowhood practices, serial violence and rape of women;
2) Lack of ratification of the instruments that promote gender
3) Ineffective institutional and policy implementation me-
4) Lack of adequate resources;
5) Lack of enforcement of laws that promote gender equality
and lack of knowledge of laws;
6) Lack of full involvement of men and boys;
7) Continued lack of recognition of women’s unpaid work;
8) Violation of women’s rights;
9) Limited gender equality in decision making and govern-
10) Lack of supportive complementary policies;
11) Inadequate documentation and dissemination of success-
ful practices for replication;
12) Limited role of the media;
13) Lack of sex disaggregated and gender data;
14) Weak monitoring and evaluation of systems.
Recent additional challenges made by the Women Empow-
erment framework forum (CEPPER, 2012: p. 23) also identi-
fied another critical source of gaps in achieving gender equality
and empowerment of women in Africa as:
15) Non-involvment of women as fundamental stakeholders
in designing programs meant for their welfare, with the result
that others define what they need and how it will be of benefit
to them;
16) Non use of development communication tools as a par-
ticipatory governance process when engaging women;
17) Conflict of interests between educated urban women el-
ites and their uneducated rural grassroots counterparts;
18) Political window dressing on gender equality that leads
only to the propaganda on only paper work;
19) Endemic corruption in African states;
20) Non design of proper strategic agendas for the First Lady
forums used only to corner resources of state by the wives of
state presidents but not to empower women or effect any gender
21) Non-integration of different ministerial programs with
gender and poverty reduction filters.
Recommendations to Achieve a Post 2015
Empowerment Framework and Gender
Equality in Africa-Need for a Human
Rights Based De velopment Approach
My entire recommendations will revolve around gender
mainstreaming and empowerment of women in Africa to
achieve sustainable gender equality and development in the
continent based upon the following suggestions:
Domestication of the International and Regional
Gender Policy Laws and Documents
The domestication of these international gender instruments
and laws will empower the states and civil society organiza-
tions to implement and protect women and ensure budgetary
and statutory provisions for them within the context of national
laws of African governments. Most governments are yet to do
this domestication and it is huge problem that creates a contra-
diction between international, regional and national gender
policy laws. This domestication will provide governments with
a roadmap to provide sustainable interventions with participa-
tory contents and programs what empower women both at the
urban and rural areas, making it possible for them to legally
make claims against violations.
Gender Based Legal Reforms in the State
States and civil society organizations need to sponsor gender
based culture-orientated legal reforms and violence (prohibition)
to protect and make specific provisions for women and girls to
Open Access 471
ensure prohibition from all forms of abuse and exploitation in
the labor market and th e ec on o my.
Advocacy and Provisions for Women in Decision and
Policy Levels
There is need to ensure a state recognized civil society advo-
cacy and provision for increased measurable number of women
to be included and involved in decision making and policy
making organs of governance at the state and local governance
levels. These provisions should be constitution alised and le-
galized at the national levels. This will achieve, for good meas-
ure, positive involvement of women as decision makers and
partners in formulating, implementing, monitoring and evalu-
ating policies aimed at achieving human development in the
continent. It will, more than anything else, see an increasing
ratio and population of women at the cabinet, state houses of
assembly, the civil service, local government leadership, and,
most importantly, me mbership of the of boards and parastatals,
especially those that have to do with poverty reduction, educa-
tion and women affairs at the state and national levels in Africa.
Establishment of a Women Forum in Leadership at
the Local, State and National Levels
This will serve as a kind of effective peer review mechanism
recognized by the state to benchmark, monitor, evaluate and
measure the levels of various state compliance and achievement
of international mechanisms as established in such organiza-
tions as the United Nations women and the African Action
reports on gender equality and women empowerment (2008)
and the various action plans on empowerment of women and
achievement of gender equality adopted by different states in
Africa. For good measure, these periodic for a will be made up
women members of parastatals, ministries, educational institu-
tions, women community cooperatives and leaders of civil so-
ciety groups with gender orientation and mandates within each
country. This forum will also convene a periodic gender based
summit for women, sponsor a women leadership workshop, set
up a women micro-credit centre and organize a political em-
powerment platform to ensure women’s participation and inte-
gration in political party and electoral processes at the local,
state, and national levels with a pro-active agenda aimed at
achieving the ration of women involvement in politics and in-
stitution building.
Enactment of Women Equal Opportunities Act at the
Level of the Local, State and National Assemblies
The women equal opportunities act should ensure equal
treatment of women in the work place and the achievement of
judicial access for women to claim their constitutionally en-
shrined rights related to all the gender issues that affect them
within the socio-economic, cultural and economic spheres of
every nation, beginning at the local, state and national govern-
ments. African Union regional gender instruments should set a
peer review mechanism on gender based equal opportunity
review at the national levels that will measure and benchmark
the compliance levels by each country in the continent at peri-
odic levels. The level of international and private donor aid to
African countries should be determined by the rate of their
movement up or down the gender scales of equality in their
countries in measurable terms.
Gender Based and Culture Oriented Public
Awareness Campa igns
To address the issues that emanated from cultural patriarchy
and oppression against women for which Africa is notorious for,
there is need to have a well organized public campaigns tar-
geted at infusing the public consciousness of gender equality
and erasing the false consciousness of inferiority which have
dis-empowered women and created a sense of inferiority
amongst them. This campaign will look into particular cases of
injustices against widows, the girl child education, early mar-
riage, religious prejudices, work place discrimination, and var-
ious instances of cultural bias aimed at disempowering women
and sabotaging all the finer goals of the different international,
regional and national instruments aimed at achieving gender
equality and empowering women. This will also make women
readily available to be mobilized at the different levels of deci-
sion and policy making where issues that concern their welfare
and existence are determined.
Reforming the Women Affairs Ministries with an
Authentic Gender Agenda and Grassroots Strategy
Most women ministries in Africa are only women oriented in
name but not in terms of effective policy goals and strategies
that really reflect the participatory contributions of women and
the genuine articulation of women’s problems and issues of
empowerment and achieving gender equality in real terms. This
has been one problem that has sabotaged the achievement of
women empowerment in the continent since the women affairs
ministries are seen as symbolic policy and political posts that
are meant to showcase how “gender sensitive” they are without
any real policy efforts with the possibility of changing the posi-
tion and situation of women in the continent. Some are being
set to attract international and regional funding from donor
agencies and achieve the political and electoral votes of women
for selfish critical election motives. Most electoral promises
aimed at erecting gender-based development policy and pro-
grams are shamelessly abandoned after the elections had been
won by the male campaigners for public offices in Africa. A
genuine women affairs ministry that has undergone the neces-
sary gender-based reforms in content should mobilize, educate,
integrate and empower women in real measurable terms that
should achieve gender equality and sustainable development in
a post 2015 Africa.
In conclusion, as a way forward, I will like to recommend the
following tested and tried good practices that have worked in
some countries such as Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria:
1) Domesticate and ratify all international and regional
2) Develop gender implementation plans and policies;
3) Design gender monitoring and impact assessment ma-
chineries with women as members;
4) Capacity building of gender policy implementation,
monitoring and evaluation frameworks at the national, state and
local government levels;
5) Involve civil society organization in all legal, policy and
program empowerment machineries for women;
6) Creative cultural and legal reforms to remove discrimina-
tory and disempowerment practices against women in Africa
Open Access
with the involvement of patriarchal chiefs and village women
7) Cultural re-education and public awareness of issues af-
fecting women;
8) Generation of gender sensitive and responsive data
through the application of gender disaggregated data to enhance
the full inclusion of gender issues in the development process;
9) Direct empowerment of women in the policy making and
implementation process at the village, local, state and national
10) Establishment of Gender Courts to try violations of gen-
der legislative mechanisms;
11) Establishment of Gender Ministries to integrate, quicken
and document all gender related policies and programs in every
country in Africa.
If these proactive measures and programs are taken they will
empower women and redress gender inequality in a manner that
will help the Continent to achieve sustainable development in a
post 2015 era for all mankind. These measures are sustainable
since they follow from the thesis of this paper that ending ine-
quality is an empowerment issue; and that genuine empower-
ment is a gender issue that gives voice and participatory ability
for women, personally and collectively, at every level of deci-
sion making in African governa nce. Empowerment is also some-
thing that is attitudinal, that requires women to be re-oriented to
believe in themselves and for the men to change their enslaving
and discriminatory attitudes against women. It has to do with a
transformational change of mindset for both genders in Africa
partnering together to achieve the transformation of Africa.
African men and women working together to end dis-empow-
erment structures, attitudes, relationships, cultures and policies
require a paradigm shift in the African cultural bar that will
foster change in all the dimensions and areas of development
that currently challenges Africa. For that process to take place,
African women needed to be empowered at the levels of per-
sonal, collective and associational framework of relationship
with men in the real terms to take part in the decision making
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