Gender, governance and conflicts in africa



Gender Equality is a phenomenon that has received increased importance in the past three decades. From the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) onwards gender equality and women's empowerment has been seen as an important factor in development cooperation. Within this framework, three out of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are directly related to gender equality while the remaining goals must incorporate gender equality in order to achieve results. Gender equality is a basic human right and it is difficult to talk about democratization, good governance, sustainable development, prosperity, effectively combating HIV/AIDS without taking into consideration gender equality. The EU has over the decades incorporated gender equality in its policies within the EU and vis--vis its relations with third countries. In this context, gender equality, and gender mainstreaming that has gained increasing relevance, have been an important component of EU's development cooperation. The EU has consequently used several means to incorporate gender equality into its development policy. This study aims to focus on gender equality as a component of EU's development policy towards Africa putting particular focus on the strengths, challenges and possible solutions to the challenges of EU's policy in this area.

Why Gender Equality?

In the past, the role of women in society was confined to the household. However, today, the role of women in all spheres of life, be it in the political, economic, social or cultural is essential. Having said this, the role of women as mothers should not be disregarded. Education starts at home and therefore it is of utmost importance for women who are educating their children to be properly educated as well. Education of women is also essential for combating HIV/AIDS. However women at the same time should also be represented in all segments of society on an equal footing with men. While women's role in the society in developed countries has improved over the decades, gender equality and women's rights are still seen as of secondary importance or sometimes even disregarded in developing or underdeveloped societies.

"The female labor force in sub-Saharan Africa in 2005 was about 73 million, representing 34 per cent of those employed in the formal sector, earning only 10 per cent of the income while owning 1 per cent of the assets."[1] Gender equality is a basic human right which entails both donor countries and recipient countries to actively promote it. Furthermore, as the statistics indicate there is a direct link between gender equality and poverty. In order to eradicate poverty it is a must to promote gender equality.

EU Development Policy and Gender Equality

Although gender equality is an issue that has been addressed since the 1979 CEDAW, its incorporation into EU's development policy is a relatively new phenomena. The Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 has marked a turning point for the promotion of gender equality in developing countries. Since then a comprehensive gender mainstreaming strategy has been pursued within the general framework of EU's development policy in line with the Beijing Declaration.[2] Within this framework, in the past decade the EU has increased its efforts to the active promotion of gender equality in its development policy with clearly defined goals linked to the UN MDGs on 'universal education', 'gender equality' and 'maternal health'. Some of the regulations, action plans and communications adopted with relation to gender equality are elaborated below.

Council Regulation (EC) No 2836/98[3] was the first EU document to incorporate gender equality into all EU development cooperation policies and interventions, it was later replaced by Council Regulation (EC) No 806/2004[4].

In 2001, the Commission adopted a 'Program of Action (PoA) for the mainstreaming of gender equality in the EU's Development Cooperation' (COM (2001) 295)[5]. While in previous EU legislation integrating gender equality to EU's development cooperation focused solely on the role of women, the PoA as a new approach put emphasis on the link between gender equality and development policy, looking at the issue in its entirety, also incorporating the role of men in this framework. The PoA also set forth three areas (axes) into which gender equality would be inserted. Namely i) integration of gender issues in the priority areas identified by the EU development policy, ii) including gender in projects and programs at country and regional level, and iii) building gender capacities within the EU by publications and training of EU personnel.[6]

In the 2005 'European Consensus on Development' which also incorporated the objectives put forth in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness[7], gender equality was identified as a cross-cutting area. It stressed that, "the empowerment of women is the key to all development and gender equality should be a core part of all policy strategies."[8]

In 2007, the European Commission drafted the Communication 'Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development Co-operation' (COM(2007)0100) aiming at developing a new European Strategy with regard to gender equality in EU development cooperation. In defining gender equality as one of the five main common principles of EU development cooperation, the strategy sets forth concrete actions for the promotion of gender equality in five main areas, namely i)governance, ii) employment, iii) education, iv) health, and v) domestic violence. Furthermore, the strategy, in order to achieve its objectives, emphasizes the need to adapt to new aid modalities, in particular budget support and sector wide approaches.[9]

In practice, so far the EU and most Member States have adopted a twin-track strategy. This strategy consists of, mainstreaming gender equality in all policies, strategies and actions, and financing projects or proposals that directly supports the empowerment of women.[10] Within this framework, the EU raises the issue during political dialogues with partner countries at highest possible level. Moreover, the EU attaches particular importance to 'gender sensitizing' Country Strategy Papers, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and National Development Plans, as they provide crucial entry points to putting gender equality and women's empowerment on the agenda.[11] For the EU, these documents are also decisive in evaluating the status of women in a partner country. The EU is also trying to promote Women Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in partner countries because of the need for women beneficiaries to also assume 'ownership' in addition to governments. Likewise, the EU is increasingly using gender responsive budgeting as an important tool for gender equality.

The Case of Africa

In Africa, up until now, improvement has been achieved with regard to gender equality and women's empowerment, however it has significantly varied from country to country. Efforts have been made to enhance women's participation in the decision making process. This has resulted in the increase in the number of women in Parliament in Rwanda (48%), Swaziland (30%), South Africa (29, 8%), Mozambique (28, 4%) and Seychelles (22%).[12] There has also been an increase in the enrolment of girls to primary school however with varying success. While the enrollment rate for sub-Saharan Africa was overall 88,3%, the rate was 58,1% in the Central African Republic, 60,8 % in Chad, 76,2% in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 84,4% in Ethiopia and 97% in Ghana.[13] Nonetheless, enrollment in school does not necessarily mean that girls continue to attend school and eventually graduate, this fact is reflected in the primary education completion rate for girls in sub-Saharan Africa which is only 55%.[14] There have been steps taken to address gender issues in the health sector as well. In this context, some countries have tried to raise awareness to women's reproductive health by promoting family planning services, as well as providing education on sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.[15]

Despite all these improvements there is still a lot to achieve.

In the following sections firstly, the legal and financial framework of EU's gender equality policy towards Africa will be analyzed, secondly examples from what the EU has done on the field will be given, and last but not least, EU's policies will be assessed from a critical point of view.

The Legal and Financial Framework of EU's Gender Equality Policy Towards Africa

From the first Yaound Convention signed in 1963 until 1985, cooperation between the EU and Africa dealt mainly with economic issues and gave little concern to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Political considerations were mentioned for the first time in Lom III (1985-90), which stated the commitment of EU and ACP countries to human dignity, including equality between genders, and economic, social and cultural rights. However, the agreement did not provide for any sanctions in cases of violation of these norms.

As mentioned in the previous sections, the active incorporation of gender issues to development policy effectively started after the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women. In this respect, gender equality was integrated in to all relevant documents signed between the EU and Africa.

This approach was reflected in the Cotonou Agreement[16], which is centered on the objective of reducing and eventually eradicating poverty. Article 31 of the Cotonou Agreement (revised in 2005 giving a further emphasis to women rights) makes a clear and specific commitment to gender equality. Furthermore, the Agreement stresses the importance of systematic consideration of gender equality as a cross cutting theme in the three areas of cooperation namely, i) economic development, ii) social and human development, and iii) regional integration and cooperation.

In 2007, seven years after the first EU-Africa Summit in Cairo, the Joint EU-Africa Strategy was adopted in Lisbon during the second EU-Africa Summit. Article 63 of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy states that "Africa and the EU will also strengthen the inter-institutional fabric of their administrations to mainstream gender equality in all strategies, policies, programs and actions. They will address the entire range of women's rights and strengthen their efforts to eliminate illiteracy and to ensure equal access of girls to education, to fight the feminisation of poverty, to promote women in decision making positions and peace processes, and fight sexual and gender based violence against women and early forced marriage, and work towards the abandonment of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) and other harmful traditional practices, as set out in the Beijing Platform for Action and the AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality."[17]

However, it is noteworthy to mention that the Action Plan of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, which was adopted for the period between 2008-2010 containing specific proposals for cooperation in eight areas, including among others democratic governance and human rights and MDGs, does not make specific reference to gender equality, only mentioning gender equality as a 'governance issue of mutual interest.'[18] The exclusion of MDG 3 on 'gender equality' is a major shortcoming and is in contradiction with the EU's aim in becoming the leader in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment.

With regard to the financing of the strategic partnership, the EU provides assistance to partner countries in promoting gender equality through several different mechanisms, the main ones being the European Development Fund (EDF), the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument (ENPI), the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), as well as bilateral Member State contributions. The EDF, which plays the biggest role, assists ACP countries in the areas of education, health and justice aiming to make them accessible to both, boys and girls, women and men. The EDF is also active in national capacity building to design and implement gender policies. The 10th EDF programming exercise gives particular emphasis to 'gender sensitizing' Country Strategy Papers.

EU's Gender Equality Policy on the Ground

In practice, as a part of its twin-track approach, at the political level the EU tries to raise awareness and promote gender equality in bilateral meetings, such as the EU-Africa Ministerial meetings that play a major role in reviewing the implementation of the Joint Strategy, the Joint Africa-EU Task Force, and the Joint Africa-EU Expert Groups. These meetings are also a good platform for the EU to induce African countries to include gender related issues in their Country Strategy Papers, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and National Development Plans. This approach has resulted for example, in countries such as Angola[19], Ethiopia[20], and Kenya[21] to take into consideration the role of women in the areas of agriculture and food security in their Country Strategy Papers.

The EU via its budget support and sector-wide approach, as mentioned in previous sections, has led partner countries to take into consideration gender responsive budgeting. Nearly all of the African partner countries today are allocating more resources to gender equality, though the amounts remain modest.

The EU, besides cooperating with partner governments, has also tried to collaborate with a wider range of actors in its aim to raise awareness on gender equality and women's empowerment. Within this framework the EU has conducted projects with;

  1. Universities: The ACP-EU Cooperation Program in higher education, encourages universities and research institutes in East Africa to conduct migration and gender study programs with an overall aim to raise general awareness on gender equality and migration.[22]
  2. International organizations: In April 2007, the European Commission jointly with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO) - launched the 'EC/UN Partnership on Gender Equality for Development and Peace'[23], focusing on 12 countries including Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Ghana. By the use of partnership in Cameroon Gender Responsive Budgeting was integrated within programs of different ministries such as Trade, Women and Health. Media campaigns were made in Congo and an Action Plan for mainstreaming gender in implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was presented to the Congolese Ministry of Planning. Furthermore, in Ethiopia a local network of 35 women's associations and organizations working on gender issues was enhanced.
  3. Local CSOs & Private Sector: Within the framework of the principle of 'ownership' the EC funded several projects of local CSOs, such as the 'Mother-Child Project'[24] in Mauritania conducted by the Sante-Sud CSO in 2004, as well as private sector co-funded projects like 'Europe-Uganda Village 2007'[25]

In addition, the EU aims to promote gender equality through its thematic programs. The Thematic Program 'Investing in People' (financed by DCI) contains a separate financial envelope of 57 million Euro's for the period 2007-2013 for funding EC actions in the area of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.[26]

A Critical Assessment

Despite progress in the field of gender equality and women empowerment, we are way behind achieving the MDGs. There are several reasons to why the EU as well as other international actors and partner states themselves have not been able to appropriately address gender equality in Africa. Some of them are elaborated below.

Firstly, a reason that is not only limited to gender equality but to development policy in general, the policies that have been designed in Brussels or national capitals of Member States do not always correspond to the actual needs of partner countries. The realities on the ground are very different and sometimes even the simplest needs that are taken for granted in Europe hinder the success if not the implementation of policies.

Secondly, the gender dimension of EU's development policy towards Africa has only been addressed, as mentioned above, since the Cotonou Agreement, which means for nearly a decade, and not necessarily always giving proper emphasis to it, as is the case with the Action Plan of 2008-2010. It is unrealistic to expect that the mind-sets of both men and women would change in such a short period of time in societies that are highly patriarchic in which gender based violence persists.[27]

Thirdly, besides social and cultural factors, conflicts and war have also inhibited the achievement of greater gender equality in Africa. They have actually exacerbated the situation of women. Women have not only been participants of war but they have been victims of it as well.[28] The EU's focus in conflict zones has been predominantly on rehabilitation of infrastructure, good governance and institutional support as in the case of Sierra Leone[29] and Angola[30].

Fourthly, while certain new aid modalities such as budget support, sector wide approach and ownership have had positive effects, they require women to play a more active role in finding entry points and raising their concerns during the formulation of policies.[31] However, this requires participatory decision making with the inclusion of all groups concerned. In most African countries, there is general lack of awareness and knowledge of the new aid modalities, and even if women are informed, there are limits to their participation, as governments are not all that welcoming. This results in the drafting of documents that are not 'gender-sensitive'.[32]

Fifthly, the lack of sex-aggregated data and gender specific indicators across sectors has created a difficulty in assessing the progress with regard to gender equality. Mapping studies have difficulties in finding expenditures that have been solely allocated to gender equality.[33] This has led the EU to channel its already limited resources earmarked for gender equality in an ineffective manner.

What the EU has done to overcome its shortcomings & What it can do

In an effort to address its shortcomings and enhance its policies on gender equality the EU has recently adopted an 'EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development'[34], on 8 March 2010. This operational document is basically built on previous EU legislation. However, the document contains some novelties that might prove to be effective in addressing gender equality and women's empowerment more effectively. The Action Plan (PoA), stressing the importance of cooperation and coherence between the EU and its Member States, as well as international organizations, third countries and partner countries, focuses on particular objectives in which the EU has a comparative advantage. The main objective of the PoA is to accelerate the implementation of prior EU legislation in the area of gender equality as well as relevant MDGs. In addition, the PoA proposes a new 'three pronged approach' comprising of Political and Policy Dialogue, Gender Mainstreaming, and Specific Actions. The document also proposes activities to be carried out by the EU and its Member States between 2010-1015 in the areas such as i) in-house capacity building, ii) monitoring, accountability and transparency, and iii) prioritizing partner country non-state actors participation and capacity building on gender equality, with an aim to strengthening the lead role of the EU in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment. Last but not least the document emphasizes the necessity for gender disaggregated data and the use of gender equality performance indicators in budget support and sector support programs.

The Cotonou Agreement that was revised in March 2010 for the second time states that the parties will make a concerted effort in accelerating progress for the attainment of the MDGs. In this respect it gives greater emphasis to gender mainstreaming in all policies. It also underlines the role of women in peace building and conflict prevention, addressing gender equality and gender based violence as causes for HIV/AIDS by implementing gender sensitive HIV/AIDS programs.[35]

The EU, besides addressing the causes of limited progress as mentioned in the previous section and the measures it is aiming to take with new legislation as mentioned above, must above all be persistent and should not shy away in using conditionality, if necessary, in promoting gender equality. The governments of the African countries must feel that in the case of non-compliance with international agreements and conventions their trade relations or the amount of aid they receive will be at stake. This however, entails the EU, its member states and the international community to take common action and give the same message. In this respect, the EU-Africa Summit that will be held in late 2010 in Libya will be an important opportunity for the EU to raise the issue of gender equality and women's empowerment at the highest level.

Moreover, the EU, in addition to cooperating with partner country governments, must try to directly target women CSOs, and in the case there are no women CSOs, the EU must step up its efforts in helping to establish women CSOs. Only with the effective incorporation of women CSOs and their active involvement in formulation of national strategies can results be achieved.


As demonstrated in this paper, African women have a significant role in all parts of the society, they are mothers who educate and take care of their children, bread winners who take care of the household, and participants of war who at times fight for independence, yet they are also victims of discrimination and violence. Three out of the eight MDGs are related to gender issues, furthermore, gender equality is a basic human right, and unless African women are provided with equal opportunities it would be unrealistic to expect any tangible progress in African countries towards democratization, sustainable development, peace as well as combating HIV/AIDS. The EU in line with the international developments has pursued an active gender mainstreaming policy within the framework of its development cooperation. The EU in this respect has incorporated gender issues in its relations with Africa. Even though, African governments has shown greater effort to address gender issues due to the new aid modalities, until today progress has remained limited. The EU on its part hasn't been able to effectively tackle the concerns of African women on the ground as well as monitor the developments. The African countries on their part have been reluctant in raising awareness on gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as effectively including gender issues in their national strategies.

Unless the EU, its Member States and the international community act as one by raising the issue at the highest possible level and by pursuing a common approach on gender equality based on conditionality, budget support, more transparency, effective gender-sensitive monitoring, greater Women CSO participation, African women will continue to be subjugated to discrimination and violence, and bear the greater burden in an already impoverished continent.

  1. United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report cited in Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission: Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Development Cooperation, COM/2007/0100 final, Brussels, 8 March 2007, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  2. For further information see, 'Fourth World Conference on Women: Beijing Declaration', United Nations (UN), Beijing, September 1995, retrieved 28 March 2010
  3. Council of the European Union, 'Council Regulation (EC) No 2836/98 of 22 December 1998 on integrating of gender issues to development cooperation', Official Journal of the European Union, L354, 30 December 1998, pp. 5-9, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  4. For further information see, Council of the European Union, 'Council Regulation (EC) No 806/2004 of 21 April 2004 on promoting gender equality in development cooperation', Official Journal of the European Union, L143, 30 April 2004, pp.40-45, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  5. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission: Programme of Action for the mainstreaming of gender equality in Community Development Co-operation, COM (2001) 295 final, Brussels, 21 June 2001, retrieved 28 March 2010
  6. Ibid.
  7. The Paris Declaration on aid Effectiveness introduced four new aid modalities i.e. ownership, harmonization, alignment, managing for results and mutual accountability. For further information see 'Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action', Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), retrieved 1 April 2010
  8. 'European Consensus on Development', (2006/ C46/01), Official Journal of the European Union, C46, 24 February 2006, p.3, retrieved 28 March 2010
  9. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission: Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Development Cooperation, COM/2007/0100 final, Brussels, 8 March 2007, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  10. Ibid
  11. The 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, which was a follow up of the Paris Declaration, stressed the importance for partner countries to ensure that their development policies and county programs would be in compliance with international agreements and conventions on gender equality.
  12. N. Diop, Gender Budgeting for African Development, Gender Responsive Budgeting, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2005, p.3, retrieved 30 March 2010
  13. World Bank Gender Statistics, 2007, retrieved 30 March 2010,,,contentMDK:21438836~menuPK:4080912~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:3237336,00.html
  14. Ibid
  15. Diop, op. cit., p.2.
  16. '2000/483/EC: Partnership agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States, of the other part, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000', Official Journal of the European Union, L 317, 15 December 2000, pp.0003-0353, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  17. The Africa-EU Strategic Partnership: A Joint Africa-EU Partnership, p. 13 retrieved 29 March 2010
  18. First Action Plan for the Implementation of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, Accra 31 October 2007, p. 11 retrieved 29 March 2010
  19. Angola Country Strategy Paper 2008-2013, p. 42, retrieved 29 March 2010
  20. Ethiopia Country Strategy Paper 2008-2013, p. 28, retrieved March 2010
  21. Kenya Country Strategy Paper 2008-2013, p. 118 retrieved 29 March 2010
  22. African-European Research Project IMMIS, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  23. EC/UN Partnership on Gender Equality for Development and Peace, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  24. Projet Mre-Enfant, EC Delegation to Mauritania website, retrieved 28 April 2010,
  25. Europe-Uganda Village 2007, Europeaid, retrieved 29 March 2010,
  26. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission: Investing in People Communication on the thematic program for human and social development and the financial perspectives of 2007-2013, COM (2006) 18 final, Brussels, 25 January 2006, retrieved 28 March 2010,
  27. P. McFadden, The Challenges and Prospects for the African Women's Movement in the 21st Century, Women in Action, Issue 1, 1997, p. 9, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  28. Nzomo, Maria, Gender, Governance and Conflicts in Africa,, 2002, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  29. Sierra Leone Country Strategy Paper 2003-2007, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  30. Angola Country Strategy Paper 2003-2007, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  31. 'Promoting Gender Equality in New Aid Modalities and Partnerships: Experiences from Africa. Burundi Consultation Outcome Report', Gender Responsive Budgeting, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2006, retrieved 1 April 2010
  32. Muteshi, Jacinta, Mapping Aid Effectiveness and Gender Equality in Africa: Regional Issues and Trends, United Nations Development Fund For Women (UNIFEM), 2008, pp.18-20, retrieved 1 April 2010
  33. Ibid., p. 15
  34. Commission of the European Union, Commission Staff Working Document: EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development, SEC (2010) 265 final, Brussels, 8 March 2010, retrieved 1 April 2010,
  35. Second Revision of the Cotonou Agreement, Agreed Consolidated Text, Brussels, 19 March 2010, retrieved 4 April 2010

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