When Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu joins other leaders from across Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at a high level meeting to discuss among others matters climate change, she will cast a lonely figure. The 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government starts on 18 February this year.
Perhaps Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde will show up to comfort the gender balance, but it must be noted that her views may only be ceremonial given that she is not the incumbent Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
President Suluhu remains the only woman in the highest office in Africa and it must be stressed that African women are disproportionately disadvantaged on all fronts- in governance, leadership and climate action.
Yet the AU Summit meeting is intended to evaluate key developments around the ongoing implementation of the 10-year-old Agenda 2063, a blueprint to guide Africa’s path to the future.
Agenda 2063 encapsulates not only Africa’s aspirations for the future but also identifies 15 key flagship programmes which can boost Africa’s economic growth and development and lead to the rapid transformation of the continent despite the challenge of climate change.
As things stand, the discussions in Addis will largely be male-centric and dismally lack women-lens. The irony is that Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spearheaded Agenda 2063 during the time she was the chairperson of the African Union Commission.
Place of women in development
Sadly, with each passing year, it is becoming apparent that the African continent continues to overlook the place of women in its development.
Scanning through the programmes considered pillars of Agenda 2063, none of them explicitly focuses on women and girls, yet they continue to be disproportionately disadvantaged.
Goal 17 of the Agenda 2063 programme for example, acknowledges the need for gender equality in all spheres of life, yet nothing exposes the emptiness of such a promise or clearly demonstrates a continent that has so little regard for women’s place in leadership than the fact that only two of its 54 heads are women.
Notably, authors Jacqui Poltera and Jenny Schreiner highlighted in their journal article that perhaps, the problem is with the term, “women leadership”. In their view, that term within the African context is contentious and ambiguous.
But, the big question would be, is this ambiguity the reason for the ironic situation Africa find itself in? As odd as it sounds, most if not all African countries celebrate over 60 years since independence, yet, the AU Summits hold with such glaring differences in gender equality.
African women seem to be missing out, despite numerous global commitments that propel the need for gender inclusion.
What this means is that the evaluation of Agenda 2063 and the recommendations derived from the discussions are likely to perpetuate the male-centric outlook in the foreseeable future, with the ripple effect of extensions of exclusion of women from key regional policy and legal frameworks.
This notwithstanding President Suluhu has not shied away from pushing for potential solutions for Tanzania.
Speaking during the 2023 Davos, she called for collaborative efforts between governments and the private sector to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change as well as steer the globe towards a smooth energy transition. Without a doubt, discussions around climate change will feature greatly given that the AU Summit holds a time when most of these countries are ravaged by the impacts of climate change.
The intricacies of climate and weather patterns, coupled with complications of foreseeing how Africa will respond between now and 2030 have generated climate change scenarios that range from manageable to catastrophic.
On her part, the First Lady of Kenya, Rachel Ruto stated that climate change poses a threat to our planet's future and we must act now.
She noted: “Climate change has negatively affected all of us, particularly the least economically equipped in our communities.”
Beneath these frequent uncertainties lies a huge unknown: somewhere between commitment and gender inclusion in decision-making for climate action. There also exist “tipping points,” which no individual can deny and without certainty or promise we are slowly crossing the 1.5-degree threshold and no AU State will be exempted from the consequences.
This inadvertently means that irreversible climate changes may be unbridled (such as extreme heating, and rising sea levels) and Africans are facing another unfriendly probability of worst-case scenarios.
Going forward, it is time for the African Union to take a gender approach to climate change. On a positive note, the African Women’s Development and Communications Network, Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, Oxfam, Natural Justice and African Youth Commission are making strong calls to have the feminist agenda at the centre of African decision-making organs.
[The writer works as a communication officer and knowledge management support personnel at the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)]