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Gender issues in the African Union, NEPAD and the Pan African Parliament: two perspectives

The Pan-African Parliament: an opportunity for African women
By Baleka Mbete, MP
National Assembly, SA


The purpose of this presentation is to share information, share ideas and perspectives about the PAP, but most importantly to use this as an opportunity to strategise on how best African women must utilise the PAP to further the advancement of our status.


The Pan African Parliament was first provided for in the Abuja Treaty of 1991. Secondly it is provided for in the Constitutive Act of the African Union as one of the 9 (nine) organs of the AU listed in the Act.

Article 17 of the Constitutive Act creates the parliament “In order to ensure the full participation of African peoples in the development and economic integration of the continent…” This article then says that the details would be spelt out in the protocol.

Before delving further into an understanding of this organ, I’d like to now sketch some recent history of discussions around it. There are three meetings of African MPs that are important to mention.

In November 2000 the OAU convened a meeting of representatives from African parliaments in Pretoria to discuss the then draft protocol. From there the amended document was tabled to the meeting of the heads of states, which adopted the protocol in March 2001. The main reason Africa does not have a parliament is that Article 22 of the protocol has taken long to be realised. We need a simple majority of the Member States to ratify and deposit the instruments before the Assembly convenes the first meeting of the PAP.

A second meeting of African MPs sat in Cape Town just before the Durban Summit of the launch of the AU. Speaker Ginwala was mandated by that meeting to present a report of the meeting to the Assembly in Durban. In particular, a recommendation was made that a Steering Committee be created to assist the AU (secretariat), i.e. the Interim Commission towards the creation of the Pan-African Parliament. The Assembly agreed to this. The Steering Committee has since been created earlier this year (2003) and is busy helping with the newly appointed Commission.

The third meeting took place in Cape Town before the Maputo Summit of 2003. It received reports on ratifications and it urged parliaments to speed up this process. Again, Speaker Ginwala was mandated to present a report to the Summit. In particular, the MPs urged members of the executives of Member States to assist in the ratification processes and to ensure instruments of ratification were deposited back in Addis Ababa.

Where are we now?

The Maputo Summit decided that the Pan-African Parliament must have its inaugural meeting not later than the end of January 2004. Remember that this is dependent on a simple majority of Member States ratifying and depositing. Once this has been done, then 30 (thirty) days thereafter the Pan-African Parliament can exist. Informally Speaker Ginwala has gathered from fellow speakers that we now have the requisite number of ratifications.

The chairperson of the AU must determine a date for the inaugural meeting. Parliaments must each elect their 5 (five) representatives, at least one of whom must be a woman. Thirdly, nomination processes must unfold towards the election of the Office bearers of the Pan-African Parliament. These are to be from each of the 5 (five) regions of Africa. They are President and 4 (four) Vice-presidents. They will form the Bureau of the PAP and will be assisted by a Clerk and 2 (two) Deputy Clerks. Until the PAP recruits its own staff, it will be administratively supported and serviced by the AU commission. As soon as the Bureau is elected at the inaugural meeting, it is envisaged that the present Steering Committee will cease to exist.

African women and all progressive Africans must seize the challenge to consider ways in which the Pan-African Parliament can give meaning to the objectives of the AU, especially in as far as African women are concerned. We must consider the strategic areas where this can best be realised. We must be focused in order to maximise our benefits. I will raise some of these areas for your consideration. Before that I’d like to briefly deal with the envisaged powers and functions of the PAP.

The purpose, powers and functions of the PAP

First and foremost we must look at the Constitutive Act of the African Union to have the proper context within which to locate a discussion or an understanding of the role of the PAP. I wish to highlight two objectives and one simple principle of the AU in this regard.

Article 3(g.) “Promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance.” 3(h) “Promote and protect human and people’s rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human People’s Rights and other relevant human rights instruments;”

In Article 4, the Constitutive Act spells out the PRINCIPLES in accordance with which the Union will function. 4(1) provides for the “Promotion of gender equality;”

The second place where we must go for a more elaborate spelling out of the Powers and Functions of the PAP is – of course – the Protocol, which is provided for in the Constitutive Act. Although it will ultimately develop into an institution with full legislative powers whose members will be elected by universal adult suffrage, initially the PAP will have consultative and advisory powers. This allows it to discuss any matter it wishes to take a view or position on to make these views and position known to the Assembly and to African citizens.

From Articles 11 on “Functions and Powers” and 12 on “Rules of Procedure and Organisation of the Pan-African Parliament”, I will highlight just a few. 11(1) says the PAP may “Examine, discuss or express an opinion on any matter, either on its own initiative or at the request of the Assembly or other policy organs and make recommendations it may deem fit relating to, inter alia, “matters pertaining to respect of human rights, the, consolidation of democratic institutions, and, the culture of democracy as well as the promotion of good governance and the rule of law.

11(2) refers to its budget and the budget of the AU on which it can make recommendations for consideration before its approval by the Assembly. 12(13) provides for the establishment of committees for the proper discharge of the PAP’s function in accordance with its Rules of Procedure. In Article 18, the Protocol envisages a close cooperation between the PAP with the parliaments of the Regional Economic Communities and the National Parliaments through-among other ways – annual consultative fora to “discuss matters of common interest.”

Article 11(9) provides room for the PAP to consider and decide on its own work and program. “Perform such other functions as it deems appropriate to achieve the objectives set out in Article 3 of this Protocol.”

I would like to turn to the objectives of the PAP and do so bearing in mind Article 11 (9). I also wish to remind us of Article 12(13) about the establishment of PAP committees. In order to be focused, I propose, the objectives should form the main basis for the structures and program of the PAP. In this respect I would highlight the following themes extracted from Article 3.

  1. Human rights and democracy: e.g. ACPHR (African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa)

  2. Good Governance, transparency and accountability in Member States: e.g. APRM (Africa Peer Review Mechanism)

  3. Peace, security and stability: e.g. PSC (Peace and Security Council)

  4. Collective self-reliance and economic recovery: e.g. NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development)

  5. Cooperation among Regional Economic Communities: e.g. RECS (Regional Economic Communities)

This is an option for considering how to organise the work of the PAP, especially in terms of an oversight function, which exists even though not explicitly spelt out anywhere. In each of the above themes the issues of women arise and have to the seen as a standing item for monitoring how the continent is following up on all past agreements and commitments like CEDAW, the Dakar and Beijing Platforms, the Africa Charter on Human People’s Rights of women in Africa, NEPAD, etc.

Another option is to ensure the PAP maintains contact, monitors and maintains oversight over all AU organs structures and work. While this might sound ideal it could be too broad and unproductive. As things stand the AU has potentially 17 organs. In addition, here are 7 (seven) specialised committees. Then you have 10 district topics listed as areas in which the Executive Council of Foreign Ministers will have deliberations. Add to that the portfolio areas of focus for the Commission of the AU. Some of there overlap. It seems to me, except for specific reports on matters raised with the PAP, it could be difficult for its committees to be structured to respond to these many other bodies of the AU. That’s why I prefer focusing on the provisions of the Protocol for guidance on this complex matter.

In keeping with the position take by the AU Workshop on gender mainstreaming in May 2002, I suggest that an office for gender mainstreaming of the PAP be located in the Bureau. This is because this is the highest office in this organ. Through this office contact could also be maintained with and monitoring pursued of other AU gender mainstreaming work throughout the system.

Challenges and opportunities

The first challenge is that women hardly feature in some key bodies of the AU. There isn’t a single woman Head of State, therefore no woman on the highest structure, the Assembly. There are only 2 or 3 women Foreign Affairs Ministers and so hardly a presence in the very important Executive Council, which processes all matters and makes recommendations to the Assembly. I must also mention that the Rules of Procedure of this organ list one of its Powers and Functions – in Rule 4 (4) as to “Ensure the promotion of gender equality in all programs of the Union”. We need more women in this body and so more Ministers of Foreign Affairs. We do have an alternative to use Rule 2, which creates the possibility for Governments or Member States to duly accredit any other Minister to the Executive council. This is something to be carefully considered if women find that some issues could be more sensitively handled by other ministers, especially those charged with responsibility for the portfolio of “women affairs”.

Secondly, just a quick look at some concerns listed in the Maputo Declaration on Gender Mainstreaming and the Effective Participation of Women in the African Union.

“The Women, Gender and Development Directorate is severely under-resourced.” Usually the resource given or denied to any structure will determine its success or failure. This is a matter that, in looking at the AU budget, the PAP must take on board and recommend corrective measures to the Assembly. The other important matter to be scrutinised here is the brief of the Directorate. I read somewhere that the directorate services or seeks to service all AU organs. I’m not sure what this means. The question that arises is whether it should be servicing or whether it should monitor and make recommendations to the AU Commission about gender mainstreaming in AU structures. Perhaps this is something in which my comments are based on ignorance.

Another concern raised in Maputo is regarding the PAP Protocol providing for at least one woman in each of the delegation of 5 (five). I agree that this amendment is necessary. The Protocol provides a procedure for amendments and there’s no reason why we can’t lobby for such as one of the first activities in the PAP.

I do however with to emphasise that there’s nothing to stop African Parliaments from sending two or three women when they elect the delegates. Women in civil society in all the countries, women parliamentarians must lobby for this. In some instances past commitments must be used to leverage women’s positions in this regard. For example in the SADC countries, we must invoke the SADC Declaration signed and approved by SADC Heads of States or Governments on 8 September 1997, committing themselves and SADC to the target of 30 percent women as a minimum in decision-making structures. The delegations to the PAP are an opportunity to realise this commitment by having at least 2 women. In South Africa, the National Assembly adopted a resolution to send 3 (three) women to the PAP.

Moving to more of the opportunities, I first suggest we look at the workings of the AU and the need for ongoing networking, consultation and strategising. An understanding of the functioning of these structures, information about the latest development in the unfolding establishment of the AU organs is critical for this. For instance, its important for us to know that in keeping with the Durban decision, Africa has made history by appointing 5 (five) out of the 10 commissioners, who will drive AU policy implementation. A woman Commissioner, Mrs. Julia Joyner (Political Affairs) is responsible for the Pan-African Parliament. Let us remember that those women will need our support to succeed for all of us.

The second opportunity – apart from the delegations already mentioned above – is the location of women in strategic positions in the PAP structures. Women must consider a mechanism to ensure that one or two of the members of the Bureau are women. At least one of the 3 (three) Clerks must be a woman. We have to consider this, lobby the AU Commission – especially Ms. Joyner – to pursue this approach in their preparatory work. More specifically, this would have to be integrated into the guidelines, which will be issued by the Commission to help Parliaments in their own activities towards the inaugural meeting possibly in January.

When the PAP recruits staff for its own Permanent Secretariat, women must not only be junior secretaries, cooks and cleaners, they must also be among the senior managers of the staff of the PAP. More details on this have to be looked at once the PAP exists and has determined its administrative needs.

In pursuing oversight on the progress of Africa in addressing the plight of women as spelt out in numerous policy documents, the PAP should work closely with the Regional Economic Community parliaments or parliamentary fora. This would mean that this could be a standing item on the agenda of the annual consultative fora bringing the PAP together with National Parliaments.


I trust that although the presentation shows that we still have a lot of work to do, it also says that if we work together we can turn our challenges into opportunities to realise women’s emancipation and a better life for African women. We who are leaders in civil society, business and professional bodies, politics at local, national and continental levels must work tirelessly to deliver a better continent through the AU and the Pan-African Parliament. I believe that these strategising sessions are critical for us to continue to share information and insights, but more importantly to contribute to the development of our continent.

I congratulate the organisers for this conference and wish them to keep it up. Thank you.

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