By Sheila Kawamara-Mishambi

The six East African Community (EAC) Heads of States are slated to assent to the EAC Gender Equality, Equity and Development Bill, 2016 at their Annual Summit in Arusha, at the end of November 2018. This was disclosed recently at the launch of the EAC Gender Policy on September 17, 2018 at the EAC Secretariat.

The EAC Gender Equality, Equity and Development Bill and the Gender Policy derive their mandate from Articles 121 and 122 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC and envisions a society where women and men, boys and girls are living a quality life in an inclusive community.

The EAC Gender Bill, a historical legislation going to address gender equality, protection and development in the Community was debated and enacted by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) at its sitting in Kigali, Rwanda on March 8, 2017. It was then submitted to the Attorney Generals in the respective Partner States of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda where it is supposed to be aligned with the existing national legislations and commitments before being assented to by the Heads of States.

Unfortunately, over one and a half years now, none of the six Partner States has returned the Bill to the EAC Secretariat or made any reservations on it, hence making it impossible for the much needed legislation to be implemented. By failing to prioritise the Bill, the process of the Presidents assenting to it or agreeing that this is a binding legislation to their respective governments has in effect stalled.

Initially, one of the issues raised for not having the Bill was the absence of a regional Gender Policy. Work on the development of the gender policy begun way back in 2006 but stalled due to logistical hiccups at the EAC Secretariat.

But with the support from the Society for International Development (SID) and the Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) the process was resumed in 2012 when the two organisations offered the initial technical support in the formulation of the draft EAC Gender Policy.

The EAC Gender Policy has got 14 priority areas that include Governance and Participation; Education and Training; Health, Life Expectancy, Maternal and Child Mortality; Gender, HIV and AIDS; Gender Based Violence and Harmful Cultural Practices; Gender, Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition; Trade, Business and Economic Empowerment; Gender Equality in Employment and Labour Force; Gender, Energy and Lighting; Gender, Peace and Security; Gender in Mining and Extractive Industries; Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Housing; Gender and Migration and Gender, Environment and Climate Change.

The Policy is a framework that will guide the regional body and the Partner States to ensure that gender equality and the empowerment of women are integrated in every aspect of development by eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities and exclusion of both women and girls.

It will accelerate gender equality, fairness between men and women, non-discrimination and the observance of fundamental human rights in East Africa and at the same time facilitate the advancement of East Africa’s political and social economic integration; guarantee the inclusion of gender issues in the EAC agenda; accelerate gender mainstreaming; and contribute to higher living standards.

The EAC Gender Bill is specifically intended to harmonise the national laws of the Partner States with the regional and international standards of protection and promotion of human rights, on the basis of the principles of gender equality, equity and non-discrimination on the basis of gender or nationality in all its forms.

The Act also provides a participatory framework for strengthening, monitoring and evaluating the level of adherence to regional and international standards of human rights protection through a reporting mechanism based on realistic, measurable targets, time frames and indicators supported by the allocation of the necessary resources for achieving them.

With the enforcement of the regional gender legislation, the rights and dignity of women and girls will be upheld in the EAC and the participation of women and men in regional trade and sustainable economic growth will be promoted by entrenchment of enabling gender policies and macro-economic frameworks.

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