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NEPAD and AU Last update: 2020-11-27  

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NEPAD Reluctance to Address Gender Issues

5. Male Dominated Management of NEPAD and the African Union
Since NEPAD is lacking in gender oriented objectives, there is obviously very limited relevance in any discussion on whether the management system has the necessary skills or organisation to pursue gender oriented objectives (see also the discussion of Management System in Section 4, above).

The discussion of gender oriented management would become relevant only if NEPAD could be radically revised to include gender oriented objectives related to the main goals focused on democracy and human rights. In this case, appropriate gender oriented management would become relevant.

Probably because NEPAD was formulated before the agreement on the Constitutive Act of the African Union, NEPAD says nothing definite about the management system for its implementation, and no management system or institutional structure is proposed. It is merely stated that ‘the heads of state promoting NEPAD will advise the AU on an appropriate mechanism for its implementation’ (para. 198). In the meantime, there is to be a ‘Heads of State Implementation Committee’ to identify strategic issues and review progress (para. 200-201). Obviously this Implementation Committee, of five heads of state, would be a formula for male domination of management.

However, now that the African Union has been formed, we may presume that NEPAD would be managed by some distribution of responsibilities, as yet to be set out, within the organs of the Union. Therefore we now look at the main organs of the Union, which are as follows:

  1. The Assembly, composed of Heads of States and Governments

  2. The Executive Council, composed of Ministers of Foreign Affairs or other ministers or officials designated by their governments

  3. Seven Specialised Technical Committees, reporting to the Executive Council, and composed of government ministers or senior officials

  4. The Pan-African Parliament, whose functions and membership are as yet undetermined

  5. The Commission, acting as the Secretariat of the Union

Obviously, by present definition of its membership, the Assembly, Executive Council and Specialised Technical Committees, will all will be extremely male dominated, reflecting the male domination of the national institutions from which these organs draw their membership.

Despite this structural male domination of the Union management, there has been a strange claim that there was agreement on 50% female participation at the AU Heads of State meeting in Durban in July 2002. A newsletter of the Femmes Africa Solidarite claims that:

It is thanks to the Senegalese delegation to the AU, headed by President Abdulaye, that …upon his intervention advocating for the African Women, the President did not face any opposition from his peers on the gender parity proposal recommending 50% participation of women in all AU organs.3
If this ‘lack of opposition’ is to be interpreted as consent (which would seem to be a big IF), then perhaps the agreement was for membership of the Commission and other purely adminstrative organs whose functions are yet to be determined, and whose members are yet to be appointed. If so, the usefulness of such gender parity in membership faces two obstacles. Firstly, gender parity does not in itself necessarily bring an understanding of feminist principles and policies. Secondly, an administrative body – by definition - does not make policy, but merely implements policy determined at the political level, which in this case seems well set to remain patriarchal and male dominated for the foreseeable future.

The areas of policy for the Executive Council and its Technical Committees are divided along purely along traditional sectoral lines:

Rural economy and agriculture;
Monetary and financial affairs;
Trade, customs and immigration;
Industry, science, technology, energy, natural resources and environment;
Transport, communication and tourism;
Health, labour and social affairs;
Education, culture and human resources.

In other words, there is no designation for the policy area of democracy, human rights and good governance, which is supposed to be a main area of interest of NEPAD. By the same token there is no place to put the management of implementation of policy on women’s rights.

As with NEPAD itself, the Constitutive Act of the Union shows ambivalence and contradiction on the subject of gender equality. Whereas one of its ‘principles’ (in Article 4) is ‘the promotion of gender equality’, another principle is ‘non-interference by any member state in the internal affairs of another’. And for patriarchal men, the question of ‘how we treat our women’ is definitely an internal matter, even at the domestic level, never mind the national level!

Given this principle of non-interference in internal affairs, it is difficult to see how the representative of any one state could bring up the question of discrimination against women in another state, or indeed bring up any human rights issue obtaining in another state. And perhaps we may presume that a state representative is not likely to raise an issue of a transgression against human rights in their own state!

Given the above considerations, we may conclude that if NEPAD were to include objectives to address gender issues, then the African Union would not be the right organisation to implement it. However, since NEPAD does not include any significant gender oriented objectives, and none in the area of democracy and human rights, it would seem that both NEPAD and the African Union are well matched patriarchal bedfellows.


  1. Historical Move Towards Gender Equality in Africa, undated Press Release from Femmes Africa Solidarite, Geneva, Switzerland.
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