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NEPAD and AU Last update: 2020-11-27  

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NEPAD Reluctance to Address Gender Issues

7. The Patriarchal Paradigm
All of the countries of the African Union, to varying degrees, are patriarchal societies, with male dominated governments that adhere faithfully to patriarchal values of male supremacy.

Clearly the authors of NEPAD are severely gender blind. We may explain this blindness as being of a particular and well defined form, which we may term as paradigmic patriarchal blindness. It is evident that the authors do no see, and do not want to see, any form of gender discrimination. Their whole interpretation of gender issues, such as it is, seems to have no societal or structural dimension. They do not seem to live in the same world of legalized, traditional and institutionalised gender discrimination that is actually the world inhabited by women in Africa. In all of NEPAD’s preliminary description of the problem situations to be addressed by NEPAD, there is no mention of any gender issue. Even where the document presents a weakly gender oriented goal, we find that this objective is directed at a problem which has not been previously mentioned.

It is this patriarchal paradigm which can nicely explain the absence of any mention of gender issues in the discussion of democracy and human rights. Of course it could be that the authors deliberately removed the connection between gender and democracy, or deliberately avoided it. But more likely they simply could not see the connection. The clue to this interpretation may be found in the phrase ‘promoting the role of women …by reinforcing their capacity …’ (NEPAD para 49, emphasis added). The vocabulary is very revealing of the mind set of the authors. ‘Promoting the role of women’ is a well worn phrase which insultingly suggests that women are not sufficiently ‘playing their part’ in the development process! Women need to be ‘integrated in development’!

More revealing, however, is the phrase ‘reinforcing their capacity’. Here is the main clue to the patriarchal paradigmic mind-set. Women’s lesser role and subordinate position arise from their lesser capacity! Therefore they need more education and training! It is no accident that the only significant gender oriented objective in all of NEPAD is concerned with gender equality in access to schooling. Not a word about the unequal gender division of labour, or that women are already doing most of the developmental work, or that women come up against barriers of gender discrimination which give the lion’s share of the rewards to men, and the lion’s share of unpaid work to women! How is more schooling going to alter that? Where schools teach female submission, it will make things worse!4

NEPAD is a statement written by male heads of governments who are, in varying degrees, staunchly patriarchal. In their home countries these governments tend to represent male interests, and defend the patriarchal status quo. Should we then be surprised if NEPAD has little recognition of gender issues, and even smaller intention to address them? More important, what are the strategies – if indeed they can be found - by which these representatives of patriarchy may be persuaded to adopt feminist policies?

This present assessment serves to draw attention to the large gap between the situation of institutionalised gender injustice in Africa, and governments’ intention to do anything much about it. This lack of intention stands in stark contradiction to their own declared interest in democracy and human rights.


  1. A discussion of whether schools can contribute to the process of women’s empowerment may be found in Longwe, 1997, Education for Women’s Empowerment or Schooling for Women’s Subordination in Carolyn Medel-Anonuevu (Ed), Negotiating and Creating Spaces of Power, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg.
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