Overview of Frameworks

Article 17 in the South African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender primarily pertains to economic empowerment and contains certain obligations for member states which must be reached by 2015 (SADC, 2008).

These requirements are given below.

February 9th, 2015

Article 17 in the South African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender primarily pertains to economic empowerment and contains certain obligations for member states which must be reached by 2015 (SADC, 2008).

These requirements are given below.

They are required to adopt and ratify legislation that guarantees equal access and benefits for both women and men in the realm of entrepreneurship and trade. This should be taken into account for women and men in trade and entrepreneurship and the contribution of women in the formal and informal sectors.

Redraft national trade and entrepreneurship policies for greater gender alignment.

Article 5 introduces affirmative action provisions to safeguard women’s economic participation and benefits, including those related to public procurement (ibid).

All SADC countries are signatories. Only when signed by at least two-thirds of the SADC member states, are ratification instruments submitted to the SADC Secretariat and will become law (SADC, 2008). To date, Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have agreed to ratify they instrument (ibid). The process foregrounds the problem arising when SADC countries sign progressive instruments but are then hampered by schisms in the political commitment of other states. Accordingly, it has not had much impact as an instrument to shape the member states’ policy on women’s economic advancement in the region. However, it has been effectively utilised by NGOS and lobby groups to assess national gender machineries and indicators of economic progress. The SADC African Gender Protocol Alliance that publishes the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer (SADC, 2014) is a notable example of this.

Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, adopted in 2003

This is an inclusive development framework anchored in the SADC objectives for strategic development and integration between 2005 and 2020 (SADC, 2001). The purpose of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) is to supply strategic leadership for SADC activities, programmes and projects outlined in the SADC Common Agenda and the SADC Treaty of 1992 with the fundamental objective of strengthening regional integration to fast track economic and non-economic development goals (ibid).  

Several SADC instruments are gender blind and disconnected from the fundamentals of creating development discourses that are gender-centric. The Regional Multi-Dimensional Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme is a response to this gap (SARDC, 2014). It was agreed to at the SADC Summit in July 2014 (ibid). At this summit a recommended a draft of the Revised RISDP for 2015 to 2020 was put forward, including the Special Programmes on Gender and Development (ibid). All the SADC countries are have agreed in principal but, yet again, there are no mechanisms in place to enforce compliance. 

The Protocol on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Women’s Rights, adopted in 2005

The protocol is the first binding instrument on the status of women to be articulated from an African perspective (African Court, n.d.). It endeavours to integrate African values with international norms (ibid). These values are described far more clearly than in the original African Charter of Human Rights (ACHPR) (OAU, 1986). The ACHR presents a danger in terms of misinterpretation, cultural fundamentalism and uncritical protection of often harmful tradition practices such as widow inheritance. 

The preamble to the Protocol to the African Charter recognises that women are subject to harmful tradition practices and discrimination despite the plethora of human rights instruments and documents and resolves to ‘ensure that the rights of women are promoted, realized and protected’ (African Court, n.d.). The Protocol describes the rights protected and these encompass political, civil, social, cultural, economic, reproductive and health rights, the right to development and the right to peace. In addition it outlines the following key areas:

Dignity, integrity and the security of person, Access to justice and equal protection before the law, Equal participation in the political and decision-making processes, Education and training and Economic and social welfare(African Court, n.d.).

The protocol addresses areas neglected by several other instruments and enables women to seek redress for rights violations. It is legally binding which gives it more strength than other instruments. To date it has been ratified by Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (ACHPR, n.d.). The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has signed but not ratified and Botswana has not yet signed the document (ibid). 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted in 1976

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (OHCHR, 1966) is a locus for transnational women’s advocacy and organisation for ensuring productive and conducive social and economic space. Adopted in 1966, and ratified ten years later, it forms part of the International Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ibid).  

Although it has been signed and ratified by several SADC states a number of years ago, it has very little traction in the SADC region and limited visibility. This is possibly because it was overtaken by the plethora of other instruments such as the Beijing Platform, CEDAW and the SADC Gender Protocol. To date it has been signed and ratified by Angola, the DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (OHCHR, n.d.). South Africa has signed but not ratified. Botswana, Mozambique and the Seychelles have not yet signed (ibid). 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women (UN Women, 2008). 

The Convention defines discrimination against women as: 

any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field (ibid).

By accepting the Convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women,

to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination and

to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises (UN Women, 2008).

However, CEDAW is not legally binding. To date the following SADC countries have acceded to the instrument: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe (UNTC, 1981). The DRC, Lesotho and South Africa have ratified it (ibid). 

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1999 

Because there was no adequate enforcement instrument for CEDAW, an Optional Protocol was signed in 1999 (UN Women, 2000a). This gives women more effective instruments to seek and receive redress against violators of their rights, as prescribed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (ibid). The Committee has the authority to receive complaints from individuals and groups and has the jurisdiction to adopt procedures to prevent complainants from being exposed to any further danger or abuse (ibid). To date, the following SADC countries have acceded to the instrument: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania (UN Women, 2000b). Madagascar and Zambia have signed and the remaining countries have taken no action to date (ibid).

Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, adopted in 1995

The Platform for Action reaffirms the fundamental principal that the rights of women and girls are an ‘inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights’ (UN Women, 1995). The Platform for Action also calls upon governments to take action to address several critical areas of concern, among them violence against women. It states, ‘The low social and economic status of women can be both a cause and a consequence of violence against women’ (Stop VAW, 2007). 

Notably, it obliges states to research the impacts of feminisation of poverty and offers a strong conceptual framework on dimensions of poverty and the position of women in the economy. The 189 representatives that attended Beijing conference accepted the Platform (UN Women, 1995). It is not legally binding and because it is not a United Nations, African Union or SADC instrument and there are no mechanisms of compliance or support (The Advocates for Human Rights, 1996). 

This includes the recommendations that the Beijing Platform be allocated resources by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (ibid). In addition, 0.7 per cent GDP allocation from developing countries was recommended to ensure implementation of the Platform in developing countries but compliance with this is not legally enforceable (UN Women, 2005). Gathering these funds is less likely while there is less investment in social and economic development spending across the European Union and the United States as a result of the 2008 recession (ibid)

Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000

In the Millennium Declaration, 189 member states of the United Nations signed and reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to eradicate poverty (UN Online, 2000). The Declaration is a consolidation of eight interconnected development goals and constitutes a set of agreed and measurable targets and quantifiable indicators (ibid). It is critical for the progress of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that sex-segregated data and gender-aligned indicators be used. This is largely predicated on the political will of national governments to commit the necessary resources support to the MDGs. 

Several feminist and development economists have noted the analysis and paradigmatic shift required by the MDGS which is intended to enable new economic outcomes (UN Women, 2005). It is underpinned by the neo-liberal prescripts that have contracted economies, altered production patterns and contributed to the race to the bottom. Some observers also note that the goals will not be achievable while fundamental social services are rescinded by privatisation and subsidy removal (UN Women, 2005). All the SADC countries have committed to the MDGs (ibid).

Gendered and Feminist Analysis of Selected World Trade Organization Agreements 

All the SADC countries are full members and signatories to these World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements. One of the goals of the WTO is to align development objectives with market-driven imperatives (WTO, 1995). The following four agreements have been the subject of much feminist analysis over the past twenty years: 

Agreement on Agriculture

Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property

Trade Related Investment Measures

Agreement on Trade in Goods and Services (WTO, n.d.).

Regarding women’s economic rights, the new trade rules are neither beneficial to women nor gender-neutral. Gender inequality still persists, especially in rural areas where women’s work in the productive and social reproductive spheres is not adequately recognised or appropriately remunerated. Women comprise nearly 70 percent of the economically active population in the agricultural sector and are recognised as the key providers of food and income for their families and communities (FAO, 2011). 

The WTO regime does not adequately recognise that women are the most economically marginalised, representing 70 percent of the poorest global population with disproportionately low levels of ownership, control and access to productive resources, an asset base and markets (Parekh & Wilcox, 2014).

Loss of livelihoods, decreased farm incomes and a withdrawal of government support to production and social services as a result of trade liberalisation has had a disproportionate impact on women and rural household food security. Despite government commitments made at the Beijing Platform for Action, prevailing economic and trade policies, the investment and finance architecture and the multilateral or bilateral prescripts by trade and financial superpowers tend to nullify or restrict government efforts to provide a conducive economic environment (Williams, 2007).



The Angolan empowerment framework relies on cooperatives and integrates this with business skills training (UN Online, 2014). In addition to entrepreneurial training, there are attempts to develop gender literacy (SADC, 2014). Rural women are receiving technical training in sectors such as cooking, sewing, pottery and others but these are not a diverse pool of skills and locate women within the narrow confines of gender stereotyped roles (UN Online, 2014; SADC, 2014). Through the Nepad (n.d.) programme, many women are recipients of microcredit. 


Botswana has created an enabling and diversified economy by providing a macroeconomic framework (Government of Botswana, n.d.). Although the policy frameworks include citizen empowerment policies, they are gender blind and have little input from women stakeholders (SADC, 2014). In addition, instruments such as the Trade Policy of 2009 and the Private Sector Development Strategy do not articulate businesswomen’s requirements (ibid). The Gender Affairs Department supports rural women’s economic ventures (Government of Botswana, n.d.) but most commercial banks and the Botswana Development Cooperation (BDC) demand unrealistic requirements of aspirant businesswomen (SADC, 2014). The majority of macroeconomic policy documents are gender blind and the economic opportunities and difficulties that affect businesswomen require specific support to access natural, financial, technological and other business resources (ibid). 


The DRC has developed a government-led entrepreneurship policy through the Ministry of Industry and Small Sized Businesses (SADC, 2014). However, there are very few incentives for women and support such as lower collateral and preferential loan packages. In addition, banking systems are not as efficient and responsive to businesswomen who often require fast responses to loan applications and access to venture capital (SADC, 2014).


Lesotho has very limited gender mechanisms within government and action on the impacts of gender specific budget processes has been lacking (SADC, 2014). There are some nascent programmes to capacitate government officials in the arena of gender responsive budget allocation. In addition, there are plans to establish gender focal points in government Ministries. Lesotho has recently reviewed its communal land tenure systems and the previously gender insensitive Land Act of 1979 (SADC, 2014). The US preferential trade agreement known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act is gender blind and, regrettably, has reversed many of the positive gains made between 1995 and 2010 (ibid). In addition, women in the parallel or informal economy are often harassed by city officials and there is little state support (ibid).


Madagascar’s government has been developing mechanisms for a green economy, particularly for women’s benefit (SADC, 2014). Although a feminist analysis of the climate discourse has not yet been introduced into most of the state’s policymaking, it is a fairly exciting innovation (ibid). The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) (World Bank, 2010) is under discussion with the aim of ensuring greater gender mainstreaming and narrowing the gender gaps that exclude women from processes related to climate adaptation, climate mitigation and financing (ibid). 


The government of Mauritius has placed emphases on supporting small and medium enterprises through incentives and enabling policies (SADC, 2014). The Ministry of Business Enterprise and Cooperatives, in tandem with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority, are responsible for entrepreneurial support (ibid). This also involves partnerships with organisations such as National Women Entrepreneur Council, Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and the Industry and the Agricultural Research Extension Unit (ibid). 


Malawi is redefining its National Roadmap on Economic Empowerment as a platform to enhance women’s economic participation (SADC, 2014). The Ministries of Gender and Economic Planning are cooperating to reach the objectives set by the Roadmap. In addition, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Policy is intended to support small businesses, the majority of which are owned by women (ibid). Among several other initiatives are the Women’s Empowerment Action Plan by the Ministry of Gender and the Malawi Lake Basin Programme that supports rural savings and loan groups, most of which are comprised of women, however, there is limited Affirmative Action to support women entrepreneurs (ibid).


Recent attempts to mainstream gender into government departments and various budgets has met with modest success (SADC, 2014). The Ministry of Finance determines expenditure targets for the human resources of various departments. Several departments have begun to mainstream gender sensitive budgets while others have indicated an intention to engage in the process (SADC, 2014). 


According to the country’s 2013 Labour Force Survey, 28 percent of women and 31.7 percent of men would prefer increased work hours (Namibian Statistics Agency, 2013). Certain Namibian legislation prescribes preferential procurement but does not articulate on affirmative action as it relates to women. This legislation is currently under review (SADC, 2014). The constitutions, Vision 2030, Namibia’s National Development Plan and various SADC, SATU and WTO obligations currently govern trade policy (ibid). Nevertheless, the majority of these do not explicate women’s economic development. 


The island state implemented macroeconomic reforms which have resulted in women’s increased participation in strategic leadership (SADC, 2014). The Seychelles does not have gender-aligned loan policies and, as a result, far fewer women are recipients of loans and where they do receive loans they are of smaller amounts (ibid). One research study found that men tend to borrow for high-profit businesses while women use loans for low-profit activities which do not move them along the economic trajectory (ibid). 

South Africa

South Africa has made some progress over the past 20 years, including the establishment of the Commission for Gender Equality, an initially robust commitment towards the Gender Budget Project and the institutionalised gender machineries and the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill (SADC, 2014). However, none of these have significantly shifted women’s economic position, as reflected in unemployment figures, access to higher education and the number of women who occupy senior corporate positions (ibid). The Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa has published a census over the past ten years that illustrates the slow pace of promotion for women to senior positions (ibid). 


In 2008, the Swaziland Women’s Economic Empowerment Trust (SWEET) was created by Her Majesty the Queen Mother of the UK (SADC, 2014). Its stated objective is to form a Women’s Empowerment Fund. In addition, the Gender Consortium is lobbying for gender responsive budgeting (ibid). Most budget allocations are largely gender blind. Women are located in lower skilled sectors and are the overwhelming majority in the parallel economic sectors. In keeping with the broad experience of women across the SADC, women are not provided with an enabling trade environment (SADC, 2014). The regulatory milieu is largely hostile and extends the process of granting municipal trade permits, for example, while the state also lacks the capacity or the will to support and engage with these businesses (ibid). 


The Tanzanian constitution has provisions that specify the right to work and to receive just compensation. In addition, Tanzania has ratified the Eight Essential ILO Conventions which explicitly address discrimination against women in employment (SADC, 2014). Tanzania has domesticated international labour standards by enacting the National Employment Services Act (1999) (ibid). This stipulates equal access to employment opportunities for men and women. The Employment and Labour Relations Act (2003) has outlawed workplace discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, marital status, disability or pregnancy (SADC, 2014). The Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children has developed training on gender budgeting (ibid).


Zambia’s Trade and Industrial Draft Policy acknowledges women’s current exclusion from economic spaces (SADC, 2014). It suggests education and training as important mechanisms to build women’s capabilities and opportunities for enhanced participation in the economy including entrepreneurship, the corporate world, agriculture and the manufacturing fields (SADC, 2014). 


Zimbabwe has recently developed the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) to achieve economic growth (SADC, 2014). It is intended to create employment and galvanise economic empowerment. It lists gender mainstreaming as a key project and the government has further implemented the Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative to ensure a gendered approach to microfinance and finance policy development, economic planning and economic planning analysis (SADC, 2014).

Liepollo Lebohang Pheko s a feminist and political economist. She is an activist scholar, lecturer, writer and public intellectual and has written dozens of academic and conference papers on the political economy, international relations, trade, feminist economics, migration, citizenship and governance as well as contributing to several books on these topics. Currently a Senior Research Fellow at the think tank Trade Collective, Pheko grounds her work in a class, race and feminist analysis and connects her research with grass-roots struggles locally and internationally.


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