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AU urges leaders to invest in women

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The 25th African Union (AU) Summit was on Sunday officially opened with a renewed call on African states to fight against discrimination and gender-based violence and inequality which still haunt the lives of women on the continent.

The call was made by AU Chairperson and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe at Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The call resonates with what President Peter Mutharika said when he briefed the media on the sidelines of the summit.

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The Malawi President said the promotion of women has always been central in his government’s agenda, citing several legislation pieces, including the new marriage legislation which bars child marriages and empowers women.

“Recently, we passed a new law on marriage after 20 years of discussion. There was a lot of pressure whether to sign or not. Lots of people all over the world commented. Some asked me to sign others not to sign. They said there were some aspects that seemed to discriminate against certain members of the society, but in spite of that, I signed with an understanding that in future, amendments can always be made.

“This law is very important and the idea of protecting women and girls is seen in the law. We have put the marriage age at 18 and I think that’s very important. In addition to that, we have a number of other laws which we enacted recently, for example, we have the Chiefs Act, which has some provisions that will assist chiefs to engage in activities protecting girls.

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“We also have the Trafficking in Persons Act which is also very important as girls are taken to work in some areas and sometimes forced to marry. We also have a Child Protection, Care and Justice Act,” he said.

Mutharika also said the education programmes that support girls to reduce travelling long distances by providing boarding facilities and financial assistance through cash transfer is bound t o empower the girls.

Among others, Mutharika highlighted Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the Education Act that provide compulsory education and penalties for those who prevent girls and boys from going to school.

He said time had now come for countries to invest in promoting girl education and encouraging all sectors to play their part to end child marriages.

In his remarks, Mugabe said time had come for Africa to give women their full regard and praise their potentials which he said lacks in many endeavours.

“While much progress has been made in empowering women on the African continent, the battle is far from being won. Much more remains to be done in the area of economic empowerment and decision-making.

“In spite of the many and continuing contributions women are making to our continent, they still face discrimination and gender-based violence in many spheres of life. It is my sincere hope that this summit will have a frank and open discussion on this important matter so as to address deficit areas as well as impart a fresh impetus to our efforts to empower women on our continent,” he said.

The emphatic call by the AU leader has come at a time when the summit is centered on Women’s Empowerment for the realisation of Agenda 2063.

“Women empowerment is not an option,” he adds, “but an imperative for the success of Africa in general and Agenda 2063 in particular.”

He then called on African countries to work towards sustainable growth of their economies and voiced his distaste over the actions of terror which he says is dirt on the fabric of Africa.

“This positive narrative of an Africa that is rising is, however, severely battered by the terrorist attacks against defenseless and innocent civilians, including women and girls which have been on the increase on the continent.

“We, therefore, condemn the terrorist attacks by ISIS in Libya, Al Shabaab in Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the other countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission. Terrorism has to be fought and defeated through our collective efforts,” he added.

Chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, called on African leaders to shift its focus on training to emphasise skills that empower young people, women and girls and achieve more.

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