A parallel Session at the East Africa Law Society Annual General Meeting
Held on 26th November, 2016, JNICC, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Akina Mama wa Afrika in partnership with the Uganda Women Lawyers Association –FIDA Uganda and East Africa Law Society with support from Frederick Ebert Stiftung held a parallel event on the sidelines of the East Africa Law Society Annual General Meeting and Conference on Saturday 26th November, 2016 on the theme “Economic Justice for Women in the 21st Century”. The meeting was attended by over 60 lawyers (14 men and 46 women) drawn from across East Africa.
The objectives of the session included:
• Building understanding and consensus among the legal fraternity and decision makers in law firms on the structural nature of women’s economic inequality
• Promoting alternatives, in the context of current legal and development policies
• Providing a forum for the legal fraternity and other like-minded organizations to build alliances for women’s economic rights and justice
B) Welcome and Opening Remarks
The meeting begun with opening statements from the President of East Africa Law Society, FIDA Uganda, FIDA Kenya and FIDA Tanzania that emphasized the need to address the structural and practical needs that hinder women from enjoying economic opportunities. Policy strategies geared toward economic growth or increasing general education levels, although necessary, are generally insufficient to close gender gaps. The statements encouraged the participants to explore critical questions such as: why do these gaps persist? Are there examples at the policy or country levels that stand out as outliers having made greater progress, and what can we learn from them to encourage broader change?
C) Highlights of the Moderated Panel on Women’s Economic Justice in the 21st Century
Two of the panelists highlighted the persistent gender disparities in the work place that cut across multiple dimensions. Women remain heavily concentrated into lower-paying jobs, including less-productive and less-profitable than men. Women’s rights violations remain prevalent such as sexual harassment and respect for reproductive rights such as maternity leave which have been guaranteed by the employment acts in all East Africa countries. The top positions of CEOs, Company Secretaries, and Partners in the law firms remain dominated by men.
The third panelist discussed the gendered impact and implications of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFS) which takes away the much needed resources to invest in crucial public services such as education, health, social protection and in advancing gender equality and women’s human rights across board. Africa is suffering different types of Illicit Financial Flows including commercial activities, lack of resources, tax evasion, tax avoidance, criminal activities, human trafficking, forced labor and corruption.
FIDA Kenya shared highlights of their experiences on women’s underrepresentation and their quest for inclusion drawing on Article 27(8), also known as the “two-thirds gender rule” of the new Kenyan Constitution. It directs that the state should take legislative and other measures to ensure no more than two-thirds of all elective or appointive positions are held by the same gender. The two-thirds gender rule has stirred active public debate and litigation right from inception, including the Gender Representation Supreme Court Advisory opinion on whether the article was immediately realizable and FIDA Kenya and others V Attorney General and another challenging the gender composition of the Supreme Court.
D) Plenary Discussions and Way Forward
The plenary discussion interrogated the issues raised by the panelists and brought to the fore the following summary of recommendations;
• The need to promote women- friendly work place policies including zero tolerance for sexual harassment; providing flexi time for breastfeeding mothers, and crèches for the children among others;
• Investment in mentorship and coaching for the young women that are joining the sector;
• Adoption of multi-sectoral strategies to promote women and girls to advance women’s economic empowerment;
• Profiling of women to increase their visibility and opportunities to break the glass ceiling;
• Collective efforts needed to address structural barriers that hinder gender equality and women’s economic empowerment;
• Male engagement and identification of male champions in the fight for gender equality and women empowerment;
• Multi-sectoral approach is needed as legal strategies are inadequate to advance women’s economic empowerment
E) Key Outcomes
The key outcomes of the meeting were:
• A deeper appreciation of the structural barriers that hinder women’s economic advancement and decent work for women
• Concrete strategies and recommendations to advance women’s economic opportunities
• Strengthened network of women lawyers associations and other stakeholders to champion and promote women’s economic justice
Global economic integration, driven by the economic engines of liberalization, privatization and de(re)regulation, sometimes called neo-liberalization, is presenting a host of new challenges to seeking economic and social justice for women. Many of the advances women made during the 1970s and 1980s have been stalled or reversed. It is no longer adequate to simple critique the negative impact on neo-liberalism on women and advocate that they be better integrated into the economy. The very model of economic integration needs to be challenged and appropriate alternatives developed.