Back to Index
the other half dies
Extracted from Pambazuka News 228
November 03, 2005
the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy to Africa for
HIV/AIDS, has been an outspoken critic of the United States administration
as well as a number of Western and African governments. He has also
condemned the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund for their failure to alleviate the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
His views on HIV/AIDS can now be read in his new book, 'Race Against
Time,' which has just been launched. In this extract from the new
book, Lewis criticises the way women have been left out of the fight
against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and blasts the governments
that often applaud themselves for their "gender sensitivity."
no way around the constant neglect in addressing the priorities
for women. Perhaps the most recent glaring example of that truth
is the report of the celebrated Commission for Africa, appointed
by [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair. I can't get over it.
with the commissioners. There were 17 in total, three of whom were
women. Three, or 17 per cent. Prime Minister Blair had the whole
world to choose from, and he could come up with only three women.
Tony Blair claims to be a social democrat; socialists are supposed
to have greater sensitivity to such matters. But when it comes to
women, sensitivity goes out the window. That commission was fatally
flawed from the outset, simply by way of gender representation.
And the report
showed it. This is a report that plowed new ground on foreign aid,
on debt, on trade, on climate. It was justly saluted on all those
issues for the sweep of its progressive recommendations in areas
where others had always feared to tread. It recommended an immediate
doubling of foreign aid, a cancellation of the debts of the poorest
countries, and a vast reduction in agricultural subsidies as the
centrepiece of a new trading regimen. Everyone applauded. As a matter
of fact, the report even went so far as to challenge the intellectual
underpinnings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
in their dual adherence to fundamentalist monetarism.
On all those
fronts it was bold, oh so bold.
But on women?
The report is an absolute throwback. Other than the occasional paragraphs
paying obligatory obeisance to women's rights, there's a feckless
failure to recognize that women sustain the entire continent of
Africa, and should have a definitive role in every single aspect
of social, economic, political, civil and cultural life, from peacekeeping
to agriculture to trade to AIDS. If there had been a Commission
for Africa with 14 women and three men, I can absolutely guarantee
that the final report would have differed root and branch from the
report we now have in hand. One day -- probably in the next millennium
-- such a commission will be appointed.
And just to
demonstrate the absolute, unwavering consistency in such matters,
allow me to mention, however heretical it may seem, the communiqué
issued in July, 2005, by the G8 meeting in Gleneagles. Honestly,
it's like a parody.
From my impeccable
desktop printer, the document emerges as 18 pages in length, 35
paragraphs in all, 5,000 to 6,000 words, with two full appendices.
There are five references to women: two in that most common linguistic
fusion of "women and children," one mandatory reference to "pregnant
women and babies," one in conjunction with youth employment, and
one throwaway line, entirely neutral, incorporating "gender equality."
It is my contention
-- a contention with which many commentators would take issue --
that the stunning absence of emphasis on women in the official pronouncement
of the G8 is an ominous omen for the delivery of commitments made.
You simply cannot be serious about Africa and treat women with such
It won't work.
Mark my words: Come 2010, G8 excuses will be the order of the day.
Bush, Blair, Chirac, Schroeder, perhaps even Martin, will all be
out to pasture, shrugging shoulders of insouciance. Read the document,
note the void, and weep.
But when all
is said and done, the ongoing struggle to embrace gender equality
was most poignantly brought home to me in confronting the pandemic
of HIV/AIDS. [. . .]
in Africa do not do well in the protection of women's rights. In
fact, as I shall momentarily demonstrate, they are profoundly deficient.
I've been completely taken aback, on more than one occasion, by
the wall of indifference thrown up by cabinet ministers when I raise,
for example, the plight of women in the era of AIDS. At one point,
in the case of Angola, a very senior member of the administration
lapsed into locker-room smirking at the mere mention of women.
is quite simple: They would not be allowed to indulge in such asinine
and/or negligent behaviour if there were a watchdog, a full-fledged
agency or institution as part of the United Nations, whose job it
was to ride herd on the recalcitrants. Governments get away with
it because no one cares enough to prevent governments from getting
away with it.
And what is
the upshot? In the UNDP Human Development Report for 2003,
there is a gender-related development index which rates most of
the countries of the world according to a number of economic and
social indices, taking into account, in particular, performance
on the overall status of women.
Let me identify
the 20 countries at the bottom of the list of 145 which are ranked
for gender, starting with the country right at the bottom, and working
up: Sierra Leone, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Burundi, Mozambique,
Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Guinea- Bissau, Democratic Republic
of the Congo, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Zambia, Malawi,
Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Eritrea.
All are African. While it is appalling that Africa occupies a place
of such dishonour, that so many leaders are beyond redemption on
issues of gender, it should also give everyone pause about the role
It's not possible
for the UN family in any of these 20 countries to grab the heads
of state by the scruff of the neck and shake them into equality.
But it should be the role of the UN family to shame, blame, and
propose solutions, all the while yelling from the rooftops that
inequality is obscene. Only then will change have a chance.
* This an
excerpt from Stephen Lewis’s 2005 Massey Lectures, reprinted with
kind permission of Stephen Lewis. This excerpt also appeared in
a Saturday, October 22, edition of The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Articl
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.