Professor Miranda Greenstreet, Chairperson of the Gender Development Institute (GDI), Ghana, yesterday said gender inequality remained one of the central challenges of the 21 century in spite of all the progress the world had made.
Quoting statistics from international studies and estimates to support her assertion, she said, two-thirds of all illiterate individuals worldwide were women and they own only one per cent of global assets.
'Women receive only 10 per cent of worldwide income and perform more than 70 per cent of unpaid work around the globe and two-thirds of the poorest of the poor in the world are women.'
Prof. Greenstreet, who was addressing an International Gender Mainstreaming Course in Accra, said women in developing countries owned only about 10 per cent of all farmland and held less than two per cent of all titles, although they produced up to 80 per cent of staple foods.
The one-week course, the first in a series, is being organised by GDI, Ghana, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Nigeria, the Country Associates Network, Nigeria, and the International Gender Consult for Commissioners and Directors of Women Affairs and Social Development from the various states of Nigeria.
The course is to assist Nigerian women and other stakeholders build additional capacity in understanding gender issues and the required leadership skills to achieve the international gender equality goal by 2015.
Prof. Greenstreet urged the participants to use their positions as senior women leaders in the Civil Service of Nigeria to contribute fully to the development of the Civil Service and the society at large by helping to correct some of the inequalities in the system.
'There is the urgent need to mainstream gender and to provide women with equal opportunities and resources as well as remove the structural constraints that prevent more women from getting to the top of the professional ladder.
'It is important that we improve women's access to employment in the Civil Service as well as their promotion to the higher echelons of the service and enhance their capacities through training workshops such as this one.'
She commended the organisers for their vision and urged them to include Ghanaian participants in their future courses to promote networking among women of the two countries by way of supporting sub-regional training programmes.
Prof. Greenstreet said she hoped that at the end of the programme, course participants would have been fully equipped to push forward with gender equality strategies and contribute to the success of the Nigerian National Economic Empowerment and Development (NEEDS) project.
Hajia Alima Mahama, Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, in a speech read for her by Ms Patience Opoku, a Deputy Director at the Ministry, said gender issues were not exclusively women issues but developmental issues that affected both men and women.
'Adopting gender mainstreaming means we have accepted that there are gender biases in policies and institutions resulting in gender inequality,' she said.
Hajia Mahama said since the Beijing Conference in 1995, most UN organisations and other bilateral cooperation agencies and development organisations had adopted a gender mainstreaming strategy as a priority to bring about gender equality in their policies and programmes.
She said since then, gender was no longer highlighted as a separate area of concentration, but as crosscutting theme that needed to be integrated, or mainstreamed into all areas of UN organisations work.
Hajia Mahama said although gender mainstreaming was adopted as a major strategy for promoting gender equality at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 to mainstream all critical areas of concerns and establish a gender analysis before developing policies and programme, it has not been fully implemented anywhere because it was a long money driven process.
The Minister mentioned illiteracy, tradition and culture, poverty and political will as other challenges of gender mainstreaming. 'Gender mainstreaming is a serious business that needs more than a political will to achieve. If it is properly executed, gender mainstreaming will enhance national development,' she added.
Mrs Jane Kwawu, an International Gender Consultant, urged the participants to take special note of the work already undertaken to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security and continue with efforts towards its implementation.
'Other key issues of human trafficking, cross boarder trade and other concerns, and women in decision making should be on the priority list of discussion for inclusion,' she said.
Mrs Kwawu congratulated the Nigeria government for supporting such high level participation to the workshop and urged participants to exchange ideas and approaches for increased conceptual clarity and attitude required for gender mainstreaming.
Mr Wilbert Tengey, Founder and Chief Executive officer for GDI, Ghana, said the institute believed in south-south cooperation and networking and it was their pleasure to bring people together to brainstorm and share ideas gender issues.
He said the main goal of the course was to enable women leaders in charge of gender equality programmes acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes required in achieving the gender target set out in development programmes.
Mr Tengey said the training was the first in the series for top women leaders and programme managers from Nigeria, in view of the recent articulation of a National Gender Policy for Nigeria.
Hajia Maimuna Ajana, Director of Women's Affairs, Federal Ministry of Women' Affairs, Nigeria, said majority of African governments were parties and signatories to many protocols on women and children empowerment over the years, yet little achievement was made in that aspect.
She urged participants to share ideas and come out with a national agenda as a way forward to clarify gender policies.