By: James Karuhanga

Regional lawmakers concluded debates and passed the EAC Gender Equality and Development Bill, 2016, which many have described as the “best present women can get on International Women’s Day.

This came up as the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), sitting in Kigali, again debated the Bill that makes provision for gender equality, protection and development in many aspects of the EAC’s integration agenda.

After its second reading earlier this week, the Bill went for the third and final reading on 8 March 2017 in commemoration of the International Women’s Day Celebration.

“I think if the Bill is passed, then it will be the best Women’s Day gift. It will be a major milestone, a historic breakthrough,” Elizabeth Ampairwe, coordinator for women and girls’ empowerment at the Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), had told The New Times earlier in the week.

The International Women’s Day, marked annually on March 8, is a celebration of the socio-economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

This year, the day is being celebrated under the theme, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.”

Ampairwe said the legislation is a major milestone because it will harmonise various gender equality commitments embedded in instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), the Maputo Protocol and the EAC Treaty across the partner states, thus giving the bloc a legally binding instrument to hold leaders accountable.

CEDAW is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly while BPfA, which represents global commitment toward the promotion of women’s welfare, was borne of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995.

Ampairwe said efforts would then be directed towards ensuring that the legislation is implemented by partner states.

EASSI is working to have an EAC gender barometer, a lobby and advocacy tool measuring implementation of gender equality commitments by partner states, set up.

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Chantal Umuhoza, the Women in Cross-Border Trade (WICBT) project coordinator at local NGO Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe, said there can be no better gift on International Women’s Day.

She said if the EAC is to be people-centered, it has to be cognizant of the fact that more than half of the bloc’s population is female, thus needs a strong policy on gender that is in line with all regional and international instruments the partner states are party to.

“Rwanda has achieved a lot because of being gender-sensitive and having the right policies. EAC needs a gender policy. Some of the issues that bring debates are related to land. EAC states should learn from Rwanda; how it addressed land ownership,” Umuhoza said.

The EAC Gender Equality Bill was previously moved by MP Nancy Abisai (Kenya).

MP Dr James Ndahiro (Rwanda), a member of the General Purpose Committee that worked on the Bill and conducted public hearings in partner states, told the Assembly that they received “a lot of inputs that were considered” to enrich the Bill.

“All concerns were examined and we agreed to make necessary amendments to address issues of concern stakeholders raised,” he said.

MP Maryam Ussi (Tanzania) said the draft legislation comes as another tool to curb child marriages and associated dangers such as early death, infertility and dropping out of school by girls.

MP Odette Nyiramilimo (Rwanda), chair of the General Purpose Committee, said the Bill particularly has a section with provisions recognising the right of the child to quality education.

Among others, issues of land rights, marginalised groups, and gender-based violence are also addressed.

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