Addis Ababa: Africa on Saturday toasted the spirit of women power and empowerment as Liberia`s President Ellen Johnoson Sirleaf, the first female elected head of state in the continent, exhorted the international community to support the quest for food security in the 54-nation region.
The African Union, the continent`s premier decision-making body, has declared 2010-2020 as the decade of women, with a slew of initiatives designed to raise the profile of African women in key economic sectors and decision-making bodies.
"Unless we achieve food security, we can`t have sustainable development," said the 73-year-old Sirleaf, while stressing that women produce around 60 percent of food in developing countries. This year, the AU`s women agenda is focusing on agriculture, food security and environment.
Food security is at the top of the millennium development goals, and African women play a key role in this area, she said in the Ethiopian capital, the headquarters of the AU.
Dressed in a floral traditional gown, Sirleaf, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, pointed out that the AU was supporting 53 grassroots projects in 27 African countries to promote women empowerment.
Sirleaf and Malwai`s President Joyce Banda are the only two female heads of state from the African continent. Sirleaf was speaking at a special lunch jointly hosted by her and her Malawian counterpart in the multi-purpose hall of the Chinese-built swanky new headquarters of the AU.
Banda sent her vice-president to represent the country at the summit after she refused to host the AU summit owing to differences over the presence of Sudan`s President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide in the Sudanese province of Darfur, at the meet.
The AU wants to reinforce gender equality and empowerment in the continent, said Jean Ping, the chairperson of the AU Commission, the premier decision-making body of the AU. Ping also exhorted Africa and the international community to pledge funds for buttressing women power in the continent.
The lunch saw countries like South Africa, Australia and Malawi pledging funds for promoting women power in the continent.
South Africa pledged $125,000 for the cause of African women while Australia committed $100,000 for it. South Africa has fielded its home minister for the much-coveted post of the AU chairperson and has been touting gender argument to advance her candidature.
The African Women`s Decade (2010-2020), launched in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2010, is a pioneering political initiative aimed at putting women at the centre of development on the continent.
The popularisation of this initiative, however, remains hobbled by the lack of sufficient information about it among many women, particularly the illiterate and those living in rural areas.
To bolster women contribution to economic empowerment, the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Friday signed an agreement for the establishment of a euro 1 million ($1.2 million) Business Incubator for African Women Entrepreneurs (BIAWE) in the sub-region.