Eastern and Southern Africa


The Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR) comprises of 22 countries. UN Women has a presence in 13 of these countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa Multi-Country Office (MCO) and Zimbabwe. The South Africa MCO covers the Southern Africa Customs Union countries ie Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. UN Women also has a Somalia Program has recently established a physical presence in the Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Puntland.

The economic outlook for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR) just like for Africa as whole remains favourable in spite of challenging global macro-economic conditions. Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda are among the six world’s fastest-growing economies. Africa’s economic growth is driven by the discovery and exploitation of mineral resources. The high performing countries are dominated by countries rich in oil and gas, and solid minerals. However, this impressive growth has not translated into poverty reduction or increased employment. Africa is still home to 30% of the world’s poor. The countries in Eastern and Southern Africa with high growth rates have the highest income inequality in the world.

Agriculture is the largest sector in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR), employing 65 % of Africa’s labour force, accounting for 32 % of GDP, and in some countries providing up to 80 % of foreign exchange earnings (World Bank).

The ESAR is politically diverse with some countries experiencing conflicts while others are emerging from conflicts. Ten countries will hold elections during 2014-2016. Women’s leadership is increasingly accepted. Most countries in the region have constitutions guaranteeing equality and election laws that provide for affirmative action measures.

Although Rwanda with 64% female representation in Parliament leads globally, Africa’s average of women’s representation in parliament is at only 15 %. Female representation in parliament in ESAR countries range from 64% to 1.82% (Somalia). Most countries in the region have constitutions guaranteeing equality and election laws that provide for affirmative action measures. Others like South Africa have effective voluntary measures by political parties. All countries have national women machineries, which are supposed to coordinate and guide state actions towards implementing commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment, however, they often have inadequate capacity to play their strategic role in advance GEWE in the countries.

Violence against women is endemic due to negative cultural norms and practices. Available data indicates that in ESAR, one in four women has experienced physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Violence against girls in school is one of the major contributing factors for high school dropout rates for girls.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003) positions the right of women to live a life free from gender-based violence within the context of the right to life, integrity and security of the person. The Protocol has been ratified by 36 of Africa’s 54 countries, while CEDAW has been ratified by all except two countries. At least 36 of the 54 African countries have a legislation specifically dealing with VAW in general and/or specific forms of VAW, including domestic violence (in-family), sexual offences, trafficking in women and girls, female genital cutting/mutilation, and sexual harassment. Regional Economic Communities have complementary frameworks. For example under the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development state parties are required to, by 2015, enact, enforce and reform (where necessary) legislation on gender-based violence; provide support to victims and rehabilitation to perpetrators; take appropriate measures to prevent trafficking and support victims, and take measures to eliminate traditional norms and practices that perpetuate VAW. The member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) adopted the Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children on 30 November 2006.

ESAR is home to a network of intergovernmental institutions, including the headquarters of the African Union (Ethiopia), the East African Community (Tanzania), the South African Development Community (Botswana), the Intergovernmental Development Authority (Djibouti), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Zambia), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (Burundi). UN Women has developed partnerships with these institutions.

Mainstreaming of women and youth is one of the AUC’s eight priorities in its Strategic Plan, supported by the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa; the African Union Gender Policy and Gender Policies of regional economic communities and inter-governmental bodies. The AUC has also declared 2015 as the Year for Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.

Regional Flagship Programmes

Women Economic Empowerment (WEE)

The regional office supports the Economic Empowerment of Women across 13 countries – all of which have different contexts, priorities and opportunities. The underpinning goal is to eradicate poverty, increase quality livelihood opportunities, and support women in their innovations, social enterprises, and capacities to secure social, economic and environmental assets and knowledge.The regional office has multiple roles in strengthening and consolidating synergies and common agendas across the region; mobilizing and leveraging networks for resources and influence on behalf of women and their communities, and working closely with governments and civil society to tackle the immediate and long term socio-economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Climate Resilient Agriculture
  • Gender-Responsive Procurement
  • Ensuring income security through decent work and social protection for women
  • Care Economy
  • Domestic Worker rights
  • Gender Equality in macroeconomic policies
  • Social Cohesion and peace

Learn more

Peace and Security

Women are on the frontlines of humanitarian situations – they constitute the highest number of IDPs and refugees. Their social, health and economic needs are not prioritized in assessments therefore compromising their inability to cope. There has been limited or no progress in curbing violence against women and girls including sexual and gender-based violence both in conflict and non-conflict affected countries in the region.

Although Peace and Security and Humanitarian action are shaped by women’s leadership and participation, there is insufficient involvement of women in peacebuilding and therefore limited inclusion and implementation of women’s rights/needs in peace agreements and recovery programmes. While the appointment of women in 2014 as Special Envoys and mediators is acknowledged, women’s coalitions on peacebuilding need recognition and inclusion as observers in formal peace processes.

UN Women’s programme on Peace and security therefore acts to build women’s participation and influence in decision-making to prevent and resolve conflict. The programme is guided by a series of commitments to women’s rights that calls for national action and reporting on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations. Due to the huge impact of conflict on women this programme aims to ensure that women participate in peace-building, they are protected from human rights violations, they are included in peacebuilding negotiations, and most importantly women are enabled to have access to justice and services to eliminate discrimination.

ESAR has signed an agreement with the Office of the Special Envoy to support a process of consultations in order to prepare substantive policy briefs that identify concrete measures for gender actions as solutions for conflict mitigation. The policy briefs will be presented by the Special Envoy to the Heads of States mid-2015.

Ending Violence against Women (EVAW)

UN Women’s mandate provides for support to catalytic and innovative programmes which promote gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights.

Ending Violence against Women (EVAW) exists as a legal framework to address violence against women and girls towards the progress of the Beijing platform for action. Violence against women can take various forms such as domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and assault, female genital mutilation (FGM), trafficking and gender-related killings. These, in any setting, are a barrier to lasting peace, a burden on national economies and an impediment to achieving sustainable development.

In Africa, some of the ramifications of violence against women and girls range from increased generic inequalities, poverty, humanitarian crisis, conflict or post-conflict situations, negative cultural norms and could also lead to permanent or short-term physical damage or even death.

The EVAW programme, therefore, seeks to work to prevent and address all forms of violence by increasing knowledge and awareness, creating safer public and private places for women, focusing on prevention by supporting innovative approaches to ending violence and advocacy, for instance, the UNiTE Campaign to end violence against women.

In partnership with governments, partners, other UN agencies, civil society organizations and other institutions that advocate for ending violence to increase awareness, reach out to affected, educate on prevention and take action.

Leadership and Political Participation Programme

From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance. Women face several obstacles to participating in political life. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office. Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

UN Women’s programmes on leadership and participation are guided by a history of international commitments to women’s representation. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women upholds women’s right to participate in public life, while the Beijing Platform for Action calls for removing barriers to equal participation. The Millennium Development Goals measure progress towards gender equality in part by the proportion of women in parliamentary seats. UN Women advocates for legislative and constitutional reforms to ensure women’s fair access to political spheres—as voters, candidates, elected officials and civil service members. We collaborate with UN country teams and work with civil society on programmes so that elections uphold women’s rights, including to vote and campaign free from electoral violence.


UN Women and Kenyatta University established the Africa Centre for Transformative and Inclusive Leadership (ACTIL) to promote innovation and social transformation, and to empower male and female decision-makers to promote policies that are inclusive, equitable and sustainable while accelerating growth and development. ACTIL offers unique training courses for leaders, including policymakers, from around Africa in a variety of areas with transformational leadership, as the entry point. These courses include Agribusiness Development; Women’s Political Leadership; Women’s Leadership in the Public Sector; Women’s Corporate Leadership; Youth Leadership Development for Transformation among others. The programme includes a unique module as well as phased training in Kenya and Israel.