It is now more than two decades since the Beijing conference adopted the Declaration aimed at improving the rights of women. How have women in Africa fared in the intervening years?  Cristina Duarte says that although progress has been made there is still a need to stop side-lining African women, who are among the most creative and entrepreneurial in the world. Or else Africa’s renaissance will be stunted

THAT 2015 was designated by the African Union (AU) as the Year of African Women made their case even more compelling, as, for once, it brought to the limelight the more than half of the African population of about one billion. Mothers and families, pillars of social change and demographic transition, continue to bear the heaviest burdens in African societies.

You find them fetching water in harsh conditions; suffering because of poor health infrastructure; struggling to protect their children from local and transnational risks, or being dominated in traditional patriarchal societies.

Indeed, more than any social groups, African women continue ti be deprived of primary rights like inheriting property or owning land. Yet they are resilient. It is thus becoming normal to see them in positions of power. Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and African Union Commission President Dlamini Zuma are good examples in the public sector., Similarly, they are increasingly assuming important positions in the private sector.

But these rays of hope are few. Truth is, Africa cannot realise its rising scenario without ensuring that its hundreds of millions of women become a more productive force through the integration of a gender-based approach into national planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation.

Cape Verde has useful experiences to share in this regard. In 1975, at our independence, we adopted a legal and institutional framework that guarantees equality and non-discrimination before the law. The responsibility falls on the state to remove obstacles to equal opportunities among the sexes, whether economic, social or cultural.

Another step was to incorporate the gender equality perspective in the decision making process at the national level as an integral element in the planning and budgeting exercises so it becomes a framework for action.

Cape Verde's experience can equally serve as an example, in economic terms, in light of our approach to reducing poverty and fostering economic growth through the full engagement and participation of women.

Recognising the persistent gender gaps in income and poverty, we have, for instance, prioritised investment in agri-business and the modernisation of agriculture to maximise work opportunities, given the important role women play in that sector.

As part of the process, the government established the Gender Equality Observatory to measure and monitor 12 indicators in three areas relating to women: decision making, physical and economic autonomy.

The gender issue is confronted by a lack of vision and political/societal will. Are our societies pushing and agitating enough to ensure that women are fully integrated into the society with equal opportunities? We know that vocational skills development and entrepreneurship interventions work.

We know that  cash transfers and school feeding programmes have been successful in reducing the gender gap in school enrolment, and that agricultural extension services can be critical for the adoption of better farming tools and methods. We know that quotas, like those in Rwanda to ensure women's participation, is a major step forward.

But if we don't act decisively, gender inequality, a human right and economic issue, will stunt Africa's renaissance dreams. Our continent must therefore stop side-lining half of its team, its women, who are among the most creative and entrepreneurial in the world.

Cristina Duarte was Minister of Finance and Planning in Cape Verde until 2016. She is a member of a nine-member team of eminent Africans put together by Rwandan President Paul Kagame with the task of reforming the African Union.