The Pan-African Women’s Organisation, PAWO has planned to host a series of events in celebration of Women’s Day. These events have been taking place and will continue to take place in South Africa and in other member states of PAWO. The events in South Africa took place on the 30th and 31st July 2018 at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and at the Freedom Park in Pretoria.
On the 31st July 2018 a panel discussion focused on ‘Building a Strong Women’s Movement in Africa’ took place. Before the discussion, the President of PAWO, Mme Assetou Koite, who is said to be the only surviving founding member of PAWO, opened the day with a powerful and meaning speech. The panel discussion was facilitated by the Chief Director of the African Union Desk at DIRCO, Ms Qwabe; with the panellists being Ms L Nare the Chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equity, Dr Ellen Kornegay the Former Acting Director-General (DG) of the Department for Women, Ms Victoria De Beer a National Executive Committee Member of the ANC Youth League and myself.
In Mme Koite’s speech she reminded us of the critical and fundamental roles that our foremothers, Sisulu, Madikizela-Mandela, Maxeke and others like Queen Nzinga of Ethiopia, Jeanne Martin Cisse of Guinea and Wangari Mathaii of Kenya played in various struggles against injustices upon humanity and in particular women. Relevant to the fact that myself and Victoria as young women would share our views on how we can build a strong women’s movement in Africa, Mme Koite asked ‘what does it mean to be passing on the baton from the generation mentioned above to the generation of Victoria and myself’.
Although in this writing I would like to share my input to the panel discussion; I think I must also mention how struck I was by the input of Dr Ellen Kornagey. Dr Kornagey’s input was testament to the call for solution-driven inputs and remarks. Noting that PAWO was recently granted the status of a Specialized Agency of the African Union, Dr Konargey spoke and made examples as to how the constitution of PAWO would have to be revisited, going far as to suggest goals that PAWO should adopt and lead, and lastly highlighting the strength that lies within PAWO as it moves from an NGO to a Specialized Agency of the AU and how will PAWO fully utilize this new muscle.
In a vibrant room full of old and young African women dressed in their various African traditional wear, I reiterated the fact that my views will be informed by my recent, one-year experience in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa.
Post my experiences in Abidjan, my views of how we build a strong women’s movement in Africa greatly speaks to the sentiments that we need to ensure that African women are neither strangers nor a foreign phenomenon to one another. Thus it is pivotal that African women become familiar with one another from an earlier age, even as girl-children, if possible. This will not only strengthen the women’s movement but also contribute to addressing other challenges facing the continent, such as Afro-phobia.
There are various ways in which we can create inter-continental platforms that we can use for African women to interact from an early age.
We could have balanced social exchange programs. By balanced, I mean that the exchange program must not one-sided, such that we have more young women from Country A going to Country B, more than young women from Country B going to Country A. There needs to be equal opportunities for young women in all countries.
Having heard the sentiment that social exchange programs are not meaningful, I must state that there is so much power in understanding one’s culture. Often, our inabilities to relate is due to lack of understanding in terms of what defines the beings that were are. And so, I argue that social exchange programs, and the soft power that they hold, remain critical in building cohesion among African young women.
Building on soft power, I am must admit that I am conflicted when it comes to the discussion on language. Language plays a huge role in successful and effective communication which is important in building a strong movement. In Africa, we find ourselves subjugated to communicating in the languages of our colonial masters. Like me right now, as I write this article in English.
The medium of professional and common communication in most African countries is English, French, Arabic, Swahili or Portuguese. Due to the impatience of the movement, to learn each other’s local languages when many of our countries have not identified a lingua franca would take us forever and decelerate the pace of the movement. So, in order to build this strong women’s movement in Africa, should we not be learning Swahili, French, Portuguese, Arab or English as opposed to mandarin? Would the increase of our ability to communicate as Africans not also play a pivotal role in increasing inter-African trade and business? In as much as I would not want to learn another colonial language, learning French really assisted me in communicating with my African sisters in Cote d’Ivoire and thus understanding some of the plights that they were faced with. Even yesterday, my ability to communicate with the President of PAWO in her home language, French, was a great ice-breaker. So, as we speak about decoloniality and the importance for the rise of African languages we find ourselves with such conflictions.
Noting the importance of education and the role it can play in giving young African women the tools they need to strengthen their movements and the continent, PAWO leading in facilitating intra-African scholarships could enhance the effectiveness of the African women’s movement, but also address issues like the value of African education. The more we study in Africa, the more value we give to its’ education system. The value of the system will be increased by influxes of enrolment and production of research. And so, noting that women are a dominating population in Africa and more so young women; when the bulk of young African women study in western institutions, the more value they give to western institutions and the lower the ranking of African institutions.
Spearing to the topic on increasing access to institutions of higher learning across the continent for young African women, PAWO, as a Specialized Agency of the AU has the ability to play an influential role in leading the call for the standardization of university fees for African students across the continent. The Southern African Development Community has been able to implement an agreement of this nature, and thus I want to believe that the AU can achieve a similar agreement.
Noting that travel plays a huge part in learning about various societies, the lowering of travelling costs in the continent should be challenged by PAWO. One cannot pay the same amount to travel within the West African region as they would pay to travel from Southern Africa to West Africa. In building a strong women’s movement in Africa, African women must be able to gather and pave the way forward for the continent. This also speaks to the easing of migration and travelling laws and rules within the continent.
However, as we acknowledge the thriving digital space, increasing artificial intelligence and the inevitable move into the 4th Industrial Revolution, we need to perhaps speak about how we can use technology to bring us closer as African women without having to physically meet. How can we increase access to the digital space to all women in Africa for them to be able to deliberate on their common interests and solutions? How can we use the move towards the 4th Industrial Revolution to support some of the grass-root programs being implemented by African women across the continent? How do we use the move towards the 4th Industrial Revolution to provide solutions to the grave realities that African women face on a daily basis? How do we balance the call for access to internet Vis a Vis the call for the basic daily needs of African women to be met? Seeds for subsistence farming vs internet towers? Or could the installation of information and communications technology assist us in ensuring fruitful farms? These are but a few matters that we need to take into thought.
One is glad to say that there are programs that indirectly contribute to building a strong women’s movement in Africa by harnessing young African women. The Young African leaders Initiative, YALI and the African Leadership Academy, ALA are but a few initiatives that are on-going and thus effective and sustainable in their impact on young African women. How do we have more initiatives of this nature, how do we enhance such initiatives and how do we influence them to contribute more to building a strong young African women who will build a strong African women’s movement.
Lastly, I am of the view that in order to build a strong women’s movement in Africa we need to ensure that we are inclusive and that there is adequate representation of young African women in our national, regional and continental organisations, movements, structures etc. from an early age, essentially speaking to a multi-generational women’s movement. This does not mean creating a separate structure for young women but integrating young women into the structures of PAWO. A movement with the old guard which will bring experience, wisdom and historical knowledge and the new guard that comes with innovation and impatience with the system and status quo.
By Nompendulo Mkatshwa, a BSc Geography Graduate from University of the Witwatersrand, PGCE Candidate University of South Africa, Former President Student Representative Council Wits, Former South African Students Congress Chairperson at Wits and Former Deputy Chairperson of Wits ANC Youth League.
Nompendulo Mkatshwa is a regular Polity columnist.