This week, more than 3000 delegates are at the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali discussing new strategies to tackle poverty, underdevelopment, and put their weight behind global schemes that ensure Africa’s progress.
To mark the occasion, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, published an OpEd today titled Women’s Role in the Next 50 Years – the Africa We Want. It’s a really good, really feminist piece and reading it I felt a bit ashamed for my tweets to her earlier this month. After all, she is probably, hopefully, doing all she can about involving UN Women in the Boko Haram abduction situation.
I’d like to amplify the six key things Mlambo-Ngcuka says that African women want for the future so I’m directly posting them below. I’ve added a seventh point of my own because I have a thing for the number seven and more importantly because without it the other six won’t happen.
- Women of Africa want to live in a peaceful continent in which there are no widows as a result of senseless killings and war, a continent in which they are not sexually abused and violated and in which suffering is not caused by the self-interest of a few corrupt and power hungry leaders. Instead, they want to be a force that creates cohesive and peaceful societies; that builds generations of prosperity and welfare for.
- We want an Africa which is a common and equitable market place, where laws of the market are not manipulated but shaped to permit entry and benefit for all. A continent where women are empowered to transform their subsistence farms to businesses that supply food, income and enable them to create wealth, assets and move into business leadership.
- African women want to be recognized, not as vulnerable members of society in need of charity but as a formidable force that needs to be released, empowered and massively invested in to fulfil their potential, drive growth, development and food security to phenomenal levels and ultimately reach their destiny. Women want to be an equal part of the force that makes decisions in social, political, economic and cultural affairs.
- The young women of Africa want to be considered not just as leaders of tomorrow but leaders today, with the ability to champion innovations in technology, agriculture, industry and societal welfare.
- We want Africa where Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment is recognized as an important agenda for all, not just for women. Remember, when women are empowered, their husbands, sons and daughters and even their communities are empowered.
- We want men to commit to and join us in finding solutions that will make the 21st Century a century in which gender-based discrimination is truly eliminated.
- [Mine] We want an Africa with more women in top political positions. We want women in parliament, in the senate, as ministers, governors and as heads of state. We want feminine power pumping up the muscles of the political skeleton of our countries like never before. We want our countries to follow the model of Rwanda and put systems in place, which ensure that women gain access to decision making. We do not want this simply for the sake of it but because having more women in power makes countries wealthier, safer, happier, wiser and, more beautiful. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record: we want female leaders because male leaders are not going to deliver Mlambo-Ngcuka’s list however obvious they may seem. They did not care about implementing these things yesterday. They do not seriously care about implementing them today and they won’t tomorrow.
On a different forum I mentioned the fact that Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and UN Women’s silence (at the time of the abduction) and delayed response to the abduction of the young girls in Nigeria was telling of how low on the list of priorities, black girls are to African women, men and the world (in general).
I stand by my criticism of her even after reading the OpEd. The issues she highlighted are critical and true but she did not say anything that has not been said before by the UN Secretary General, UNICEF, UNAIDS, MSF or various Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups. Her six key points that you highlighted have been mentioned by various prominent women particularly first ladies on the African continent. I do not know how much of that OpEd was really her writing because it reads like a piece written by her speech writer/public relations person.
Notwithstanding, people are aware of what the major and minor problems are for African girls and women, people are well aware of the key obstacles African girls and women face at family, community, national and international level. People (at the very least policy and decision makers) know the problems, the indicators and relevant or applicable solutions. Our greatest problem as Africans is developing solutions to our problems and implementation of those solutions. This is where (for me) your point on the presence of more women in senior and top political positions is important. Unless women are in positions where they have the power and authority to make influential policies and decision and are able to implement them, African girls and women will continue to lead in negative statistics and data, they will continue to lag, lack and struggle and this conversation will continue to happen 50 years from now (that’s not the Africa I want but, it is the Africa I foresee).
I was pleased when Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed head of UN Women and I watched to see whether she would bring some change to the bureaucratic and elitist UN agency, ten months into her leadership and it is business as usual. I recognise and understand that she works within the constraints that come with being a black woman working for the UN but the way her tenure is shaping up would cause me to add to your seventh point that: we need female leaders who are courageous and visionaries – women with will power.
Thanks for the fantastic comment.
You’re right that we need to continue to formulate critique towards the late reaction of UN Women to the abductions especially as the girls remain missing. In my case, I jumped into hasty conclusions that Phumzile was being ineffective. Hasty, simply because I don’t know. And the speech made me see her in a somewhat new light.
I was unable to find out if the OpEd was delivered as a speech in Kigali. If so, as a speech delivered in such a setting it’s quite forthright. As an OpEd, it has indeed been said before but it’s valuable that she says it.
“…but the way her tenure is shaping up would cause me to add to your seventh point that: we need female leaders who are courageous and visionaries – women with will power.”
– I’ve not followed her tenure as thoroughly as I’d have liked to but I recall attending a talk with Michele Bachelet during hers and realising that the position itself was not lending to courageous and visionary leadership. You can read some of my thoughts on that talk here if of interest https://msafropolitan.com/2011/05/michelle-bachelet-at-the-house-of-commons.html
I’m equally pessimist (realist?) as you about the coming 50 years for girls and women. Unless African women step up as a determined force, as in a really, really determined force, it’s not looking too promising. It’s key though. We need to collectively get more women in top positions, the means are increasingly there.
“– I’ve not followed her tenure as thoroughly as I’d have liked
to but I recall attending a talk with Michele Bachelet during hers and
realising that the position itself was not lending to courageous and visionary
leadership. You can read some of my thoughts on that talk here if of interest https://msafropolitan.com/2…”
I read the article linked and it was a good piece, on point throughout. You noted the issues of unequal relationships amongst women activists as well as your perception that UN Women was set up as a western ‘good-will’ agency intended to save women in the developing world. I absolutely agree with your viewpoints.
The underlying theme (of the structure) of most UN agencies (and aid agencies in general) is ‘thy saviour’ or ‘save the developing world’ which is problematic on various levels. With Phumzile’s appointment to UN Women, I was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that as a black women who has served in a political role and as a woman who has experienced or witnessed the challenges of women in developing countries, she would bring that knowledge and those experiences to her role as executive director and use them to spark change.
“We need to collectively get more women in top positions, the means are increasingly there.”
This is vital. As women, we need to be strategic about ensuring more women get to senior positions and create meaningful change. Thanks for this article Minna and highlighting pertinent issues relevant to African girls and women.
Thanks Chongo, nice to read you here.
There’s only one problem with the Rwanda model and that’s Paul Kagame. It’s great that women play such a role in government but on many matters they are obliged to stick to the party line or they will wind up in exile, prison or dead like all the others that are critical of his rule. Let’s face it Rwanda is a dictatorship and hardly a role model. I am sure the women in government there have made a difference though -if you could give some examples I would appreciate it.
Hi Graham, thanks for the comment and you raise some key issues. I am aware that the RPF has both supporters and critics but in this instance, my interest in the Rwandan model is only as it relates to gender equality. It is neither to praise nor criticise the party but to bring forth that women have majority seats.
You could look up Judith Kanakuze and Twese Hamne for some insight into women’s contributions in Rwanda.