15 Nov

A letter to my African Sisters Gathered in Addis

15 November, 2014

November is a month of collective local and global reflection about women’s rights, empowerment and equality as we review the Beijing Commitment. I share with you my thoughts and some of the issues that have been sitting in my belly as I reflect on the journey from 1995 to the present.

Beijing agenda was a feminist agenda. It was about discourse on power and patriarchy; resources and opportunities for women; our knowledge and innovations. It was about women shaping communities, defining peace and development agenda. It was about  women as citizens, shareholders and stakeholders. I was young and breastfeeding; I felt that I can change the world. I knew that government and others have to play their role and be accountable, but essentially I believed in my own agency and that of my sisters, I found my voice, validated my lived experiences and did shake of a number of labels that confined and restricted my identity and my potential. I hope that in Addis, we will rise beyond the technocratic arguments, of crossing the t’s and REALLY reclaim our African feminist voice…beyond gender mainstreaming.

The Beijing Platform for action was about WOMEN! Gender equality was a subset and an ideal to work towards; as we sort to ensure that WOMEN and girls have rights and dignity. I often worry, especially these days when the Beijing review is reduced to a review on extent towards achieving “gender equality”. I think the goal post was about women having opportunities, choices and possibilities in life, and as we work towards these, we will be reducing the gender inequality gap. I just hope that Africa will reclaim the agenda and reframe the conversation so that at the centre is the WOMAN! I often find ourselves losing the focus on women and girls, in all our diversity in the pursuit of the elusive yet important equality ideal.

I do anticipate that in the Civil Society meetings, and in even the government meetings, there will be a lamentation about MEN. Someone will definitely ask “Where are the men?”. This for me is often not the right question. I assume that those men who understand, are supportive and convinced of the agenda will be in the room with us. I just find the whole discussion a distraction from the real focus which should be on male RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY. Men are there always there, every day and in everything, in our families and our lives. Men are the majority in parliaments, making policies and approving budget; they are in board rooms, defining resources allocation and employment options; they head key sectors services such as education, agriculture and health, making far reaching daily decisions on access to services; men led in media organisation defining public opinion and shaping the discourse; and lead in the faith and cultural institutions driving the norms and the values of society. Men are involved, they simply need to be responsive to women’s rights in their daily lives.  It is in these spaces that we expect them to deliver for women’s rights and gender equality, in their everyday space of decision making.

My sisters, we must go beyond the traditional thinking, that women’s issues are only social and micro! Yes, the social sectors are fundamental, as it is the space within which we reproduce society. However, we should step up and make the women’s agenda in Africa MACRO and MACRO. We should talk about women in mining, construction, trade and finance; women defining technology. For instance, the women’s market in Africa should not be viewed as micro, requiring micro credit, but MACRO demanding huge investments and prioritisation. We must claim our global citizenship as define our local actions.

Africa is rising and we must shape a new narrative that goes beyond  Africa’s labels of poverty, starvation, disease, death and wars.  I hope we can all work on a clear re-articulation of Africa, and reclaim how the continent is filthy rich even if the African women and girls are licking the spoon. Yes, we have to demand our government to invest more in health care (ebola and HIV crisis); etc; and this should be from a perspective of building a prosperous Africa at peace with itself, and not from a hand to mouth and humanitarian lets save lives perspectives.

Africa is more than its borders. The seed of Africa is on all the continents, if we count from the shipment of ancestors to far-off lands during the slave trade, the plunder of Africa and its people during colonialism and now the new diaspora and wave of economic and political migrants. The discourse on Beijing for Africa should embrace and seek solidarity with issues of women and girls of African descent, and turn the brain drain of the continent into the brain grain.

It’s about Inter-generational justice. I hope as we celebrate Beijing, and the road Mama Getrude Mongella and others paved, we will be lifting the leadership, voice and capabilities of young women and girls. For us to unleash such potential, we have to really recommit, roll up our sleeves and address some of the unacceptable human rights violations and practices such as child marriage, which I know we can end in a single generation.

I understand there will be No Agreed Conclusions at CSW59, but a Political Declaration. Therefore we have to be clear about what we are demanding and asking of our governments. Lets call for FULFILLMENT of the Beijing commitments accompanied by an ACCOUNTABILITY and a RESOURCING Framework. Yes, we need a stand-alone goal on gender equality with clear means of implementation.

I share these thoughts as I honour the many women who inspire me every day in the YWCAs; each one of you as my sisters; my late mother, Rozaria and daughter Farirai.  Unfortunately, I am unable to join you in Addis this time.

I celebrate you, wish you strength and courage. Africa is indeed rising. You are Afrika.  Arise.

 

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

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