Programme Director, Ms Baleka Mbete;
Honourable President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma;
Honourable President of PAWO, Madame Assetou Koite;
Honourable Chairperson of the AU, Dr Nkosazana Zuma;
Honourable Premier of Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane;
Honourable Executive Director of United Nations Women, Ms Phumzile Mlambo
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Men and Women of Media;
Invited Guests; and
Ladies and gentlemen
I stand here before you humbled by the opportunity to speak during an occasion that celebrates one of the foremost regional organisations that has – for over 51 years of its existence – dedicated its life to championing and promoting the important role that woman continue to play in society, especially in Africa.
In 1962 African women met in the beautiful sea-side city of Dar el Salaam in Tanzania and formed an organisation that would unite them against the spectre of colonialism and its twin brother, patriarchy. Indeed, an organisation that will lead African women in their struggle for recognition and application of their right to participate in decision-making in political, social, economic, and cultural spheres, both at national and international levels. Indeed, an organisation that will stand for the welfare of women and children.
This organisation is Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO).
We are gathered here today, as African women, coming from our diverse political organisations, organs of civil society representing different generations of women to celebrate the milestones of PAWO, and the sterling work the organisation has undertaken in the past 51 years and beyond.
This occasion presents us with an opportunity – as women – to reflect, and reaffirm the determination of PAWO in striving for the achievement of effective and responsible participation of the African women in the political, social and cultural development of Africa.
The PAWO has come a long way in striving to project women as potential and capable leaders in society, through the various platforms it has provided for women in the socio-economic and political domains. This Anniversary must be seen as yet another platform for women to engage in progressive dialogue on how PAWO will continue to contribute in the regeneration of Africa, towards the centenary of this organisation in 2062.
As we know, this year also marks another key milestone in the history of Africa’s struggle for liberation – Africa is celebrating the 50th Anniversaries of the Organisation of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU) since its formation in 1963, just a year after the birth of the PAWO in 1962.
Clearly, it is by no means a historical coincidence that the year-long celebrations of the OAU/AU’s 50th Anniversary rightly coincide with the 51st Anniversary of the PAWO.
In our country, August is a month dedicated to celebrating the journey we have travelled in the emancipation of women. We commemorate the popular women march to the Union building in Pretoria in 1956. We remember heroines like Lilian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke, Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, and many others. We reaffirm our belief that the struggle for women’s emancipation is intrinsically linked with the emancipation of our society as a whole.
Those gallant women pioneers continue to serve as beacons for the young women of today.
Today, as we draw closer to the end of women’s month celebrations, South Africa joins the people of the continent in celebrating these key milestones. Beyond what we call women’s month, the people of the continent must ensure that these victorious celebrations strategically position women firmly as champions of our struggle for liberation, and that they hold an ability to deliver an African Renaissance that will place us firmly as a continent on the rise.
In forming PAWO, African women were determined to defy societal stereotypes such as the one expressed in the African proverb of our local people here in South Africa: Tsa eta pele ke ya tsadi di we la ka le openg, which is loosely translated as: Those that are led by women fall into a donga.
It is so because when African leaders, who were all men at the time, met in a year later in 1963 to form the OAU, which is now known as the African Union, African women had already shown the way by forming a movement that is aimed at uniting African women from all corner of our continent for the course of the African Renaissance.
The formation of PAWO in 1962 was therefore a leadership step taken by the women in the struggle against decolonisation and our quest for African unity.
Women’s struggle in Africa was historically a three pronged struggle. Firstly – is the struggle for their own rights as women in a patriarchal society. Secondly – is the struggle against class exploitation of women as workers, peasants, and the poor. And thirdly – women were in the trenches of the struggle against colonial rule.
Since decolonisation, African women have been in the forefront of the daily struggles against poverty and underdevelopment as mothers and breadwinners.
They are the first to suffer and feel the brunt of wars. And indeed they are leaders in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and development.
We count them among heroines fighting in the streets in all corners of our continent to bring democracy to our countries.
We must therefore take pride in those women who never shiver in the face of patriarchy and devote their lives to the fight for women rights and the rule of law in Africa.
PAWO encourages African people and nations to overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific, economic renewal as well as to end the violence, elitism, corruption and poverty that plague our African continent.
Indeed, when PAWO was founded, it sought to emancipate African women in view of their integration in the future of the African continent, and this is central to the renaissance of Africa. So when we talk about the role of PAWO in African Renaissance, we must do so bearing in mind this illustrious history.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Today, we must also honour and recognise the contribution of the African Union in the promotion of women and their rights in society. As we all know, the AU has declared the years 2010- 2020 as the African Women’s Decade.
The idea of a Women’s Decade was conceived in 1975 by the United Nations at the First World conference on Women held in Mexico City. Since then, African women have been involved, and continue to participate in local and international consultations on women’s rights and gender equality.
For us as a continent, the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) is a bold political initiative that aims to put women at the centre of development on the continent. This initiative aims to create conditions under which the participation of all African women in the continent’s socio-economic development can be guaranteed.
Next year, it will be ten years since the African Union adopted the historic Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa in 2004. Through this Declaration, the African Union placed gender equality and the emancipation of women at the centre of our continental integration agenda. Gender mainstreaming and gender parity are now an accepted norms and standard that guide our policies and the election of our leaders at the country level and in the AU.
I must say that are making progress. We now have among our Heads of State two women (Presidents Sirlief Johnson and Joyce Banda). The Commission of the AU is led by another woman (Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma). At SADC, we have just appointed a female to the post of Executive Secretary. At national level, many of our countries have women elevated to positions of legislators and ministers. More and more women are beginning to climb up the executive ladder in the corporate sector.
But notwithstanding all these improvements which we must claim as our victory, the struggle against patriarchy is far from over. Patriarchy is the foundation of our societies. It is justified through culture and in some cases even religion. Thanks to patriarchy, while women are the majority in society, very few of them are at leadership level.
Thanks to patriarchy, women toil as hard as men, yet they are the most affected by poverty, unemployment and other ills inflicting our continent. Thanks to patriarchy, while no single woman is responsible for the wars on our continent, yet they are they carry the heaviest burden as refugees and victims. At the level of households, and thanks to patriarchy, while women carry the burden of raising the children, yet they are considered inferior and a junior partner in the headship of the family. In some cultures, they are subjected to the humiliating practice of gender mutilation.
The progress we are making in advancing the mobility of women in our societies is very negligible compared to the continued dominance of men in leadership positions in politics and the private sector, for example.
The struggle for gender equality and women emancipation is far from over.
Today, as we are gathered here, we are renewing this support to all African women who are in the forefront of building a continent where a girl child will no longer be seen as a liability but rather, an asset in building a caring, successful, and compassionate society.
Critically, the integration of PAWO into the AU as a regional body will unlock the current operational challenges, and indeed unleash the greater role PAWO can play in changing the political landscape of women in the continent.
As PAWO, we must use our various platforms to create awareness about women related initiative of the AU. It is our responsibility to ensure that women across the length and breadth of the continent know and understand the true meaning of the AU Decade for Women, for example. If we drift from this responsibility, it will be difficult for us to deal with real issues facing women on the continent.
We must also ensure that women in the continent understand how this Decade relates to them at whatever socio-economic level of society to which they may belong. Until this trickles down to reach the ordinary women in many African societies, our desired vision of an African Renaissance will prove difficult to achieve, especially the role that the very women are expected to play.
The AU Commission’s Women, Gender and Development Directorate has to be actively supported by PAWO and all of us at country level if it is to achieve its intended purpose of promoting gender equality through gender mainstreaming within the organs of the AU and in our countries.
African women’s contributions have enriched discussions at international Women Conferences in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).
Internationally, a lot of work has been done to pursue the struggle for the rights of women in society, the economy, and in politics. All these efforts were aimed at the elimination of all forms of exploitation and abuse of women in order to realise gender equality and the emancipation of women towards the attainment of peace, justice, prosperity and freedom in Africa, and the world over.
The United Nations convened the Fourth World Conference on Women on 4-15, September 1995 in Beijing, China. This watershed conference adopted a Platform for Action that aimed at achieving greater equality and opportunity for women.
Without any shadow of doubt, the outcome of the Beijing Conference was an indisputable agenda for women’s empowerment. It aimed at accelerating the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. A special focus on the removal of obstacles to women’s public participation in all spheres of public and private lives through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.
In essence, the Declaration embodies the commitment of the international community to the advancement of women and to the implementation of the Platform for Action, ensuring that a gender perspective is reflected in all policies and programmes at the national, regional and international levels. As we continue to engage in our various commissions today, we must take time and reflect on how far we have taken this commitment forward.
We must also bear in mind that this action plan sets time-specific targets, committing nations to carry out concrete actions in such areas as health, education, decision-making and legal reforms with the ultimate goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in both public and private life. Some of these issues are key in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The question is: have we done enough to pull resources in delivering on the set mandate?
What the Beijing Conference has taught us though over the past years is that, in order to achieve equality, the Platform for Action requires that women and men work together in partnership towards the common goal of gender equity worldwide. This is a huge task ahead of the PAWO, but if pursued collectively, it is not insurmountable.
In principle, the Beijing Platform focuses on 12 “critical areas of concern” that must be addressed to achieve gender quality and women’s empowerment: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment and the girl child
I had an opportunity to peruse our two-day programme in detail. It is exciting that most of the issues to be discussed are fundamentally informed by our desire to fulfill the challenges placed upon us by the Beijing Platform for Action. The programme clearly highlights critical issues for discussion around Women and Politics, Women, Poverty and Economic Development, Education of Girls and Women on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, Women and Climate Change, Women and Social Networks, Women, Parity and Decision Making, Violence against women.
I am pleased that the PAWO has, as always, realised the need to celebrate its Anniversary while addressing these specific challenges that continue to face women in Africa. As we are gathered here today, we must make sure that the outcomes of our frank and open engagements are able to change the lives of women in Africa who continue to live under the unfavourable conditions of hunger, pain, humiliation and conflict. As for the HIV and AIDS pandemic, it presents one of the most serious threats to development on the continent. It is our intervention in the next two days that will help change the face of this pandemic that has a potential to be felt by many who will come after us.
These are the struggles that continue to inflict women in Africa, yet very little is said about what they have done in contributing towards the ultimate and final halt of such struggles.
It is us who must write this history today, and we dare not forego this opportunity.
Today we must learn lesson that will help us know and understand what needs to be done towards the centenary of PAWO in 2062. The role that PAWO has played in the continent is immeasurable. We have learned how African leaders – men and women – were inspired by the founding principles of PAWO to form organisations that later took the African struggle forward. It is the PAWO that brought together the ideas around which the present day African Union operates. We salute you for this pioneering role.
The centenary of PAWO in 2062 will precede that of the AU by a year. You will be aware, that the AU Summit in May has given the Commission the task of developing Vision or African Agenda 2063 which will be our framework and guide for the renewal of our continent in the next 50 years.
Ours task is to continue to work together for the realisations of an African Renaissance we can all be proud of, led by formidable women from across the African continent. PAWO’s Anniversary must chart a way forward to achieving these goals that we all desire for the prosperity of our own continent.
Africa is rising, and history shall have it on record that PAWO was there when Africa was rising.
Today, PAWO will also be counted amongst those structures that continue to pay homage to a generation that fearlessly stood for women’s rights throughout the continent.
Today, as the women’s struggle continue, let us all rally behind the PAWO; let us collectively pledge our support for this organisation to continue championing women’s rights and their emancipation.
Today, we must all be convinced that the work of PAWO – in letter and spirits – over the past 51 years and beyond, resonates well with its Anthem; (and I quote):
“Mothers and women of Africa hand in hand let’s unite around the Pan-African Women’s Organisation our sole organ of struggle. Let’s lift up our flag so high seen by the whole world let’s ensure to our future generation a new, free and prosperous Africa”.
I thank you.
Mr Nelson Kgwete
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