SECOND WOMEN LEADERS FORUM FOR AFRICA’S TRANSFORMATION.
Your Excellencies, Sisters and Brothers,
I bring you the fraternal greetings of His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission, our distinguished HE FOR SHE award winner.
I stand here in complete recognition of the importance of the increasing role women are playing in Africa's development. I am also glad to note that the African Union, indeed, Africa, has elected five female Commissioners to lead the Commission. I salute the other great women sitting here in positions of leadership. You are an inspiration to our young women to continue to contribute to the development of our Africa. It was Kwame Nkrumah, the visionary, who observed that “the degree of a country’s revolutionary awareness may be measured by the political maturity of its women.” This is even more true for the continent of Africa today as it was yesterday.
Kwame Nkrumah again stated that: “The women of Africa have already shown themselves to be of paramount importance in the revolutionary struggle. They gave active support to the independence movement in their various countries, and in some cases their courageous participation in demonstrations and other forms of political action had a decisive effect on the outcome (e.g. Winnie Mandela). They have therefore a good revolutionary record, and are a great source of power for our political organization. Maximum use must be made of their skills and potentialities.”
[Kwame Nkrumah, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare – Freedom Fighters Edition]
I wish to commend all the determined and dignified women of Africa, who have come together to create the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN). This is a joint venture by the African Union Commission and the United Nations. This intergenerational platform is a testament of your commitment to an action-oriented network with direct linkage and bridges to grassroots and to women everywhere in Africa. We salute you for that.
We are inspired by our great women of Africa. Especially those who fought in many diverse areas in the struggle for the total liberation of Africa, women such as Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Graca Machel, Yaa Asantewaa. We continue to celebrate you. We celebrate you for your work in the economic liberation of our women and nations. We celebrate you.
Let me also take the opportunity to thank the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for their unwavering support throughout this whole process.
This three-day forum is the culmination of previous key meetings. Our women are progressing from rhetoric to actualizing their vision, and putting in place the necessary modalities and parameters of implementation for inclusive integration and development of Africa.
Your Excellencies, Sisters and Brothers,
Agenda 2063 envisions "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens.” Our women are at the heart of this development. The African Union envisages that by 2020 all African countries would have achieved equality in women representation in decision making and participation in the economy.
The adoption of the African Union Gender Policy in 2009 and the launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 was no coincidence. It was in appreciation of the need to accelerate the implementation of all commitments on women empowerment in Africa. It is an idea whose time has come. And, as we know, no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. Ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. As Bob Marley put it, the power of philosophy is light like a feather but heavy as lead.
Your Excellencies, Sisters and Brothers,
The role of our women and the socio-economic, political, cultural, scientific and technological vision of our Africa depends largely on how we build a literacy-rich foundation for our women and girls. We must provide access to education and skills. Our vision is an Africa which is totally literate and numerate. When you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate a family, a nation and an entire continent. Only then can we make full use of technology, access online markets, online banking, and opportunities in digital startups. Only then can we leverage science and technology in production. Only then can we make prudent decisions on financial borrowing and investments. This is particularly key as you establish the African Women Leaders Fund to create and develop more visionary women leaders for the Africa we want.
We must know our rights in the trade and labour markets, especially on cross-border trade where our women make up about 70 percent. This is very critical with the establishment of the African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). There is huge potential here. Informal cross-border trading contributes about 17.6 billion dollars per year to the Southern African Development Community. We must turn our borders, which are artificial and externally imposed, into bridges for integration and development.
With education our women will eradicate outdated cultural practices such as FGM. With education our women will be enlightened on their rights to land ownership, so they can make sound investment judgment. Economic literature from the World Bank shows that women in Rwanda have increased investments, twice that of men, due to improved land tenure security, but, above all, due to education and training.
Women must also be informed of the crucial role they play in informal and formal mediation process in the peace and security architecture, and in demystifying the stigma and fear of speaking out against violence against women and girls.
We must create a larger space for women participation in politics. I am glad to know icons like President Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, are here to share their insights on how to expand the political space.
Allow me here to salute my sister Samia Yaba Nkrumah for her valiant efforts to revitalize Kwame Nkrumah’s party. The party was decimated when Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown. It was made illegal to wear even a T-shirt bearing Kwame Nkrumah’s image.
For meaningful economic participation, we must get the women out of vulnerable employment. Generally, we must cover all the existing gaps if we are to reach and benefit every African woman and girl in the continent. Once again, the three keys are: 1. Education, 2. Education, and 3. Education.
Your Excellencies, our dear sisters, our dear mothers, and our dear friends,
There is no better starting point than instituting literacy as a value in all African families and in our communities; education is the key to breaking the inter-generational cycle of illiteracy. The nexus between education and mainstreaming gender issues, must be highlighted at all times. We cannot emphasize this enough.
With your permission, I should like to quote the late make reference to the late Barbara Bush (and may her noble soul rest in peace) who once said that, and I quote, “You know, a lot of problems in this country could be solved if more people were literate. We have got to make people literate, because if they can get an education, we can make a lot of headway in a lot of areas.” Unquote. I want to agree with her sentiments as a solid foundation to amplify the voices and concerns of African women and girls.
I was excited to hear of this programme in Niger, the “School for Husbands”, an education program delivered by traditional community leaders highlighting the benefits of family planning and reproductive health. We need educated and healthy girls to grow up to become women able to can take on leadership mantle in Africa. We have limitless opportunities.
Your deliberations covered a diverse range of issues, including peace and security, access to education for women and girls in rural areas, and their economic and political empowerment. You discussed positive progress, as well as the challenges that are holding many women back, including gender-based violence, displacement and socio-economic marginalization.
Africa has made commendable strides in gender equality and women’s empowerment. But we cannot afford to be complacent. There is still a lot to be done. Gender parity is our goal. It is important that this new movement for gender equality led by African women continues to be guided by the spirit of Pan-Africanism, inclusiveness, solidarity and empowerment of fellow women.
We must all work together and push harder for more sustained efforts to continue the momentum by all actors; governments, private sector, academia and civil society organizations to make sure the voices and aspirations of women are fully included at all levels of decision-making and in all political processes.
Allow me therefore to applaud your efforts, especially those in this room and those who continue to cheer and support from afar as we seek to advance women and girls initiatives and to enhance the participation of women in leadership in Africa and the world. The African Union believes in you. We commit to walk with you every step of the way to attain the Africa we want.
God bless our Africa.