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Q&A: Political Support Needs Financial Backing

Rousbeh Legatis interviews NORAH MATOVU-WINYI, Executive Director, African Women?s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2011 (IPS) - “The agenda for women’s rights and empowerment in each country must be supported by the political leadership,” says Norah Matovu-Winyi, Executive Director, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).



FEMNET is a membership based Network, mandated to facilitate the sharing of information, experiences, ideas and strategies among African women’s NGOs in order to strengthen women’s capacity to participate effectively in the development process.

In future World Social Forums “there is need to support more women to participate in the dialogues,” Matovu-Winyi said. Women learn a lot from each other and in many instances discover that their struggles are the same despite coming from different continents.

Bringing women from different countries together to share ideas, experience and challenges “is the greatest solidarity mechanism for women,” Norah Matovu-Winyi told IPS.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: What are the most pressing issues for women in Africa? A: Increasing poverty and its feminised characteristics continue to be a major challenge in Africa. Women and girls, especially in poor urban and rural communities, continue to live on less than one dollar and a half per day, with household capacity for income generation decreasing. This has worsened with the multiple crises including the global financial and economic meltdown, food insecurity and climate change and the fuel crisis which have all combined to impact the households in developing countries in ways that have left many women more vulnerable to poverty. The majority of African women have limited opportunities for realising their full potential in their lifetime.

Insecurity resulting from the wars and conflicts (intra-state, inter-state and within communities) in which women’s bodies have increasing become battlegrounds are causing havoc in the region.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the biggest threats to human security and a daily nightmare for many women, girls, boys and men on the African continent.

Patriarchy is Africa’s dominant, organizing social system, in which women’s rights as citizens remain subordinated to the inferior social prescriptions for the female gender, which does not accord the same recognition to women and girls as to men and boys; and which does not equally tap into this resource for Africa’s development.

Q: Does the Social World Forum respond to the need of African women? A: The World Social Forum (WSF) is an open and significant space for African women activists and feminists to meet and link with other social movements and civil society organisations that propagate another alternative world that is free of neo-liberalism and any form of imperialism. The thousands of people from all corners of the world brainstorm, share experiences and ideas; and identify key agenda items that they agree on how to harmonise for a better world.

During the 2011 WSF, FEMNET partnered with PANOS to organise the Gender and Media workshop, and attached two female journalists to the Flame of Africa Newspaper which was produced throughout the WSF. This was part of capacity building for the young journalists because they had the opportunity to challenge each other to demand for gender responsive media reporting, support each other to take up decision-making positions in the media and to utilise new information technologies in order to put the women’s agenda at the forefront in the global development processes. The main role of FEMNET in this partnership was to provide a gender perspective to coverage of issues during the WSF and also mobilise African women journalists to cover the WSF with a gender lens.

The WSF provided space for FEMNET as a regional organisation to work with other regional women’s organisations like WIDE (a Network of European women’s rights NGOs) and also AWID (a women’s rights NGO which covers Europe, Latin America and Africa).

As women’s NGOs from Africa, Latin America and Europe we used the WSF to engage with women from different parts of the world. We used the WSF to hold a consultation with women on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, as part of preparing African women to engage in debate and discussions around aid and development effectiveness before the Fourth High Level Forum (HLF4) which will be held in Busan, Korea in Nov. 2011.

The WSF does in a way respond to the needs of African women because it provides space for women to articulate their issues and also find common ground on some issues. It also provides space for women to share experiences, challenges and best practices.

Q: Do you see enough political will bring change for African women? A: Political will and/or political commitment is essential because leadership at the top enables things to move at all levels. For example in Rwanda, it is the political will that started moving the agenda for improved maternal health and care and this trickled down to the community level, where women were sensitised on the need to work together with government to change their health care seeking behaviours including addressing basic things like hygiene, sanitation and clean environment.

In Uganda, the President led the country in moving the agenda for HIV/AIDS from a personal/individual affair to a community/country business, that required each and everyone to play her/his role in its prevention, treatment and care. This resulted in increased awareness creating a culture of public acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing stigma and improving access to medications.

To some extent we felt not enough political will among the leadership of Senegal to host the WSF.

For example most of the meetings were cancelled because there was no venue, despite an organisation paying for the venue prior to coming to the WSF. For example all women’s meetings were held in tents because authorities were not willing to give rooms within the University of Cheikh Anta Diop University, the venue of the WSF. The alternative venue (tents) also proved expensive for some women’s organisations who could not afford to pay for on-the-spot interpretation and interpretation equipment.

Political commitment/will must go along with the allocation of the required financial resources.

The agenda for women’s rights and empowerment in each country must be supported by the political leadership, but also the financial resources must be available to facilitate the much-needed change.

FEMNET believes that the African Women’s Decade (2010 – 2020) is a great opportunity for all African women to mobilise and organise themselves to create a critical mass at national, regional and sub-regional levels that will push for a common agenda – that of transformative change for women and girls of Africa.

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