Date: Fri, 13 Jun 97 11:10:12 CDT
From: rich%pencil@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: AFRICA-OAU: What's She Doing There?
/** headlines: 174.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: AFRICA-OAU: What's She Doing There? **
** Written 11:23 AM Jun 12, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
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What's She Doing There?
By Patricia A. Made, IPS
8 June 1997
HARARE, Jun 8 (IPS) - A young Zimbabwean man was quite surprised
when he looked at a front-page photograph of the African leaders
who attended a just-ended Organisation of African Unity (OAU)
Sitting in the middle of the picture, which appeared in
Zimbabwe's main daily newspaper, was an elegantly dressed woman
peering out with the same confidence as her male counterparts.
"What's she doing there?" he asked, thinking that one of the
First Ladies had wandered into a picture of the more than 30
African heads of state by accident.
The sight of Liberian interim leader Ruth Perry among the African
heads attending the 33rd OAU summit brought quite a few stares of
amazement, but also pride from women in this Southern African
country who got a glimpse of the first African woman to head a
"It took patience to get to where I am today," said Perry when
she addressed Zimbabwean women's groups last week. "The first
thing I did when I was appointed to the head of the interim
council governing the transition in Liberia was to say a prayer,"
(The transitional government was set up under a peace agreement
between rival Liberian armed factions. Its mandate will end after
elections scheduled for mid-July.)
The recipe for leadership, the Liberian leader explained, is to
be "firm, flexible, loving, kind and patient". Women have all of
these qualities, she said, but she was quick to add that her
leadership has been a challenge. Perry said she was writing a book
entitled "My Life in a Cage' about her political experience at
While Perry has been successful in breaking through the cage of
male power at the top of the political pyramid, the OAU itself has
yet to fully integrate Africa's women into its leadership
"The OAU Secretariat is a male bastion. Women are nowhere (in
the Addis Ababa-based Secretariat's leadership)," said Joyce
Mends-Cole, the Senior Regional Gender Advisor for the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
"Salim Ahmed Salim, the re-elected OAU Secretary-General, should
use the next four years for transformative leadership to increase
the number of women in leadership positions within the OAU and to
mainstream the perspective of women in OAU issues," added Mends-
Cole who is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The OAU Secretary-General, who was re-elected at the Jun. 2-4
summit, and the five Assistant Secretary-Generals are all men. Of
the five directors or heads of divisions within the organisation,
only one is a woman, said Yetunde Teriba, Women's Affairs Officer
in the OAU Women's Unit.
"The OAU is a reflection of the member states. There are not
many women in key decision-making positions both within the OAU
Secretariat and within African governments," Teriba said, adding
that the bulk of the women at the OAU headquarters are found in
administration as secretaries.
According to the OAU Women's Affairs Officer, the existence of a
women's unit, "does not mean that gender mainstreaming is taking
place" within the organisation.
The main programmes of the unit emanate from two documents -- the
1991 Abuja Treaty on the creation of an African Economic
Community, and the 1994 African Platform for the Advancement of
Women, adopted in Dakar, Senegal, Teriba explained. Article 75 of
the Abuja Treaty, she added, is on the economic empowerment of
"The unit is still marginalised, but we try to work with all
divisions within the OAU to influence policy and the recruitment
of more women to higher posts in the secretariat," Teriba said.
Mends-Cole said the unit "has struggled valiantly to put women's
issues on the (OAU) agenda, but it does not work in an enabling
environment and does not have the resources". There are only two
people in the unit. Teriba said a third person was now being
"The women's unit should be moved under the direct supervision
of the Secretary-General's office in order to give it added
authority and visibility," Mends-Cole said. "This would show the
Secretary-General's seriousness about the advancement of women, as
well as putting more women into top decision-making posts."
"Many Africans and the donors really want to see the
transformation of the OAU so that it becomes a responsive
institution that all Africans can look to. African women cannot
feel represented by the organisation if they are not there,"
Teriba noted that getting women into top positions within the
African body is just half of the battle.
"Several years ago, we carried out a study on female
participation in ministerial meetings of the OAU... in other
words, of those who sit behind the microphone. We found that women
ministers ( of foreign affairs, health, labour, etc) are few. And
now, we have noted the participation of only two women in recent
ministerial meetings," Teriba said.
The Council of Ministers within the OAU consists of ministers
heading foreign affairs and other portfolios and meets twice a
year, with provision for extraordinary sessions.
"At the Harare OAU Foreign Ministers meeting (prior to the
summit), there was only one female voice behind the microphone,"
During the OAU's recent deliberations in Harare, which was also
the first meeting of the African Economic Community, women
featured on the agenda only twice, and both occasions dealt with
the issue of peace.
"They agreed to the creation of the Women's Commission for
Peace, which will fall under the OAU," said Mends-Cole, who is
from Liberia. "In the early days of the ministerial meeting, it
seemed as if the commission was about to be derailed, and if it
had not been for the lobbying efforts of committed women, its
creation might have been pushed back."
The Commission will be a mechanism on peace working with the
central OAU organ. The autonomous body will consist of 16 women --
four from West Africa, and three each from East, Central,
Southern, and North Africa.
The second mention of women at the 33rd OAU summit came when
Maryam Abacha of Nigeria addressed the Heads of State on a peace
initiative started by Africa's First Ladies at the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and developed further at a
major meeting they had in Abuja last month.
"The OAU must be encouraged to see that a change will not
benefit women only," Mends-Cole said. "The issues facing Africa
need a strong partnership between men and women.
"The OAU should be taking the lead on gender equality by
ensuring gender equality within the OAU Secretariat, and it should
be an advocate for gender equality and the mainstreaming of gender
in development. This would be to the benefit of all (African)
countries and for all our people." (END/IPS/PM/KB/97)
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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