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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 97 11:10:12 CDT
From: rich%pencil@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: AFRICA-OAU: What's She Doing There?
Article: 12729

/** headlines: 174.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: AFRICA-OAU: What's She Doing There? **
** Written 11:23 AM Jun 12, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:10 PM Jun 11, 1997 by newsdesk@igc.org in africa.news */
/* ---------- "IPS: AFRICA-OAU: What's She Doing T" ---------- */

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) summit here.

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 government.

"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," she added.

(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 the top.

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 structures.

"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 women.

"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 recruited.

"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," Mends-Cole added.

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," Teriba added.

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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