Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 13:55:12 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-AFRICA: Women Groups Prepare For The Next Millennium
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Women Groups Prepare For The Next Millennium
By Lewis Machipisa, IPS, 23 November 1998
JULIASDALE, ZIMBABWE, Nov 23 (IPS) - African women activists are overhauling their movement in preparation for the challenges of the 21st century.
"If we are to survive in the next millennium we have to get African women networks together to look at issues of governance within the organisations themselves," says Gladys Mutukwa, regional director of the Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF).
The week-long (Nov 21-27) seminar, on 'Governance and Management for African Women's Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs)', has brought together 30 women leaders from around Africa to this resort town, located about 240 kilometres east of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
The seminar was organised by WILDAF, African Women's Leadership Institute (AWLI) and Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), a London-based non-governmental development organisation for African Women.
"We also want to look how our institutions, if run in democratic manner, can contribute and strengthen the women's movement and empowerment in Africa," says Mutukwa who is based in Lusaka, Zambia.
"The strength of the Women's Movement to face the challenges of coming millennium require us to network more, to be more democratic, to be more better managed," she told IPS. "We have to reassess ourselves and renew our commitment and to rebuild our skills."
"We do feel very strongly that the African women's movement needs to be revitalised and to be well prepared to face the challenges that are being brought about by globalisation," says Mutukwa.
"African women's movement has come a long way. Although we have come a long way, we have also realised that we need to improve on issues of sustainability of our organisations, and how to expand the movement," Mutukwa says. "Over the years, we got so busy acting and we didn't have enough time to reflect on how much we had accomplished, how far we are going and exactly how far we want to go."
The need for women to prepare for the 21st century is crucial, the meeting stresses. Women comprise more than half of Africa's 700 million population. But, despite the majority of the population being under 20 and female, decision making and leadership positions in many African countries is done by men.
Women activists say a number of conditions have to be met in order for Africa to successfully face the challenges of the 21st century. Law reform processes need to take into account customary laws that erode women's rights and disenfranchise them while access to credit for women must be improved.
Many entrepreneurial women are prevented from realising their potential due to a lack of access to credit. To obtain a loan one needs collateral which often women lack. Laws in some countries also require husbands to vouch for their wives in order to obtain a business license. Under some legal systems, single women are not entitled to tax reliefs, housing benefits and married women are not entitled to tax reliefs on their mortgages.
The timing for the seminar and issues being discussed are "just right" for Pat Mcfadden of the Feminist Studies Centre in Zimbabwe.
"Africa is a dump, we are in crisis, we have done nothing right, and after 40 years of independence, the continent is in a mess," says McFadden who gave a talk on 'Feminist, Organising for Empowerment into the 21st Century'.
"In the African Women's Movement we have a very troubled relationship with Nationalism," McFadden says. "It is a relationship which binds us to certain loyalties, loyalties which are directly and indirectly connected by our subjective relationship with men who inherited the state at independence."
"We have to define the politics of movement which goes beyond nationalism because nationalism is too broad, too opportunistic. So the critical issue is to politicise the movement and to understand that doing gender training is a part of skills acquisition," says McFadden.
"Unfortunately gender training is becoming a replacement for the politics of the Women's' Movement and in that way, depoliticising it," she told IPS.
"Women bring something special to politics, but I hope that that specialness will be unpacked and understood, and that we will not simply tie a pretty pink ribbon around it, inscribe femininity upon and disempower ourselves," says McFadden.
"We still do not recognise that we are a political movement. We still believe in the public as though we are ladies at a tea- party, and we are often very shocked when men are brutal and violent towards us in public," says McFadden.
Victoria Mwaka, of the Uganda' International Women's Culture Exchange (WCCE) says as the women's movement stare challenges of the new millennium, "We have to evaluate ourselves and see where we have gone wrong."
"There maybe different interpretations of certain issues because we are different personalities which has led to clashes. But I believe in positive criticism. Instead of creating animosity, positive criticism is the way forward for the women's movement," she says.
One of the objectives of the seminar is to place feminism at the heart of the leadership of Women's Movement in Africa.
"This presents a unique opportunity which coincide with the end of the millennium and the end of the century and the beginning of a new millennium. We must redefine the ways in which we enter and participate in that global movement," says McFadden.(END/IPS/lm/mn/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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