Africa Will Not Move Till Women Are In Charge – Graça Machel
As a former first lady, and the wife of South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela, she has taken a leading role the economic liberation of women. The Citizen News Editor Esther Karin Mngodo met with Ms Machel to discuss the vision of one of Africa’s most revered women:
How did WAA begin?
We have recognisable women leaders in the political arena, and other sectoral meetings, such as health, telecoms, etc. But there is a void when it comes to a platform for women in the economic sphere. As a Trust, our focus has been on the economy.
We do focus on education and women’s rights. But when it comes to women’s rights, our focus is on the economy. We believe that is where progress has been low, and there is no clarity among women themselves on where they want to be in five or ten years.
So, we decided to launch this initiative we call Women Advancing Africa to recognise, celebrate, to value what we have achieved. To build connections, synergies, to encourage one another and to feel that this time is ours in a pan-african movement.
WAA isn’t the first to advocate for women’s financial inclusion. What makes it different from what is already there?
I must say there are some national and sub-regional initiatives. But we do not know of a pan-African space in which women come together and talk, strategise and plan together. And this is what we thought to begin to do every two years.
Women Advancing Africa is a platform for women in different sectors be in business, entrepreneurship, science, communications, to come together and say, where are we today and where do we want to be. We don’t believe in progress made by stand-alones. We believe that progress can be made at a national level when we bring together women associations existing to work together. Networking is always our option, whether you are in construction, mining, any field. You are not going to be able to move alone in your field.
There are things, which are common to all of us, regardless of which field we are. So, we base our work on national networks, but we believe also, barriers in Tanzania are also barriers in Zambia, Uganda, Mozambique. So, why should we struggle alone?
Any one of our countries have common issues with other countries on the continent, which have to be addressed as a movement. We must hold hands and share knowledge and expertise. That is what we offer through WAA. It is a space to walk hand-in-hand, a place to transmit the energy of creativity and innovation which exists in Nigeria and Ghana to influence women in Uganda and Rwanda.
The energy of innovation and creativity which can be experienced in DRC to influence women in Malawi. That is how our pan-african movement will make us strong, united and unstoppable.
We claim our right to sit where decisions are made. We claim our right to shape policies, to shape plans and strategies. We claim our rights to access resources in a variety of forms – information, skills, financial, removal of legal obstacles. We want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners, to change women are regarded and treated. There are very good policies. Yet in practice, women are not regarded as equal.
We are going to assert in this second struggle, that equality is not a favour. We know it is not going to be given to us, but we are going to conquer it. For us to do that, we need this space to learn from one another, to empower women, to fight this together, to set priorities on a common agenda. If we are fragmented, working at many things at the same time, we are not going to move or make progress.
In what ways would women be able to benefit from WAA?
WAA is a platform for women to discover where they can sell their products – how we can increase intra-Africa trade. It is important to trade with China, and the US, and the UK, but to transform this continent, we have to learn how to trade with other people – men and women – inside the continent. This is how you understand the market in Togo, where you have never heard of. And what kind of products you should sell in Niger. Talk to them and build a sisterhood. That is why we chose these pillars carefully, particularly for African markets. We have the ability to make it.