• Tuesday, October 21, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    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 (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, through "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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