What are women saying?

January 23, 2007 at 5:47 am 1 comment

The vision of the organisers was to mobilise social organisations and especially ‘to have large groups of African citizens here in Nairobi, to construct the idea of African unity from the people, rather than heads of state.’

They seem to have succeeded. While there are high-profile women leaders here like Wangari Maathai – see her article African do it for ourselves – there is also an impressive number of women from grassroots communities, the slums of Nairobi or from marginalised rural areas, taking an active part in the dialogues.

The Association of Kenyan Women Workers is also here, along with a host of local civil society and women’s organisations.

What do they get out of it?

Firstly, it is a chance for them to have a voice, to make a statement about what concerns them most – and to be listened to with equal respect. They can do this by singing, open-air theatre, banners and slogans – as well as by making contributions in debates.

‘We can express ourselves here without fear of intimidation,’ said Teresa Mwangi of MS Kenya, whose events at the forum are promoting ‘democracy as a way of life.’

Secondly, it’s a learning process, because they are also able to hear about, and compare, other women’s experiences. And even one professional woman told me:

‘Attendance at the WSF has helped increase my own confidence and capacity in speaking out. It’s better than a training workshop.’

Thirdly, all women, from the grassroots to the elite, can draw courage and encouragement from the forum for their ongoing struggles.

‘With all its flaws, the WSF helps you to strengthen your voice.’

‘I always come home politicised and energised and increase my political activity.’

What is the value of grassroots women’s voices for WSF?

‘It’s about making the link between ideas and people’s real experience,’ explained Lebohang Pheko from the Gender and Trade Network in Africa (GENTA) and one of the organisers for WSF2007. ‘We want to integrate popular aspirations into our agenda – they add fuel to our fire.’

GENTA ran a Market Place event, where women producers were able to talk about the links between food and trade, how fluctuating prices on the world market have an adverse effect on the prices they can get for their own produce, what they can afford to buy – and how this impacts on their livelihoods. This kind of dialogue is about honouring others’ realities.

But more than that: ‘It enables the elite to develop a deeper understanding of what that reality is – as opposed to reading and presenting academic wisdom,’ Rosaline Obeng-Ofori of the University of Ghana told me. She had in fact changed her own practice after attending the WSF in Brazil, to include grassroots women in workshops with professionals and project managers.

So what are they saying?

The result is that the real issues are becoming heard at the forum. Women’s main concerns are:

  • How can I make sure I can feed my family?
  • How can I live free from violence at home?
  • How can I afford to send my kids to school?
  • Why can’t I get educated too?
  • Why can’t I get my own land?
  • How can I get a fair price for my work?
  • How can we manage the spread of HIV/AIDS?
  • How can we organise to prevent conflict?
  • When am I going to be treated with human dignity?
  • We want to speak for ourselves
  • What’s the alternative?

    Whatever the topic of discussion, the fundamental problem is always the same – the global capitalist economy, which operates as neo-colonialism, maintaining inequality between south and north – and between men and women.

    Which is why the issues of debt, free trade agreements (FTAs) and the EU economic partnership agreements (EPAs) are the crucial themes at the forum. ‘All this needs to stop. We need to think more about South-South and inter-African trade.’

    Quote of the Day: Economic Partnership Agreements

    ‘The era of EPAs will issue in stillborn futures.’

    Lebohang Pheko, GENTA

    Pressureworks: Email Angela Merkel

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now holding the EU Presidency and leading the G8 Summit in June. This is an invitation to lobby her on Economic Partnership Agreements.

    Book title: Grace, tenacity and eloquence

    This book, published by Fahamu and Solidarity for African Women’s Rights examines the continuing struggle for women’s rights in Africa.

    The book launch was accompanied by a panel discussion entitled

  • Breathing life into the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women
  • The so-called Maputo Protocol, ratified by all African heads of state in Mozambique in 2004, is an important step forward in official recognition of women’s rights on paper. The protocol document is excellent, going further than the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

    However, in practice, at the level of individual national governments, implementation is a different matter. One reason is that national legislation has to be changed in order for women to take their cases to court. There is still a majority of men in parliament and a resulting resistance to changes in the law.


    Entry filed under: General.

    Best banners UN Resolution 1325

    1 Comment Add your own

    • 1. Sarah  |  January 23, 2007 at 11:41 am

      Hi Patricia – do you have a good link for the Maputo Protocol? How exactly does it improve on the Beijing Platform and CEDAW?


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