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NGLS Interviews Norah Matovu-Winyi, Executive Director, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

arton1812NGLS: How have efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) on the African continent evolved? Has this been satisfactory?

The Beijing +15 NGO Review process in Africa began with the meetings which were held in March 2009 in the margins of the 53rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which led to the formation of an Africa NGO Task Force on Beijing +15 Review. Following the CSW, the task force members mobilized women organizations and activists and encouraged them to convene national working groups to popularize the Beijing +15 review process, participate in the government reporting processes and produce national shadow reports on progress and gaps in the implementation of the BPfA in their respective countries.

Fourteen countries produced national shadow reports compiled by women’s organizations and their CSO partners. Three sub-regional shadow reports were also compiled by sub-regional organizations and networks and all these reports informed the Africa Regional Women’s NGOs Shadow Report, which has just been compiled by FEMNET. A Regional Consultative meeting for women’s NGOs was held in the margins of the 8 th Africa Regional Conference on Women (Beijing+15) held in Banjul, The Gambia, in November 2009. The purpose of the meeting was to validate the findings of the Africa Shadow Report and refine the recommendations which were submitted to the Experts Group meeting and that of the Ministers of Gender and Women’s Affairs drawn from over 32 African countries. Thirteen of the 18 recommendations presented by women’s NGOs were integrated into the final report of the Experts Group meeting, and thereafter adopted by the Ministers in attendance.

It was quite a slow process at the beginning as there were no resources to facilitate the work. FEMNET organized three debriefing sub-regional meetings in April, June and August 2009 for Eastern & Southern Africa held in Uganda, West Africa held in Burkina Faso and North Africa held in Egypt respectively. These meetings played a central role in building momentum for the review process. The Africa Regional Coordinators and Task Force members are forever grateful to the facilitation of the UNECA, which provided support for teleconferencing and enabled the task force members to keep in touch and plan effectively together. UNECA also provided a lot of useful information about the key events which facilitated our planning and implementation of the agreed activities.

A lot more could have been done if the process was adequately facilitated. However, I am proud to say that there were key actors in each sub-region who greatly contributed to the success of the process. To be able to work effectively in Africa one has to operate in at least four languages: English, French, Portuguese and Arabic. We did not have the capacity to do so and most of the communication was only in English and French. This of course excluded some people from participating effectively in the process. The prohibitive translation costs were a constant challenge and delayed dissemination of copies of crucial information in two languages. For example we have just secured money from the Africa Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) to translate the final Africa Regional Shadow Report into French and work is underway to complete this task by end of January 2010 so that the French speakers can easily understand and identify with the Report which captures their contributions.

NGLS: FEMNET was established in 1988, three years after the 1985 World Conference in Nairobi that adopted the Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women 1986-2000. Can you describe what kind of progress has been made on its key issues of equality, development and peace? What remains to be done?

As it is highlighted in the Africa Regional Shadow Report, 51 countries in Africa have adopted CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women] and most of them have continued to report on the progress being made in implementing the provisions of this international bill of women’s rights. Twenty-seven African countries have so far ratified the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa which was adopted in 2003 and came into force in 2005, which is the key regional instrument that articulates the rights of African women. These two key documents provide for the right to equality of men and women in all spheres of life – before and under the law. African countries have gone ahead to incorporate provisions on equality in their constitutions and other subsequent legislation addressing specific issues like inheritance, property rights, protection against all forms of discrimination, violence, among others. In brief – in terms of legal and policy frameworks for securing the rights of women and their equal status with men – there is a lot of commendable progress.

What remains challenging and elusive in Africa is the slow pace of implementation and the structural and attitudinal change that has to happen in order to embrace women’s rights in totality. The pockets of positive change, like the improved levels of education and access to skilled training, increased access to formal employment in the public and private sector, and increased participation in leadership and decision making are a source of inspiration for many. However, 15 years after Beijing, the majority of African women are still struggling with basic survival needs due to widespread poverty. It is more of the educated and privileged class whose status has changed fundamentally. The majority are still dreaming of equality, development and peace.

The long standing wars in Africa are a cause of concern – the situation in Somalia which affects the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti; the rebel groups in Eastern DRC who affect security and trade in the Great Lakes Region; the civil strife in Guinea, Madagascar and several countries in West Africa; the human disaster situation in the Darfur Region in the Sudan and blatant abuse of women activists; pockets of insecurity in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan and some of the North African countries, all these indicate that peace as a goal of the Nairobi and Beijing World Conference on Women has remained elusive for women in Africa. They are the most affected; the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa are women and children and it is on this basis that the African Leaders in a Special meeting of the Africa Peace and Security Council held in November 2009 decided that more concrete actions to address the problems faced by women in situations of armed conflict and post-conflict must be prioritized in any intervention by the Africa Union.

What has to be done is to achieve consistent implementation, more implementation, and a lot more implementation. The frameworks are in place and Africa is a resourceful continent. If its resources were adequately harnessed for development, including its human resource the majority being women, then things will definitely change for the better.

NGLS: What was the main message of the Beijing +15 Africa NGO Shadow Report?

The two key messages are “Move from Commitment to Concrete Actions” and “There is nothing for us without us.” Africa can and will only develop for the benefit of all its peoples only when women’s rights and advancement are an integral part to its development agenda at the continental and sub-regional and country level.

NGLS: In your opinion, what areas need additional efforts? Should any new critical issues be added to the 12 originally outlined by the BPFA?

It is clear from the Africa Women’s NGOs Shadow Report and UNCEA official Report that there is still a lot to be done under the 12 critical areas for action. Women in Banjul were not supportive of adding more critical areas; they recommended that we only need to set higher targets to achieve them in the next five years. For example, countries that have achieved the 30% minimum representation in political leadership should aim at achieving gender parity (50/50 representation of women and men). They should also aim at realizing the 30% representation in other areas of leadership in the public and private sectors. Those that have not achieved 30% should work towards achieving the target by the third year of the Africa Women’s Decade (2010 – 2020), which is to be officially launched in June 2010.

NGLS: FEMNET served as the regional focal point for the UN Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign. Since the General Assembly adopted the resolution back in September 2009 concerning a new gender entity, how have your campaigning efforts changed and how are you in engaging with the new process?

We still circulate the monthly update on the CSW listserv, the GEAR Campaign Focal Points listserv and that of our members to keep them about what is happening and engaged with the process. During the Banjul meetings held in November 2009 FEMNET engaged in one-on-one consultations with over 50 women to assess the level of awareness of this process as well as the proposals on the location of the H/Qs of the entity. We also collected names of African women suitable to head the entity. In FEMNET’s January update to the listservs we are seeking proposals for the name of the entity. We are also preparing a letter to send to all the Africa Missions in New York on supporting the establishment of the entity without further delay particularly the appointment of the head of the entity.

We also continue to comment on documents that are provided by the GEAR New York group and engage in some of the discussions in order for the team to harmonize views and positions on various issues like the criteria for selecting the Head of the entity and the name of the entity.

NGLS: What are you hoping to see come out of Beijing +15?

I am hoping to see a re-energized global and regional women’s movement; a committed group of world leaders that are determined to deliver on the commitments made to the women of the world. A short outcome document that sets the tone for accelerated implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action so that the story is totally different, come 2015.

Key accomplishments and key gaps in the 12 Critical Areas

In the lead-up to Beijing +15, FEMNET has been active in mobilizing African women’s organizations to form National Working Groups to review their country’s progress in implementing the BPFA, particularly in identifying 12 key accomplishments that have been made since the Beijing + 10 Review process in 2004, and 12 key areas where critical gaps remain. Below is a table that indicates the main accomplishments and the main gaps.

FEMNET was set up in 1988 to share experiences, information and strategies among African women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through advocacy, networking, training, capacity building and communication so as to advance African women’s development, equality and other human rights.

FEMNET aims to strengthen the role and contribution of African NGOs focusing on women’s development, equality and other human rights. It also aims to provide a channel through which these NGOs can reach one another and share experiences, information and strategies to as to improve their work on African women’s development, equality and other human rights. FEMNET works in three main programme areas: advocacy; communications and capacity building.


This article is available in Spanish.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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