“Africa’s continued journey towards full economic and social prosperity will only be achieved when women take the lead in setting the continents development agenda and have equal opportunities to participate at all levels in society. Through their collective action, women are instrumental in building a stronger and more vibrant and equitable future for all Africans.” ~ Graca Machel, Founder, the Graca Machel Trust.
Changing the narrative about Africa is a task that many societies on the continent are facing today. It begins not only with the realization that the old ‘dark continent’ stereotypical view of Africa has been challenged—thanks to the inclusivity that technology and the internet provide—but more importantly it begins with a change in the perception and mindsets toward the African people.
As such, the Graca Machel Trust, established a Pan-African Forum called Women Advancing Africa (WAA) to specifically acknowledge and highlight the critical role women have been playing in shaping Africa’s development agenda and driving social ], cultural and economic transformation.
Through gathering an expansive network of African women to convene, connect and catalyze solutions to the prevailing challenges that the continent faces, especially when it comes to women, an inclusive and transformed society that works for the collective good is formed.
Graca Machel, Founder of the Graca Machel Trust said that, economic, social and culturaltransformations have to be driven by women in the context of the countries they belong to.
“Women Advancing Africa is about bringing various networks and organizations together so that; no one is left behind. We want to celebrate our legends and the achievements and successes we already have, to shape an agenda for the years to come particularly in the areas where there is limited parity,” Machel said.
As a former liberator in Mozambique, she reiterated the political role that was played to liberate the continent from former colonial oppression. Through highlighting the fact that the political liberations of Africa were mostly led by men, she said that, “women who played a crucial role in the political liberation are rarely mentioned by name.”
“Women of Africa aren’t going to enter into the second liberation by leaving in the hands of others their rights and aspirations. African women should be profoundly conscious and aware of who they are in their identity, value, and how they want to exercise their rights. This means that African women will drive economic, social and cultural transformations and therefore, drive their own mindset liberation,” said Machel.
It is against this backdrop that an inclusive approach to transformation of the various societies on the continent involves women from the grassroots to the top leadership. This therefore, requires identifying solutions and innovations that bring about a multiplier effect when Africa’s challenges are addressed.
Radical and Total Inclusivity
The inclusivity of women across all levels of society will accelerate social change and create a radical shift in how societies and governments look at women and how they allocate resources to benefit them. One key aspect to consider in order to change the narrative of African women is that all people should be involved, not just women.
“This second liberation is to build human dignity of all — Human dignity of women and girls and also human dignity of boys and men,” Machel said and added that, “Driving social and cultural transformation means changing the negative norms and traditions that we are so accustomed to.”
This she said also meant acquiring knowledge and skills not only through reading and writing but most importantly by using the technological tools that are available. This opportunity to challenge our mindsets means, “removing barriers that challenge the re-imagination of the society we want, and the Africa we want.”
A re-imagined Africa is thus one that will come about through building lasting institutions that reflect the heritage, values and aspirations of the African people. That is an African society that is not hostage to colonially obstructive institutions and systems that hinder the progressive good of all African people.
The re-imagination of Africa is further emphasised in the African Union progressive vision for ‘The Africa We Want’ as articulated in The Agenda 2063. An excerpt of The Agenda 2063 states that it is, “rooted in Pan Africanism and African Renaissance, provides a robust framework for addressing past injustices and the realisation of the 21st Century as the African Century.”
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, UN Economic Commission for Africa, made comparisons between the former liberations and what the second liberation could look like today.
“The first liberation was about power, leadership and governance, the second is about empowerment, it is a feminist liberation and it is about radical inclusion,” said Songwe.
Therefore, re-imagining the societies we want requires removing barriers and redefiningthe structures that; bring solutions, are result-driven and action oriented. Against this backdrop, the great African civilizations that already exist are rooted on values that ensure human dignity, support the imagination of ideas that bring about innovation and have timelines for implementation that are measurable.
Hadeel Ibrahim, the Executive Director, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said there was an economic imperative to invest in women and the youth of Africa.
“Our measurements for advancing women in Africa should be against whether the last woman on the continent has achieved the dignity that she deserves.
“Women holding positions of power doesn’t necessarily mean that their dignity has been restored,” Ibrahim said and added that, “To be inclusive means to demystify the critical elements that drive our lives and determine our livelihoods. It means changing the power relations and the economic strategies that are marginalizing certain segments of societies that keep people in poverty and inequality.”
Consequently, the emphasis on conducting, research, collecting data and harnessing technology are effective when the people who are going to be impacted are involved in the process. Therefore, the question to ask when policies are formulated is how are they integrated in a way that remains relevant, measurable and sustainable for the people they are meant to impact.