African Union’s African Women Decade bearing fruit

When the African Union (AU) declared 2010-2020 as African women decade, many of us dismissed it as another cheap politicking by the African body or another money making spree by some pretenders.

By Robert Tapfumaneyi

When the African Union (AU) declared 2010-2020 as African women decade, many of us dismissed it as another cheap politicking by the African body or another money making spree by some pretenders.

But we were proved wrong last year when three women, two from Africa, were awarded the Noble Peace Prize for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

The two African winners were Ellen Johnson Sirleaf , the Liberian leader and first female head of state in Africa, and fellow country woman Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist and key figure in the movement to end to the second Liberian civil war. Both have done African women proud.

The third winner was Tawakul Karmans, a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist. She was one of the loudest voices in the Yemeni protests and is a major figurehead of the on-going Arab Spring opposition. She is one of the youngest people ever to receive the Noble Peace Prize.

These women have fought tirelessly for peace and human rights in a non-violent manner, something that can’t be said for all previous male winners.

Sirleaf was honoured for the developments she has accomplished in Liberia after the country’s devastating 14-year civil war led by Charles Tailor who is now facing human rights abuses at the Hague. Gbowee started a peace movement by organizing women to pray for peace through non-violent protest and prayers.

I pray and hope for the next ten years other women motivated by these three courageous figures will continue to win Noble Peace Prizes.

And there are many possible candidates. Sirleaf topped Forbe’s Africa’s 20 most influential women on the continent but she was closely followed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance. The third most powerful woman was Joyce Banda, who was in April appointed President of Malawi following the death of Bingu Watharika , becoming Malawi’s first female president. Zimbabwe’s first female Vice President Joice Mujuru was ranked fifth.

In June, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia became the first female and first African chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) having served as a deputy prosecutor in charge of ICC’s prosecutions division since 2004.

In the same month, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone as a special representative on sexual violence in conflict at the Under-Secretary-General evel.

Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home affairs minister, is the first female chairperson for the AU Commission. Dr Dlamini-Zuma, 63, who is a veteran fighter against apartheid, beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, in a close election. While some do not celebrate her election victory, given the politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains a fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the AU.

With the 50-50 campaign that is being spearheaded by local women’s organisation it is only a matter of time before Southern Africa has its first female president and vice president.

As for Zimbabwe, women constitute 52% of the population but when it come to positions of power they have been found wanting. There are signs of progress though. Vice President Mujuru and Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe should inspire many Zimbabwean women to high position of decision making so that the Decade of African Women campaign, which was launched in July 2011, can bear fruit.

Currently Zimbabwe has only 18% women as Members of Parliament. Zimbabwean women need to work from all fronts in achieving this gender parity in politics. And men, let’s get out there and walk the talk. Let’s support women.