By Sylvia Tanya Mugwagwa
On 15 September, the Rhodes University Political & International Studies Department, in conjunction with Nelson Mandela University's Centre for Women & Gender Studies, the Political Sciences Department of the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town's Historical and Political Studies Department, hosted a forum titled "Women & 20 Years of the African Union".
The honourable Chairperson and South African Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was elected as the first woman Chairperson of the African Union in 2012, was the distinguished keynote speaker for the forum. The forum, which was hosted online, had a vast intergenerational audience from across the country and continent.
The Rhodes University Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs Professor' Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela commenced the forum proceedings with welcoming remarks. She expressed that Rhodes University was delighted to be hosting the webinar forum in the 20th year anniversary of the African Union. She further outlined the critical role universities play in initiating educational dialogue, facilitated by platforms such as these, towards advancing the African Union's 2063 "The Africa We Want" Agenda. She concluded her remarks by proclaiming how we, as a continental community, are "truly indebted to leaders like Honourable Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who have played a pivotal role in making this country and continent a better place for all".
Dr Siphokazi Magadla, the Head of the Rhodes University Political & International Studies Department, explained that the forum, which was a collaborative feminist effort across four universities, was aimed at "taking the time to look at the achievements of the African Union with an elder whose expansive vision, strategies, tactics and forms of organising have informed the very foundation of the African Union". She relayed that in 1994, Dr Dlamini-Zuma became the first Minister of Health in the Republic of South Africa. However, it was in 1998, when the honourable Dr Dlamini-Zuma was appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, she played a vital role in working towards the transformation and unionisation of the African continent, earning a global reputation as a tenacious and revered diplomat. Dr Magadla further expressed how Dr Dlamini-Zuma's appointment to Chairperson of the African Union in 2012 pioneered the organisation's 2063 Agenda.
In commencing her address, Dr Dlamini-Zuma articulated that the historical role women played in the unionisation of Africa dates to the colonial and liberation past of the continent. She emphasised the often-overlooked role traditional women leaders and historical female parliamentarians played in the landscape of African liberalisation.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma pointed out that we often speak of African integration as a recent phenomenon. Still, understanding the contextual and historical role women played is integral in reminding us how we got to where we are today. She said “the roles of great women warriors and nation builders such Queen Mthaniya, Princess Mkabayi and Priestess Mantsopa, have been erased. We will therefore look to institutions such Rhodes and those that are part of this event’s organising team to reinsert them back into history”.
She also recognised the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO), which “was the first Pan African organisation on the continent, which was formed in 1962 in Arusha, Tanzania. The formation of PAWO and the courage of that generation of women permanently changed the liberation landscape”.
Regarding the Africa Union's 2063 "The Africa We Want" Agenda, Dr Dlamini-Zuma expressed that it "reimagines an integrated Africa driven by its citizens as a dynamic force in the Global Arena". Through the inception of new organisations such as Women in Trade in Africa, which "assists women in the free trade sector of Africa", as well as actions such as the deployment of a special envoy for peacekeeping that looked into how women on the continent are affected in conflict, the African Union has made significant progress in curating mechanisms within the institution towards reaching its goals. She also highlighted how the 'AU Women’s Decade 2010-2020' has encouraged national governments to assist women in agriculture and rethink the issue of land on the continent.
However, the honourable Minister stressed that though much has been done, there is still a long way to the realisation of the goals of the Agenda, particularly those concerning women. She dedicated her keynote address to outlining the areas in which we should direct our attention relating to women on the African continent. Dr Dlamini-Zuma cautioned that we must pay attention to the slow pace at which women in Africa are transcending to positions of power in government, at judicial, parliament, ministerial and presidential political levels. Furthermore, she expressed that the private economic sector also plays a cardinal role, and there ought to be more women in leadership positions in the commercial and industrial economic sectors. "Africa won't rise if women don't rise," Dr Dlamini-Zuma proclaimed, emphasising that there must be an expansion of the participation of women in the public governmental and private commercial leadership of African states.
The Minister further outlined that special attention needs to be paid to the digital gender gap and urban-rural gaps that affect women's empowerment on the continent. She expressed that educating African citizens and equipping them with research and technical skills is integral in delivering Agenda 2063. Dr Dlamini-Zuma concluded her address by highlighting the essential role forums like these play in addressing the critical issues our continent faces regarding women. She further stated that the forum reflected "a feminist higher education collaboration driven toward gender equity".
After the Minister's address, a panel discussion facilitated by Dr Sithembile Mbete from the University of Pretoria's Department of Political Sciences was conducted. Alongside was Dr Dlamini-Zuma, the Head of Mediation and Dialogue Division of the African Union Mukondeleli Mpeiwa, and Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London Dr Awino Okech.
Mpeiwa commenced her contribution to the discussion by thanking Dr Dlamini-Zuma for what she has "done for women in international relations and peace and security." She further expressed how she had personally benefited from the Minister's contributions and interventions by implementing programmes to get young people involved in international diplomacy. Furthermore, in acknowledgement of the Minister's keynote address, Dr Okech expressed that it cannot be disregarded that the "strong feminist energy across the continent" has played a significant role in posing the question, "What does Africa mean for all its citizens?"
After the discussion, the panellists engaged in questions from the audience surrounding women with disabilities as well as the effects of xenophobia on foreign national women.
The forum proceedings were concluded by a vote of thanks and closing from Dr Babalwa Magoqwana, the Director for the Centre for Women and Gender Studies at Nelson Mandela University.Source: Communications