Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Peace Hillary: Twice a beneficiary

Peace Hillary Tumwesigire is twice a beneficiary of the Rwanda Women Leadership Institute – at first, when she received training to enhance her leadership skills as an accomplished leader in her journalism field, and, second, as a trainer to facilitate women leadership workshops under the Rwandan Women Leadership Institute- RWLI.
Peace is an experienced journalist with her own online family magazine. And, since her leadership training, she has been the host of her own show on Family TV, a private television station in Rwanda. She credits her newly acquired additional role as a TV host to the further empowerment she received, both as a person and as a gender and family activist, to RWLI. 

This is how Peace tells it:

It was, indeed, a great honor and privilege to be participate in RWLI Women Transformational Leadership Program with the different super-women and feminists with different experiences. I felt blessed to have been selected as a woman journalist to be trained on such aspects as how to locate myself as an activist, in advocacy and, among others, in my journalistic role towards social transformation. The training allowed me to be organized in my different projects and to be innovative and creative person. These are my true feelings and experiences as gained during the two phases of training.
I have since created a Sunday TV Live Talk Show, which I also host, called UMURYANGO MWIZA (Happy Family) which mainly focuses on gender, fighting gender-based violence and conflict in the family. Family Magazine, my own organization, now has a lot of projects and activities which I now dedicate to the RWLI. This, in acknowledgement of the importance the leadership program has been my career.

Below are some YouTube links to my show:

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.

Friday, June 12, 2015

When the Rubber Meets the Road...A Remarkable Encounter with Feminism

By Irene Kagoya

When you hear about the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) you are most likely to think of it as any other Institute … when you speak to one who has been through the AWLI is when you actually realize this Institute is like no other! In this Month’s Alumni of the Month feature we bring you an exclusive dialogue with one of our very influential AWLI alumni, Saida Ali, Program Officer, at the International Women’s Health Coalition.
Q: Most of us really know you as Saida Ali … we either have interacted with you and or virtually heard of the name but I believe there is more to this beautiful name… who are you?
She first laughs off wondering what I am looking for but goes spot on to say beyond just saying that I am Saida Ali, I think people know me as an activist and women’s rights feminist activist to be specific. The other side of me people don’t know is that I am a mother of a 6 year old daughter. I bring that in because as a mother of a daughter, I see why it’s all worthwhile for the work that I do in terms of making lives and society better for women and girls worldwide.
Q- What would you consider to be your strength?
That would be my oral communication because that is something that I need or often use in different forums. I use it a lot in articulating the issues, being able to reach out to governments, speak to the media and also mobilizing women at different levels requires you to have the confidence and boldness to speak even on women's and girls' issues that do not always get supported such as sexual rights. So my strength is in both the oral communication and the analysis that is essential in both articulation and strategic engagement on the issues.
Q- What inspires you to do the work that you do, well knowing that its challenging to advocate for women‘s rights more so as an activist
Speaking passionately she starts off by saying ...For the longest time I have to say my inspiration remains the same. I know I have said this before. My motivation is really in the lives of women and girls. African women and girls motivate me. Perhaps in a few years when the status changes for the better, then it would be a huge turn around. My motivation is the transformation of the lives of those women and girls. On a very positive note, my passion is driven by the agency of African women and girls - the power to determine and shift their lives in the most difficult of circumstances. At another level I am motivated by the need to drive our own agenda and transform the narratives that define African women and girls in a certain way. I am motivated to be part of redefining who an African girl or woman is. She is not a hopeless, helpless, uneducated person who does not know what she wants or what needs to be done to change the world around her. I am motivated to challenge a narrative that is negative about who we are and what we are capable of doing. I also know that challenging that narrative does not happen in a vacuum but is also driven by a broader agenda of ensuring that women's bodily integrity and autonym are respected - it is a motivation that is centrally placed in challenging patriarchy
Q- As you may be aware, Akina Mama wa Afrika  is celebrating 30 years since her formation in 1985... Do you in anyway identify with this milestone?
Absolutely!! I wish you could see me… by just you asking me that gives me goose bumps. The reasons I get the goose bumps when talking about identifying with this milestone is that I see myself…I see a 23 year going 24 joining AWLI at the time when it was for 25 year olds and above. The AWLI changed my life! It was my first ever proper formal training and introduction into understanding feminism, that feminism matters, to appreciating the relevance of using feminist analysis to sharpen my advocacy skills and demanding the rights not just for myself but for other African women and girls. Wow - I identify with that question! Yes I could have read about it, heard about it at the University but what that meant for me was the legitimacy to challenge the status quo, oppression and discrimination in all its forms, the relevance that it gives voice and choices to women. As a young African woman at that time I connected and networked with other African women. I think I don’t do this question justice but I think for me it was just  a formidable way of meeting and connecting with feminism and other African feminists.
Q- What is your most memorable AWLI experience? What was the one thing that really stood out for you?
Wondering which one to pin down she says…let me see… I think what stood out was the focus on personal empowerment - bringing out the personal inner power and connecting that to other aspects of life. I often remember Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, one of the AMwA founder members and a facilitator during our AWLI constantly telling us that the personal is political and that stood out for me too. -Perhaps, the tipping point for addressing some of the challenges and barriers to women's and girls' empowerment lie in harnessing that personal inner power and linking that to politicizing our personal experiences. So, other than the many fabulous experiences I had at the AWLI what stood out for me and is a constant in my life is definitely the recognition of what my inner fire can do.
Q- Any learning from the AWLI that has particularly proved useful in your work that you continue to draw on and continues to support you in your work?
Yeah! I mean there are many it would take me a month to talk about this but let me try... The AWLI was useful for us in how a number of us came together at that time as young women. This saw the beginnings of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute which continues to do work on getting the voices of young women out there. Through that work and space I continued to identify the need to build the personal, self-esteem, the confidence of young women and girls as a way of building the path towards them claiming their human rights. I mean it’s not going to happen if we are not connecting to that bit of personal empowerment. I continue to use that in different spaces including in motivational talks with girls.
Secondly a big part of the AWLI was advocacy. What I am doing today on global advocacy had its foundation laid at the AWLI. It was beyond just understanding what advocacy means, to actually getting to the realization that advocacy on women's rights is not for the faint hearted. It can also take a long time to see the fruits of what you are working on and some people do give up on the way. You need to be bold and resilient especially if you are constantly reminding people that sexual rights underpin all other human rights, which is what I do in my work with IWHC. What I learned from the AWLI did not just set the foundation of my engagement in international policy but was also a critical building block.
The AWLI pushed me to challenge myself. For instance, I know it’s almost not possible to do this work without constantly reading. I remember Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi in a session on understanding feminism underscored the importance of reading. One of the things I have never forgotten from her session was her saying that you have to read in order to be able to do the analysis, to do the work, to challenge, to articulate the issues you have to read there is no way out!
Q- My next question was whether you could recommend a Sister to the AWLI but it looks definite….
she laughs and goes on to say…
It’s not just recommending a sister to the AWLI. I think I would also recommend that we appreciate the AWLI. I think one of the main challenges of trainings like this one has been getting the donor community to see the value of this kind of training. I think it’s important to say that without this kind of training it would have been difficult given circumstances that some of us have encountered when pushing for the women's rights agenda in our countries. Not paying attention to the impact of the AWLI would contradict what it is we have been saying about strengthening women’s voices at different levels in terms of advocacy pushing for rights, claiming those rights, participation and representation of African women in different governance levels. This is why we say voice is important.
Going through the AWLI I know now as I knew then that I never have to fumble in the dark. What the AWLI did for me is it gave me the light that is applying a feminist analysis to my work and standing for women's and girls' rights - no buts or ifs about it!
Q- What would be your take on the just ended May intergovernmental negotiations on Financing for Development (FfD) and how can African women push for the Gender Equality Agenda in the FFD processes & beyond
There are a number of things but I want to just focus on two or three things; the governmental consultations highlighted the North-South divide in a way that dilutes discussions on aid and justifies Northern government’s rejection of differentiated responsibilities and the distribution of resources. This divide has continued to play out in all FfD consultations and a number of Northern governments have indicated they will not support the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). CBDR is one of the key principles that we are pushing for as feminists. There are opportunities to work closely with the G77 and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who have shown support for some of the principles we are pushing for. It is also important as African women to strategize to get the progressive countries with the group of G77 & China to speak out on gender equality and other matters that support the realization of human rights for women and girls.
There are concerns related to some systemic issues that have further pushed that North-South divide. These include concerns around trade, private finance and the public-private partnerships (PPPs) and ODA related issues. It may sound complicated. On these FfD core issues, I found that some states engaged in unhelpful ways. Notably some developed countries are opposed to have a FfD follow up mechanism, the right of the states to regulate in order to protect public interest, including health and critical areas for sustainable development, they oppose to use Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities in social sectors of vital importance to sustainable development. Developed countries have indicated that they promote multistakeholder partnerships on critical areas for women's rights. While this kind of support is very important, it also speaks to a rhetoric on women's rights because they are advocating against the possibility to ensure that governments from the South have the conditions to realize such rights.
Notably for advocacy, African feminists need to organize beyond borders and oceans and reach out to others especially in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific to join forces in neutralizing the vocal minorities that water down our agenda on gender equality and women's rights. Specifically for African women it is important to realize that our continent loses billions of dollars every year through illicit financial flows and tax evasion by multinationals and other private businesses. While it is important for us to question corruption in our own countries, it is imperative that the outcome of the FfD process clearly articulates the required accountability mechanisms that create an enabling environment for states to regulate multi-nationals and other private companies for the common good of society.
As I said, there are many issues and while some of them may be seen as not women's rights issues they in fact are. The FfD process has a strong link to the sustainable development goals and where financing for implementation and realization of the post 2015 development agenda will come from. Basically, without the money you cannot implement anything that could possibly alleviate the status of women and girls, leave alone addressing poverty for anyone.
.    Q- There is a lot of momentum that has been going on in terms of advocacy and policy influence on gender equality especially during the post2015 discourse.How do we keep up this kind of momentum beyond this phase and September 2015?
I think part of keeping the momentum is in the implementation and that is why the means of implementation as a component of post2015 is such a huge and important one. Yes apart of which relates to finances but the other relates to accountability, review and monitoring.
It is important to remain connected to country level contexts related to implementation of the post 2015 development agenda beyond September this year when governments adopt the framework. CSOs will continue to do work at the national level but they have to understand what it is that governments commit to and which ministry is in charge of implementation and look at how that implementation is going to tie to their National Action Plans on development more broadly. Well, depending on what each country calls it… What is critical is to have civil society make sure they continue to do work that holds governments accountable. It is important to also work with UN agencies such as UN Women and UNDP. I would like to specifically mention here that UNDP through their country level teams are focusing on different goals and targets and how they will be rolled out at the country level. UNDP has indicated that there is space for engagement to involve civil society in both implementation and monitoring the implementation. So women's groups and organizations need to reach out to their UNDP country offices before September and indicate their interest in this process of monitoring implementation if they have not yet done so.
Q- I know that you are a self-determined and a hard working person however is there any particular African woman who inspires you or has inspired you?
“I think there are many but let me see …” she takes a few seconds to decide being that she is inspired by many…
I think I would have to definitely say Wangari Maathai. Important to mention why, I think Wangari Maathai reminded me of how much African women can do and can achieve and yet not be fully celebrated in their home. I don’t mean Kenyan women didn’t celebrate her but just how the government at the time persecuted her for standing up for the need to conserve our environment and challenged land grabbing as an injustice that was at the root and still is at the root of some of the problems we are dealing with in Kenya. In the end, she did get the Noble Peace Prize ....someone had to recognize those efforts. She paid a huge prize. No matter what, she remains a great hero to lot of us in Africa. Seeing how the protection of the environment and climate justice is a huge political debate makes me truly proud of what Wangari Maathai started in Kenya.
Q- What would be your advice to a young feminist leader in Africa and how can they move past some of the challenges they face as young feminists?
Sometimes I am so overwhelmed just thinking about what young women and girls are facing today. There are challenges such as child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, lack of access to education including comprehensive sexuality education that informs the choices young women and girls make, and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services that are critical life saver for women and girls. While I know we have made great strides we are still in need of strong young women voices to continue doing the work; to defend the gains and push for further advancement of human rights of women and girls. So, specifically speaking of young feminists we are talking about young women who have already come to the political consciousness. Persistence is key to doing any advocacy and make sure your voice remains the force it has become. It is a central part of what is in your heart and head. No one can take that away unless you give them permission to do so.
Q- Which one thing would you like the world to remember about Saida when she is long gone?
She takes a sigh…I just want the world to remember me as Saida the simple ordinary woman who stood for social justice - yeah basically that is it - I want to be remembered for leading a simple life yet challenging and doing what a lot of people think is extra ordinary.
Q- Any comment...
I have thoroughly enjoyed myself talking to you Irene. Now I must wake my daughter and prepare her for school then get to work.
Unfortunately time is not always our best friend even when we were both enjoying the conversation we had to bring it to close. 
Be on the lookout for the Alumni of the Month of July.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Sub Saharan Africa- Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Lack of SRHR services and information continue taking lives of young women and girls in Kenya
 By Esther W. Kimani  - Executive Director YWLI 

“I am so afraid I do not know what to do, I wish I was more careful, what got into me really?”  troubled young woman in Kenya.

The other night I went to visit my friend who had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Since the hospital was on the other side of the town, the bus took a long time to get to the central business district. It had rained heavily, flooding parts of town. Despite getting drenched, or perhaps because of, my small umbrella, I decided to go to a nearby fast food restaurant to eat. I was sure I wanted take away to go eat from home but when I found an empty table upstairs I begun eating my garden salad with grilled chicken. Sitting beside my table were two young women in their early twenties. They were excited and speaking in high tones, having fun. Sitting there alone munching my food I could not help but overhear their juicy conversation.  It felt bad to know that I was eavesdropping on their discussion, however I kept listening.

They are both local university students. One is dating a rich man who has decided to buy her a car and she is very excited about it. In the middle of the conversation, she whispered, “What do you think I should do about the pregnancy?”.  Let’s call them Abby and Ally. Abby is pregnant and about to receive a car from this man. She is excited but at the same time afraid because she is not sure what to do with her unplanned pregnancy. Ally told her, “I know that nurse in Kariobangi (one of Kenya’s urban informal settlements) who will help us. She helped so many other girls.”
“Is it safe?” Abby asked. “I am not sure,” says Ally, “however it is the best option since we cannot go to other hospitals. If you tell Abel (Abby’s rich male friend) he will not accept responsibility and will not buy you the car.” From the side of my eye I could see how afraid and shaken Abby was. In a low tone she asks, “What if I die in the process? What will happen to me? Do I have any options? Why wasn’t I careful? How can I continue with my studies? Am I a bad person? What will happen to me if I decide to keep it?”

Sitting there I thought to myself, this is one of the many lived realities of young women and girls in Kenya. With lack of access to information and services about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, many of them make bad choices in such circumstances and end up losing their lives from unsafe abortions.

Statistics indicate that 29,000 abortions happen every year in Sub-Saharan Africa - translating to over 79 deaths every day. These lives can be saved. According to a 2012 study by the African Population and Health Research Center and its partners, in collaboration with  Ipas and the Guttmacher Institute, found that nearly 465,000 induced abortions occurred in Kenya in 2012 - translating to a high national abortion rate of 48 a per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-49 years). The findings also revealed that complications from unsafe abortions continue to pose a serious threat to womens health: nearly 120,000 women received care in health facilities for complications resulting from unsafe abortions in 2012. More shocking is that, young women suffered disproportionately, 45 percent of women aged 19 and younger who went to a health facility for post-abortion care had experienced severe complications.

With a constitution that allows abortion only to save a woman’s life, and when performed by a health professional, many young women still lack access to comprehensive safe abortion care services and information. If people do not start speaking out about these issues, many young women and girls like Abby will continue losing their lives. If we do not demand action from the duty bearers, then we will continue having these gruesome statistics. The journey to change these realities and findings needs to start early, during adolescence. Abby’s life and many other women and girls in the same situation need to be saved, that is #whySHEmatters #WhatNereaShouldKnow.

Imagine Abby, Ally and all young women in their early teens, Imagine if they had all the information needed in regards to their sexuality; Imagine them living in a country that has safe abortion services; Imagine them not worrying about unplanned pregnancies because they are empowered with information and have access to contraceptives; Imagine them actualizing their dreams. Wouldn't this be a safe space and country for them? Wouldn't they participate fully in development of the country? Wouldn't they make informed choices about their sexuality? The answer is Yes they Will and this is #TheKenyaWeWant #TheAfricaWeWant #The WorldWeWant.

 Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Join WISE, Work Hard and Change your Life

I was born in Wollo, a town located in the North Eastern part of the country in a village called ‘Kallem’. Even though it is a rural area, I had a pleasant upbringing since my parents had a good financial status. However, I dropped out of school at the age of 13 on fourth grade and went to Arsi (Central Ethiopia) to take care of my sister during her maternity where I stayed for four years. I then came to Addis Ababa, got married and became a mother of five.

I found married life to be very difficult. My husband used to work in construction and our life was hand to mouth. I am a hard working woman from early age and have been engaged in selling different goods moving from place to place and Injera (local bread) at home to be able to send my children to school. But, I was not able to ease the financial burden; life was very difficult.

At one point, I was able to borrow $3,000 (~$200) to start a business to prepare and sell red pepper (“Berbere”) in a small shop and that was when my neighbors for the first time told me about Women in Self Employment (WISE). I joined one of the saving and credit associations (SACCO’s) named ‘Tinsae’ in the year 2012. After I took the Basic Business Skills training offered at WISE, I took the first round of Birr 1000 (~$66) loan and bought various goods for my shop. Using the second round loan, I reconstructed my shop and enlarged the window to fit the business purpose. A little while later, I took Birr 5,000 (~$330) loan and expanded my business to avail more goods. I was able to pay back each loan in a short period of time and took advantage of subsequent rounds of loans.

Besides the Basic Business Skills training, I took Leadership, Health and other trainings. The trainings helped me a lot in terms of enabling me to critically evaluate my life. The trainings helped me understand that I waste my time unnecessarily doing staff not worthy wasting my time over. Hence after the trainings, I started using my time consciously, started saving and was able to manage my income and handle my customers properly. I realized that customer handling has its own contribution to the success of any business. I also acquired knowledge that health is an asset for any business woman thus I started taking care of myself.

Currently, I borrowed Birr 12,000 ($600) and my saving has reached Birr 8,000 ($400). Additionally, I am able to save Birr 200 birr ($10) every month for a condominium house to be allotted by the government and Birr 200 ($10) per week in my Ikub (a traditional rotating saving).

I have a plan to expand my business and to change myself even better and more rapidly. Thus, I am saving more amount of money in my cooperative than is expected of me. I have remarkable changes in my life. My shop was very small and I started my pity- trade long ago selling charcoal. Now, I have expanded the business availing more goods and have many customers. I renovated my house with material worth Birr 4,000 ($200). The loan I took is now fully paid back, I even am serving in the leadership committee in my SACCO and all of my children are employed. I also have a business license and I am a legal tax payer!

From the changes in my life, the one thing that gives me the most satisfaction is that I am not dependent on my now grown up children for support and that I will be independent even at an old age. This is due to WISE and the trainings it offers. I love those trainings and would even like to get more in the future as well.

My future plan is to be a wholesaler; to open a big shop operated with additional employees. I want to continue sharing my story to others. Once, I was destitute to the point where I was forced to sell my gold earrings. For stay at home women, the advice I want to give is ‘Join WISE, Work Hard and Change Your Life!’

Almaz Messele
 From Tinsae Saving and Credit cooperative

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

AMwA's Alumni of the Month 

An African Feminist Inspiring African Women

I invite you to journey with us today in this exclusive interview as we learn about Nana’s leadership journey since the African Women’s Leadership Institute of 2002. You will not only be inspired but also challenged discover yourself and lead.

Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

One of the ways in which I routinely describe myself is as an African feminist. I am also a writer, blogger, entrepreneur and a communications specialist. I love to read, and feel that I ought to read in order to nourish my writing, and in recent years I feel saddened that I’ve read less than I would like. For that reason one of my goals this year is to read a book a month – a goal that I thought was realistic but so far I have only finished, “How long has the train been gone’ by one of my favorite writers of all time, James Baldwin. I have started reading ‘My First Coup D’Etat’ by John Dramani Mahami, Ghana’s current President although I feel the need to add that he is far from my favorite person because of Ghana’s current energy crisis. I have also started ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande and whilst killing time at Arland Airport in Stockholm picked up ‘Not That Kind Of Girl’ by Lena Dunham which I am really enjoying although I am still waiting to come across the part of the book which had all of Twitter in a storm because she wrote about touching her younger sister’s vagina. 

What would consider as some of the unique qualities that define your personality as an African woman of strength

I don’t know if I see myself as a woman of strength, although I am an African woman who juggles a lot of roles like many who have come before me. Some of my more positive qualities include my ability to multi-task, and build relationships easily. Some people describe me as “strong”, it’s not a word I would use to describe myself. Hardworking? Yes. Determined? Yes. A Go Getter? An absolute yes.

 Kindly share with us your AWLI experience like? What was it like to be part of this institute and how has it impacted on your life and career development over the years?

I attended AWLI whilst interning with Akina Mama wa Afrika in London. The AWLI that I took part in was held in Scotland. I think the year was 2002 because I had just finished my Masters in Gender and Development. I met a lot of amazing African women at the AWLI I attended. Some like Thandi Haruperi I worked with, and many other became close friends like Elvina Quaison with whom I currently house share. So in my personal life the impact was great and in my career too. One of the women who became my friends at the AWLI Bisi Olonisakin was able to give me the number for Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi when I was looking to move to Ghana and wanted a job with the African Women’s Development Fund. I sent in my C.V., followed up with a phone call to ‘Big Bisi’, and underwent one of the toughest interviews of my life but eventually got offered a job as a Fundraising & Communications Officer. I ended up working at AWDF for 7 years with my final post being that of a Communications Specialist.

What were the unique aspects of the AWLI training that stood out for you? Are there some lessons you got from AWLI that have proved particularly effective in your work?

I remember that lots of people cried during the session on sex and gender. The consequences of being treated differently, in many cases from brothers had hurt people deeply. That session underscored to me the importance of treating people fairly.

Would you recommend any young woman to undertake the AWLI training?

Yes, the AWLI training is grounded in African feminist theory which is critical especially as so few spaces privilege African women’s intellectual knowledge production. The AWLI was also an opportunity for younger feminists to meet and interact with key figures in the African women’s movement. Perhaps most importantly of all, the AWLI is an opportunity to meet peers, African women like yourself, passionate about gender justice.

The women’s movement in Africa is said to have lost its vibrancy. What do you think has led to this and how can the women’s movement shift from this phase to the apex of activism for women’s rights?

I don’t believe that the women’s movement in Africa has lost its vibrancy. I think the African women’s movement, like many other movements around the world is under resourced although the evidence shows clearly that all significant changes for gender justice has been led by women’s movement. For a movement to grow, it needs resources to meet, time to reflect, and strategise. In this current era most donors are unwilling to fund movement building work as the impact of this work takes years, sometimes decades to show.

As we draw close to the declaration of the post 2015 development framework and beyond what would you like to see African governments commit to?

I would like to see African governments move beyond commitments to action. Many of our governments have committed to progressive conventions and protocols like the ‘Maputo protocol’ yet they fail to act on the very issues they have said they will prioritize.

What is your message for any young women interested in political leadership?

I would like to encourage all young women interested in political leadership to aim for the highest office in the land and not allow themselves to be limited to offices that are chronically underfunded, and a tokenistic effort to increase the number of women in public office – saying this, even if you find yourself in such an office I urge you to work to the best of your ability, and to work actively with women’s movements, organisations and activists. I urge all women political leaders to make a stand for women’s rights and to push for progressive laws that benefit women, men and the society at large. When there is an issue that affects women it is important that women political leaders speak up for women’s rights and are seen to do so.

Which one thing would you want the world to remember you for?

I would like the world to remember me as a passionate African woman who inspired other African women to live their best possible lives.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Sub Saharan Africa- Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Women, Don't Undermine your Potential"

My name is Zenebech Ezezew. I was born in 1958 E.C in Debre Tabor town, Gondar. My parents were in good economic situation. However, they got divorced while I was a child and that was bad for my upbringing. I stayed with my father and joined church education but couldn't continue further due to a problem I had with my step-mother. Later, I escaped  an arranged marriage and ran away to Gondar city where I started working as a domestic worker with a salary of six birr ( around $3 at the time) per month.

In the meantime, a woman who knew my strengths and the meager payment brought me to Addis Ababa. I was hired as a domestic worker and continued my education in the evening until I reached tenth grade. Grade eleven was difficult for me, hence I dropped out from school, got married and gave birth to three children.

To support my husband, I brought cheese, butter and egg from Sebeta and Sululta (small semi-urban villages on the outskirt of Addis) and started selling injera too. But life was very difficult. While I was in such a difficult situation, my friend who is a member of Women in Self Employment (WISE) saving and credit association (SACCO) advised me about the benefits of becoming a member of WISE and the various services of the organization. Thus, I joined 'Tinsae' Saving and Credit Cooperative in 1999 E.C. By that time, I was struggling to work in a small shop. I took the Basic Business Skills training and the first round loan of 500 birr (around $40) that helped me expand my business.

The training brought me tremendous attitudinal change within a very short period of time. Before I tool the training, even if I was working hardly day and night, I was unable to fulfill the minimum subsistence needs. The training helped me understand the meaning of profit and loss, efficient time and money utilization and income and profit calculation. The Health training helped me improve my personal and environmental hygiene. By taking different rounds of loans, my business expanded and I was able to buy the necessary household utilities like refrigerator for my house.

Currently, I have taken Birr 15,000 ($750) loan and my saving has reached Birr 12,000 ($600). I have two savings, for me and my children and for condominium being constructed by the government. I am helping relatives besides myself.  Two of my children have graduated from colleges. The first one is to soon start working in Ethiopian Airlines as a mechanic soon and the second one will get his driving license within a short time. My last child is a girl. She withdrew from a public school and joined a private one for which I am paying 500 birr ($25) per month. I used to spend my time and money to fulfill other people’s expectations; serve meal followed by coffee ceremony, etc. I and my family are no more wasting time in serving coffee.

My life has changed tremendously. I now have all the necessary household equipment for my house and I am able to visit my relatives in rural areas.

I have a plan to expand my business in the near future. Thus, I am planning to buy a car for transporting the goods. Since I have a driver and mechanic at home, the car will be easily manageable at my household level.

I want to send a message, to all Women - you shouldn't depend on the income your husbands bring home.  You have to be strong enough and shouldn't undermine your potential since every household needs a woman.           

Zenebech Ezezew

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)-The African Agenda   

   by Esther Kimani (Executive Director -Young Women's Leadership Institute)

“When we allow Sexual and Reproductive Health to include Rights, as Africans we are accepting to be influenced by western culture that of accepting persons with different sexual orientations which is not in line with our African culture”. African Leader

These were the sentiments of an African leader negotiating on behalf of Africans at the global level at the Commission on Status of Women 58th Session 2014. It has been one year ever since the Agreed Conclusions were adopted and these sentiments are stuck in my head and I wonder when was SRHR narrowed down to promotion of persons with different sexual orientation (LGBTI). At the CSW59 session the sentiments from the African Group were still the same. That SRHR is a western influenced ideology and not an African Agenda. It was bad as even the Government delegation got a memo from one of the African Countries to not even mention the words SRHR anywhere. Are some of our African leaders that narrow minded? Do they really understand the issues of Africans and are they burying their head in the sand by not recognizing the existence of persons of different sexual orientations in Africa? Are they fit to negotiate on our behalf if some of them do not understand the issues well? These are some of the many questions that have been lingering in my mind for some time now. I believe that universal access to SRHR for all encompasses the rights of women with regards to their sexuality. The right of women in regards to sexuality as in accordance to Beijing PFA (1994), para 96 includes, their right to have and to control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to the sexuality. These rights have numerously been recognized a number of times by the African governments in different declarations and commitments at the Global level such as the Rio +20 (para 146) which states that “We commit to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to improve the health of women, men, youth and children. We reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and to protect the rights of women, men and youth to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence. We will work actively to ensure that health systems provide the necessary information and health services addressing the sexual and reproductive health of women, including working towards universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of family planning, as this is essential for women's health and advancing gender equality” This is not new to Africans and the #TheAfricaWeWant is where all women have full control over their bodies and sexuality.

In 1995, 189 states committed to Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and its 12 critical areas of concern for women which includes universal access to quality health care for all women at all ages. Over the years the review process of BPFA has been cognizant of the language of SRHR and African states have committed to this language in all the Global policy making processes. I fail to understand their sentiments about this foreign language (SRHR) that is not part of African Agenda according to them.

Statistics show that every year at least 36,000 African women and girls die from unsafe abortion, accounting for 14 percent of all maternal deaths in the region. 287,000 women, most of them in Africa and Southeast Asia, died from preventable complications of pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortion (13% of maternal deaths). In other words we can say that in Africa, women’s death results from complications related to giving life. African leaders are aware of these phenomena, they cannot afford to say that access to SRHR services and needs for women is not an African agenda. African women need leaders who understand the issues and can negotiate on a language that will ensure every woman, throughout her life, have access to; a comprehensive, accessible, and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services of high quality that fully respect and protect her sexual and reproductive rights.

Are we going to sit back and relax as our sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, friends and neighbors die every year due preventable deaths as they bring forth life? It is My, Yours, Our responsibility and that of our leaders to protect women and girls of Africa. We need to hold our leaders to account as they make decisions about women’s bodies at the global level, we must ensure they are aware of the issues and are passionate about emancipation of women and full realizations of women’s rights. Take action today by joining in the women agenda in your country. It is our collective action that will bring forth change in Africa.

“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And Reproductive Health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal and safe abortion” Hillary Clinton

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.