International Women's Day: Inspiring Change
Celebrating Positive Change and Encouraging More...
"We used to get up at five am in the morning to go in search of firewood or roots in lean periods and we could meet any kind of unpleasant surprises, even snake bites and rapists. And if it happens that the poor woman died of snake bite, two or three months later, her husband remarries to another who will rise at the same time to fetch wood. But this year I can say that these events are rarely seen. Through sensitisation carried out by village chiefs under the palaver tree, as well as those made by religious leaders, people are learning. Sometimes we women accompanied one of these chiefs to share our own experiences with men. This allowed us to relax a little because this year, the men helped us with our vegetable gardens and they cleared and rehabilitated the wells. Many women of my association tell their husbands accompanied them to the fields or the woods, others say they were helped by their husbands in clearing their land. Few women are now up at five o'clock in the morning to fetch wood." Bintou Dembélé, member of a women's association in Mali)
In spite of numerous challenges faced by women worldwide and particularly in Africa, we must remember and celebrate numerous positive changes that happen on a daily basis and are life-changing for many women and families. As we work for social justice and for women and girls' rights, we take stock of those achievements and let women share their experiences and give others hope that change is possible and start within themselves. And those examples are not only experienced by women but also by men who believe in gender equality and gender equity, men who dedicate much time engaging other men in behavioural change to put an end to violence against women.
As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to an end and negotiations for a new development framework progress, a firm shift in development models is needed. This must go beyond thinking of women's vulnerability and instead focus on women's contribution to African economic and social transformation. ACORD's vision for social justice and ending poverty has at its heart the understanding that people are the primary actors in their own survival and development, and that we must work alongside communities. We focus on strengthening people's capacity to participate and exert influence over governance and decision-making processes to address the root causes of exclusion and injustice.
When it comes to influencing policy, we place a strong emphasis on facilitating the participation of grassroots groups, community-based organisations and citizens in decision-making processes. Through participatory processes and consultation, we also frame our own inputs into decision-making based on the perspectives and views of the communities we work with.
Our engagement in the post-2015 process has been governed by this ethic. For ACORD it is vital that any framework which speaks on issues of poverty and sustainable development must be informed by those who experience poverty and inequality on a daily basis and have locally owned solutions to overcoming it. This is particularly true of the communities we work with, who are predominantly rural and politically, economically, socially and geographically marginalised and amongst the poorest in their respective countries. These are exactly the groups that are the most excluded from policy processes. Among these groups, women represent one of the most vulnerable, because of their position in society. Gender equality is an important dimension of the advocacy work of ACORD, and the voices of women form a crucial part of the voices that ACORD wants to bring to the international arena.
In 2013, ACORD held 45 citizen-driven workshops in 13 different countries across the continent, in six of these countries ACORD held workshops specifically targeting women's issues and concerns. The idea was to harness the power of the African citizen - to privilege their position as agents in their own development. The workshops triggered debate and discussion in some of the most remote and marginalised communities in Africa today, with citizens reflecting on the challenges they faced, and their ideas for how they want to see change take place. The findings of the consultations have been captured in a flagship report of the post 2015 process, entitled ‘The Africa we want: Responsive states, empowered citizens'1. ‘African Women and Girls at the Grassroots - Their say on their world post-2015' is an accompaniment to this report, which expands on and deepens the analysis of gender and women's rights issues emanating from the workshops.
"Africa women and girls at the Grassroots - their say on their world post-2015" is a representation of African women's voices from the grassroots. While ACORD has represented these voices faithfully, it is recognised that Africa is not homogenous and these voices do not represent the entirety of African Women's voices or indeed the entirety of the interviewed women's views and perspectives on gender equality. In the discussions with women, they consistently recognised that achievements and advancements had been made towards gender equality and empowerment over the past 15 years. In particular, they highlighted the great strides made in women's participation in leadership and in the legal and policy arenas in favour of gender equality and women's empowerment across the continent. This report has attempted to give voice to grassroots women in the complex political and consensus building process that will result in the post-2015 development framework. In doing this ACORD aims to ensure that women's contributions form the basis of the recommendations and resolutions that will be adopted on gender equality and women's empowerment. While a number of the grassroots voices portray women as victims, other voices captured herein espouse women's agency. For ACORD, this balance is very important in the debate on women's empowerment. The reality of many grassroots women is indeed that of inhibited freedoms. Conceptually, our argument is that women's demonstrated capacities to lead and make decisions is the basis on which they should be supported as power-dispensers and decision makers at all levels.
The findings discussed here have been summarised from both the general citizen workshops as well as the women specific workshops. In analysing women's voices ACORD identified issues in five key thematic areas:
- Violence against women and girls
- Access to and control over resources, including land, credit, energy and information technology
- Women's citizenship and leadership
- Access to basic services with an emphasis on reproductive and sexual health services
- Recognition, redistribution and remuneration of women's unpaid care work
The report that ACORD will launch at the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York on 17th March, situates its analysis in the experiences and perspectives of African women and girls, using their own words to illustrate the issues that a new development framework must confront.
"Women's needs and aspirations differ depending on their geographical locations, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, status in society and self-drive. Their voices at times sound apprehensive and portray them as victims. However, this is the reality in the grassroots" Salina Sanou, Head of Policy and Advocacy, ACORD.