Prior to the 21st Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 26-27 May, the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) network, held a Meeting on Gender Mainstreaming in the African Union on 20-21 May. This meeting marked the 10th GIMAC anniversary. Below Beline Kanimba Unogeye, from YWCA- Rwanda shares her thoughts and experience during the African Union (AU) Summit. 

What have I learnt this week? There are no words that would do justice to what I have taken from this experience. Two words: WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT, over the last few days these two words have been on the tip of all tongues and the topic of all discussions.

Lucrece Funmilayo Falolou, YWCA Rwanda and Huguette Rufine Yakpa from the YWCA of Benin

Lucrece Funmilayo Falolou, YWCA Rwanda and Huguette Rufine Yakpa from the YWCA of Benin

On Sunday the first question we were asked among us YWCA women was: What is the one thing that will change the lives of young women in Africa? A number of answers were given but I would like to highlight only a few of them because I believe they were fundamental in steering our thinking wheel. The first being women’s empowerment of course, if women in Africa are empowered their lives will change forever, if they have access to information they will able to share it and empower other women through mentorship. The third suggestion that struck me was that women need equal opportunity to show what they are capable of doing.

As you all may see these points build on each other, these young women’s lives will change because if we start accessing information, we will empower and mentor them, then they will be able to show what they are capable of doing. This ladies would be how we could achieve the goal given to us this week of Intergenerational Leadership between young women and their mentors.

Other lessons learnt on this first day include but are not limited to, the global strategic movement whose vision is a fully inclusive world where, Justice, Peace, health, human dignity and freedom care for the environment are promoted and sustained through leadership.

We were also given the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the concept of safe spaces and how to apply the safe spaces model. We discussed the general characteristics of a safe space for example we all understood that a safe space is a co-operative and supportive place, that has a presence of moral and ethical values where one can express their thoughts and feelings freely.

The second part of my experience was being able to attend the GMAC conference that was held for two days May 20th and 21st. I was primarily captured by the simple but powerful quotes shared by the panelists. As well as the enriching discussions between the panelists and those of us who attended the meeting. When we first begun the conference Grace Kabayo, Executive Director, Pan African Gender Association for Development, suggested to everyone to leave the GMAC conference with a distinguished mindset. I felt that opening the meeting with such a powerful thought shared set way for open minded discussions and contributions.

One of the questions asked by a 13 year old girl that stayed in mind was, if tradition helped or limited young African women? It makes wonder if a child this young is questioning tradition have we really become orphans of tradition or victims of modernization? That question I leave to you. During our discussion we saw that young women have been limited by tradition but also as Hon.Phoebe Asiyo, Chair of Kenyan Eminent Persons and former parliamentarian stated “We can go nowhere if we do not know where we came from.” It limits us in the sense that some traditional practices set us back physically and emotionally, for example the woman who shared the story about how she was forced to sleep with her husband for 3 days after his death, all this in the name of tradition. To this degree we see how tradition limits us, which is why intergenerational dialogue is important because values are dynamic. If we as women can come together and try to fight against such practices then we can move forward. The way to fight for a voice is by uniting. This way tradition will hear our cries. As Dr Reggy Anyango said “Africa must unite or parish. Final independence will give us voice and power”.

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