March 12, 2024

What will it take to recenter women’s agency and political participation in Africa?

Pre Pan African Leadership Sawubona

What will it take to recenter women’s agency and political participation in Africa? The quest for answers to this question prompted a gathering of women political leaders, activists, and Civil Society players in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The gathering was organized on 11th February 2024, as a primer to the Pan African  Leadership Sawubona focused on governance and women’s political participation that will take place in July.

Inspired by the Zulu greeting Sawubona, which means I see you, the Pre Pan African Leadership Sawubona offered a platform for a purposeful “seeing” or examination if you will, of the African woman’s place, contributions, and hurdles in political participation. Guided by the oral stories of seasoned women political leaders from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda there was a poignant reflection on the journey through the past, present, and future of women’s political leadership on the continent. The oral herstories revealed stark realities where African women, brimming with potential, have consistently offered transformative leadership and yet they are systematically denied the platform to meaningfully participate in political and decision-making processes. 

Honourable Millie Odhiambo-Suba North Member of Parliament and longest-serving female member of parliament, emphasized, “We need to push back against these oppressive structures, and in the spirit of Sawubona, lift each other” Her words resonated, dispelling the myth that politics is a moral challenge for women. “Women leaders are capable,” she declared, “Women must be bold and take their rightful place in the political space.” 

Photo: Hon. Millie Odhiambo from Kenya.

Echoing this sentiment, Honourable Fatuma Ndangiza,  the  Secretary of the East African Legislative Assembly Women’s Caucus and  Rwandan politician and women’s rights advocate, highlighted the grassroots struggle. with a post-genocidal Rwanda for context. In her view, African women are capable of leading, however, they continue to be bombarded by the weight of the triple role – nurturing families, advocating for equality, and driving change – can be immense.”  Her voice resonated with the struggles of countless women, juggling responsibilities while fighting for their rightful place at the table. More importantly, women must mentor the next generation, ensuring the momentum continues, and the fight for equality never falters. 

Photo: Hon. Fatima Ndagiza from Rwanda

“Women must find their way into the rooms where decisions are made,” asserted Winnie Kiiza, a Ugandan political powerhouse. Her words painted a grim picture: millions of women, silenced by poverty and oppression, their voices yearning to be heard. As a leader of the opposition in Uganda, she illuminated the giant hurdles that lie in the path of women who attempt to enter the political space. In her experience, the pushback from the patriarchal cultures demanding that women political leaders and aspirants perform womanhood by being married, mothers, or performing submissiveness to men frustrated women out of participation. Furthermore, she shared the gendered sexual and physical violence that is weaponized against

Hon. Winnie Kiiza from Uganda

The pre-Sawubona was not just a discussion; but a strategic engagement on how we can cultivate the  Pan-African fire for inclusive democracy, united to re-write the rules and the narrative. It was agreed that there is a need to collectively organize a space to recenter women’s political agency and leadership in Africa. While the event lasted a day, the reflection continues and preparations to have even a more in depth conversation is currently underway and set for July, 2024.

This event was organised by Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), FEMNET, the Ellen Sirleaf Johnson Presidential Centre for Women and Development (ESJC) the African Women’s Leadership Network (AWLN), the Gender is My Network Campaign (GIMAC), Mzalendo Trust and Make Every Woman Count (MEWC).



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