Weblog by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights
July 16th - 17th 2006
On Sunday July 16th 2006 I flew to Senegal for a brief but exhilarating visit.
I had been invited as a member of the Board of the African Women?s Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights (AWOMI) to join its President, Yassine Fall and other Board members for a conference on ?Accountability Now: Economic Policies, Poverty and Women?s Health?.
AWOMI was established and launched in May 2005 in Senegal and Kenya. It's goal is to empower impoverished women and youth and to enhance their leadership and rights in national and global initiatives to end poverty.
The intriguing factor about this conference was that it was preceded by a month-long course for young African women leaders who would participate in the Conference.
Part of what we try to do in Realizing Rights is to link women leaders at grassroots level with high level women leaders in the political, business and academic fields. So I was looking forward to this opportunity to listen and learn.
At a dinner with Yassine and other Board members, including Amina Ibrahim, special advisor of President Obasanjo on MDGs, I learned about the background to the course for the young women, which was co-organized by the Young Women?s Leadership and Knowledge Institute (YOWLI).
From June to July 2006, AWOMI hosted YOWLI in the capital Dakar. YOWLI was a four-week long educational program for female and male youths aged 18 to 30 from all over Africa and the Diaspora. The course involved skills building activities on leadership, action oriented research and advocacy for human rights.
The expectation is that after this month long experience trainees will now have the ability to engage in bold social transformational action once they return back to their respective countries.
Among the 40 young women I was glad to see a few young men, and the participants came from the following countries:
The next morning we met these enthusiastic, bright-eyed future leaders. They were an impressive group, elegantly dressed in a multi-colored celebration of diverse backgrounds and cultures. They had clearly bonded closely with each other, and as they introduced themselves there was a good deal of youthful banter and humor. The group was inclusive with two members triumphing over physical disabilities. I learned the phrase used by women with disabilities in South Africa: ?Nothing about us without us!?
The first session comprised speeches from a range of speakers including The Honorable Dr. Phoebe Asiyo, chairperson of the Kenya Women?s Political Caucus and Marie Soudnie Rivette of YOWLI- Haiti, who had been elected to speak on behalf of the YOWLI group. Her passion about issues of youth unemployment, of the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on young women and of being tired of rhetoric without any action drew an enthusiastic response.
Noting the beautiful headgear that a number of the young women were wearing I spoke about using ?invisible hats? such as being Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders or Honorary President of Oxfam to try to be strategic.
I commended them for focusing on accountability, and shared some experiences of how useful the human rights commitments governments have made can be if you do a gender analysis of government spending choices for their impact on women and men and seek greater equity in budget allocations with the help of an innovative approach to understanding public spending.
During the afternoon there were working group sessions on:
(1) Women?s Health and HIV and Aids: What do Young African women want to see happen and how would they monitor actions?
(2) Economic Growth and PRSP: what priorities for women and youth, how to monitor?
(3) YOWLI speaks: Strategies for Demanding Accountability in Investing in Women and Youth
Regrettably I had to leave late on Monday evening, and so missed the feedback from these working groups. I left with the special song the YOWLI members had composed and sang together ringing in my ears, sung in local languages, English, Portuguese and French!
For people?s happiness
For a peaceful Africa
Peace that will never end
For the well being of women
In a united Africa
Standing up to celebrate women
Making women and men equal
Yowli we are
Yowli we are
For a world of peace
For a world of share
For a world of tolerance
For a world for the future
For the prosperity of Africa
Young women?s liberty
For our strength
Men and women?s equality