African Women Stand Out

By Stany Nzobonimpa
This article analyzes the gains made by women during last fifty years following independence in many countries and in the socio-economic development of the continent. Over this period, Africa has experienced significant changes at almost all levels and the focus on women and girls has been one of the most frequent topics in conferences on the continent. The African feminist movement has made major steps forward. In my opinion this is the most memorable part of the 50th anniversary celebrations in May 2013.
The African Union and Women of Africa
The success of the Pan-African movement is undoubtedly visible through the efforts to build Pan-African organisations that advance women’s rights. The African Union, initially called the Organisation of the African Unity was viewed by many analysts as an anti-West and purely revolutionary organisation.
Over the decades and particularly in the last ten years, new gender and women’s rights standards such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa have emerged to promote and protect women. The vision of African Union is a modern continent where women, like men, are involved in the daily affairs of daily life. States have made significant gains in combating discrimination and violence against women. These texts and other documents at country level have created a very different vision for Africa namely; a respectful, dignified continent that is ready to tackle the challenges it faces.
Pan-Africanism, Women and Sustainable Development in Africa
The contemporary history of this continent is one of political instability, civil wars followed by fierce poverty. Regions such as the Great Lakes, West and Central Africa have been the case-studies of persistent instability. Just after independence, we witnessed its social fabric torn apart by genocide, dictatorships and human rights violations and reduced to the “destitute” continent. It should be noted here that one of the key objectives of the Pan-Africanist Movement was to create an independent, peaceful and prosperous Africa. It was essential for Africa to mobilize a strong and positive force to get out of the stalemate. Advancing women’s rights was essential as one of the ways of tackling the issues of Africa. Indeed, the role of women in promoting peace was of paramount importance. Thus, by seeking to address the challenges of war and poverty, the movement that unites Africa has been indirectly advancing the rights of women. In dealing with other issues like AIDS, malaria, the problems created by globalization and other phenomena of concern for Africa, Africans are strengthening the socio-economic development of the continent and, therefore, a better future for African women.
The African Diaspora and Its Role in Advancing Women
For a long time, the Pan-Africanist movement was considered as a movement of the African Diaspora. Indeed, as the movement was initiated by Africans living outside the Continent. The Diaspora has been contributing greatly to the economic development of Africa but its role in advancing gender equality is particularly significant. We have seen efforts to encourage the education of girl child in many countries including Burundi. After decades without role models for young girls, we can now count several including Dambisa Moyo, Fatou Bensouda and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. They and many other women are currently shaping the contemporary history of the continent. They are powerful role models for the minds of many young African girls.
While the Pan-African movement has certainly played a very noticeable role in the advancement of women, the reverse is also true. Women’s action in the promotion of pan-Africanism is no less important. The leading pan-Africanist organisation is today headed by a woman, Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma.
Particularly in the years since independence, the place occupied by women has become very important in the African society. Women have played a very important role in building the continent. This is envisaged by African leaders at the highest level, elaborated by a number of declarations and policy standards and texts and underpinned by a culture of respect for women. Pan-Africanism and women’s rights advancement are therefore two sides of the same coin. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU we cannot forget this.
1. Jean Baptiste André KATTIE, Le Panafricanisme : Quelle Contribution à la construction des Etats-Unis d’Afrique ? Catholic University of West Africa, Abidjan, Master Thesis in Political Science, 2008
2. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, excerpt taken on 6/4/2013 from
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