Not just pretty faces: Women at the negotiating tables of the future

“Lets take these ideas, not to be framed and bound in beautiful books, but to be lived”

 This was the concluding remark made by Marissa van Rensburg at the SALO networking event that focused on women in AU agenda 2063. A number of speakers presented, talking about where the world is at with the women’s empowerment agenda, what Africa is doing, and some of the challenges that still need to be overcome.

 With gender equality still a widespread problem, what’s needed is a strong integrated approach on all levels that can ensure that programmes are implemented, and women receive the economic, political and emotional support they need. A united Africa is an excellent idea that could help take this forward, but in order to be translated into reality, it could benefit from improved transportation networks across the continent, integrating rural areas through local trade networks and having women fill more leadership positions.

 Indeed, there appears to be a gap when it comes to women’s roles in peace and human security issues. “Men wage wars, but women bear the brunt [of the wars]”, Victoria Maloka pointed out. Women are weapons and victims of war, but they’re also agents of change – they can and do play a major role in peace efforts, yet they are under-represented in formal peace processes, so their voices are still largely unheard at the level of regional and international policy formation.

 The good news is that Agenda 2063 establishes a channel for common understandings, unity, and respect for diversity. New school curriculums are to be implemented, and translation of policies into indigenous languages is intended. This will help make information accessible at a grassroots level, and pave the way for collective and inclusive approaches.

 However, this alone does not ensure that women will be included. Victoria Maloka called upon women to be proactive in creating their own opportunities for their own empowerment, to demand that women be seen at the negotiation tables themselves, not just in supporting roles to men, and women “mustn’t just be pretty faces at the table, they must act”.

 Finally, Hilda Phetoe brought the whole issue into focus through the lens of the real-life, on the ground realities of the women that these policies are intended to support. We have to understand the women who have babies so that they can get grants to grow food, or who sell sex for money and get infected with HIV, she said. To them what’s important are the basic necessities for survival, like food security. For many of them if you say “AU Agenda 2063”, their response will be “what is that?”. Although Agenda 2063 provides for food security, the part that matters to them is being able to go to bed knowing they have food in the garden, regardless of whatever revolution is going on.