Media personality Nora Appolus says the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) must become more aggressive in tackling the myriad challenges still facing African women if it is to remain relevant.
Appolus is the daughter of one of the stalwarts of Namibia’s struggle, the late Putuse Appolus, who is also among the many founding mothers of PAWO.
In an interview with New Era, Appolus said the struggle to empower and integrate women into the economic and political mainstream in different African countries has come about as a result of campaigns carried out in those countries by their womenfolk and not because of PAWO action.
When the All Africa Women’s Conference (later PAWO) was founded in 1962, the founding mothers set the organisation the task of liberating African women from the yoke of colonialism and oppression, as well as their politico-socio-economic emancipation.
This included recognising that there could be no development of and in the continent without the full participation of women.
She said PAWO often went into uncharted waters, espousing issues such as the struggles of the women of Palestine, led by PLO and those of the women of Western Sahara under their vanguard movement, the Polisario Front.
Appolus stated that PAWO was unequivocal in its support of struggling people against oppression – no mean feat for African women at the time. With the independence of the last African colonies in the 90s, the organisation somewhat lost its ‘raison d’etre’.
“Its focus had been on liberating Africa and it now had to radically transform itself to be relevant in the face of the new challenges facing Africa. It lost steam somewhat, compounded by a drying up of financial support. However, it soldiered on, reinventing itself with a new look, more streamlined PAWO, whose focus is on women and socio-economic development issues. It is by and largely difficult to quantify the effects and impact of PAWO activities on the continent in this regard,” she noted.
In terms of empowering Namibian women, she believes the political will is definitely there.
Appolus cited the adoption of the zebra style by the Swapo ruling party, which she says was a watershed move and Namibia has seen the policy cascade down to its parliamentary list – and to some extent, the cabinet.
“This is not merely paying lip service to women empowerment but a genuine attempt to integrate women. Most political parties in Namibia have also professed to adopt similar strategies,” she said.
While commendable, political empowerment in and of itself is not enough, she opined.
She suggested it must go in tandem with other areas where women must be empowered, especially at the grassroots. However, she indicated such attempts are often met with resistance if not outright gender-based violence, especially when power dynamics come into play.
According to her, addressing this situation will necessitate a change in perceptions and attitudes, and this can only be brought about by the manner in which people are socialised – both the boy and a girl child.
In her opinion, mainstreaming gender studies in the school curricula at an early age could provide a solution.
Swapo secretary general Sophia Shaningwa said the empowerment of women requires access to finances and economic opportunities, access to education, access to land and the factors of production, adding that without these, the struggle continues.
“We are making great progress on the representation front, and we are also succeeding in getting the policy and legislative environments in place to support the work we have before us in ensuring the attainment of our national, regional and international developmental agendas,” Shaningwa remarked.
Equatorial Guinea Deputy Minister of Social Affairs and Gender Equality Ntutumu Pastora said their government is empowering women in different aspects.
According to her, they have adopted the 50/50 gender representation in that country.
“We are not only emerging women but also children, who are leaders of tomorrow. Women are represented fairly well in parliament and in other leadership positions. We have a vice president who is a woman and our First Lady is doing a lot in empowering women in Guinea,” Pastora said.
Efua Anyanful, a Ghanaian Director for Research in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, said they have started with a girl child campaign.
According to her, Ghana has a sizable number of women parliamentarians, although men remain dominant.
“Within the political parties, they have to save seats for women at constituency levels,” she maintained.
Further, she said Ghana has a cash transfer programme that aims to provide nutritious food to needy women and their children.