Under the theme “Network for Empowerment, refuelling a Continent on the Rise” of the last congress, young African women from different countries who gathered in Nairobi (Kenya in East Africa) were collectively looking for more empowerment. With this in mind, they shared their views and thoughts on existing challenges and opportunities, and other pertinent issues affecting women and development in Africa. The congress attracted quite a number of dignitaries from government, ministries, departments, institutions and agencies. Besides sessions and panel discussions, the conference offered the platforn for interactions, socialisation and networking.
In his welcome address, Daniel Osei Tuffuor, the Chairperson of the YAWC Network Council and the Executive Director for ExLA Group, recounted the achievements of the Young African Women Congress since its inception in 2016. He was emphatic on the empowerment it has brought to many women on the African continent and the enormous benefits of the networking aspect of the congress.
“Over the years, since the establishment of YAWC, we have had many women go through this boardroom experience of keynotes, panel sessions, group brainstorming sessions and numerous presentations among others. Some have shared very insightful thoughts with us. Others have inspired us with their own struggles and success stories. One thing which has kept us progressing, however, has been the unlimited networks that have been built through these engagements,” Daniel Tuffuor remarked.
He drew the attention of delegates the newly campaign dubbed, “What Women Want” launched by the African Union Commission as part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It is amazing as part of its Agenda 2063, the African Union has launched a campaign known as the “What African Women Want” which across the continent offers the opportunity to engage and share success stories, testimonies and best practices on advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The campaign began on March 4 and ends on December 26, 2022.
“It is therefore encouraging to use the opportunity to share what you have acquired through the congress on some of these platforms. You will be shaping the conversation in the most transformative approach,” he stated.
The leaders of delegation from different countries took their turns to deliver their solidarity messages on behalf their countries’ delegations.
Ms. Vivian Akoto, the Leader of Liberia’s delegation and the Vice President of the YAWC Network Liberia, emphasized the need for women to be optimistic about building strategic partnerships. She further suggested that women take leading initiatives from local communities to the global platforms. These initiatives that could drive women in business and leadership. Women should push for the power of education, equality and inclusiveness.
On her part, Ms. Stella Ayerango, the Leader of Ugandan delegation and the Media Liaison Officer for the YAWC Network Uganda Chapter briefed the gathering on the successes chalked by the Ugandan government concerning women’s empowerment agenda. According to her, the government of Uganda has provided enormous opportunities for women in a men-dorminated world. She cited Ugandan women in certain key positions including the Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Government and many others that have been given to women. The country can boast of over 180 women in Uganda’s parliament, and women serving under different capacities in the cabinet.
Ms. Ayerango added Uganda has women CEOs in the public and private sectors which is a motivation for the rest of Ugandan women especially the young ones. She stated that having women in positions is the key in increasing access to economic, social and political empowerment; increasing participation of women in decision making and creating more leadership opportunities through building of confidence; enlightening the women about their human rights and how to deal with issues like domestic violence especially against women and girls.
Despite the achievements in her country, there are still some challenges including limited and/or no access, at all, to good quality education and primary health care. Research and monitoring show that gender-based violence increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, so are teenage pregnancies, high school drop outs, defilement and rape, poverty, land ownership.
Ms. Matilda Hammond, the Leader of Ghana’s Delegation, delivered her solidarity message. She acknowledged the fact that women have been given the platform for their voices to be heard in recent times even though there are few challenges like domestic violence and others that are still holding them down. She highlighted some interventions made by the YAWC Network Ghana Chapter.
According to her, the chapter has been prominent in speaking up against vices committed against women. They have been writing articles and sharing their thoughts on social media and other platforms condemning these acts whenever they come up.
Ms. Nnenna Mary Anozie, who led the Nigeria’s delegation, encouraged the young women to exhibit the spirit of oneness since it is the best tool for strengthening their front. She, however, charged the delegates to stay focused and be optimistic of the resolution at the congress and the subsequent effort would yield results.
Ms. Wirba Stephanie Kininla, the Leader of Cameroon’s delegation, briefed the gathering on the achievements of the YAWC Network, Cameroon Chapter. She narrated embarking on activities to assist groups of women and girls who face socio-political conflict, especially the current conflict in the NorthWest and SouthWest regions in the country that started October 2016.
According to her, the YAWC Network Cameroon Chapter has worked in closed partnership with organizations such as the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Foundation for the Promotion of Peace and Dialogue. “The women are getting involved in peace talks to ensure a return of peace in the country. Women are sitting at tables with men actively working and participating in the peace-building process. We are changing the narratives in decision making and policies,” she emphasized at the congress.
Ms. Wirba further stated that the YAWC Network Cameroon Chapter has worked with government ministries and that has achieved some considerable results. That includes the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) working for the promotion and social inclusion of the woman; Ministry of Secondary Education (MINSEC) for getting all girls who get pregnant back to the classroom and attend school normally; Ministry of Women Empowerment and Family (MINPROF) for creating safe spaces for women and girls who are internally displaced as a result of the conflict for a temporal stay. The network has also created referral pathways with other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to assist women and girls suffering Gender Based Violence.
The YAWC Network Cameroon Chapter Executives were privileged to be part of a training organized by United Nations Refugee Council (UNREC) and Ministry of External Relations (MINREX) on integrating men and women dimension in the fight against the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the South West region of Cameroon.
The Chapter visited a secondary school with internally displaced persons and offered psycho social support. They have organized mental health master classes to help relieve women and girls of stress they go through daily.
Ms. Ruth Jemutai Rop, the Leader of Kenya’s delegation and President of the YAWC Network, highlighted Kenyan women’s achievements. According to her report, Kenya has put in place some legal and policy framework to fill the gaps. There is an affirmative action law under Article 56 of the Kenya constitution as well as two third gender balance in all elective and appointive leadership positions as per Article 27(8) of the constitution.
She referenced to other laws including the Sexual Offences Act, 2016, the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act and the Policy on Gender and Development, 2019. She further hinted that many women, who have risen to key leadership positions as a result of these established laws, include the Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, the Deputy Chief Justice, the First Deputy Speaker of the Kenya Senate, amongst other key appointees of the government.
Ms Rop, however, acknowledged that even though the country has achieved some milestone, there are still hiccups and these include under-representation in key decision-making process and positions and gender-based violence. She finally called for support from the YAWC Network fraternity to help the country reach its women empowerment targets.
The solidarity messages session was climaxed by a note from the Global President of the YAWC Network, Ms. Jacqueline Nyapendi. She highlighted the achievements of the Network on the Africa continent and emphasized that it is crucial to have such a potent network on the continent advancing the empowerment of women.
Ms. Nyapendi pointed out that considering the challenges, at the moment, in Africa, gatherings like the Young African Women Congress becomes very important. “The impact of Covid-19, the violence in Ethiopia, the poverty, financial strife, mental distress, child abuse, and several forms of torture experienced in different countries all speak to a need to network and empower to cope better,” she emphasised. Ms. Nyapendi charged all the delegates to continue to speak up against the vices meted out to women across Africa.
Hon. Nadia Ahmed Abdallah, the Deputy Minister for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, stressed on the fact that even though women have broken spaces, they still need to break more spaces to occupy the seats that are still needed to be occupied by them. She encouraged the delegates to make conscious efforts to empower themselves, and further admonished them to stop individualism, support one another and even their male counterparts.
Dr Alhaji Mahamudu Bawumia,Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, participated virtually. In his remarks, Bawumia spoke around the theme of the congress: “Network for Empowerment, Refueling a Continent on the Rise” and urged delegates to tap into the strength and expertise of African countries to build lasting solutions to its numerous challenges and to take advantage of existing opportunities.
“Indeed, Africa is on the rise. Women remain the continent’s most reliable tool for transforming sustainable development. Over 50% of the continent’s population constitutues women. He quoted the most prominent educationist from the Gold Coast – now Ghana, Kwegyir Aggrey who said – ‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation,’ to signify the importance of empowering this unique sect of the population,” Dr Bawumia stressed.
Executive Director Ms. Judie Kaberia for the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) and the Young African Women Congress (YAWC) 2022 East Africa, during the session asserted that Kenya is still lagging behind when it comes to women in political leadership compared to countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania in the region.
According to her report, the current Kenyan parliament has 20% of women but she was optimistic that this year’s election would witness an increase in the numbers because a lot of women are in the race. She applauded the women in media for giving their platforms to the female politicians to share their stories and what they can offer to the country. She further stated that women must be deliberate about mentorship so that the mentorship gaps amongst women of different generations are filled.
Sarah Ssali, an Associate Professor and Dean at the School of Women and Gender Studies, and the Director at the Centre of Excellence in Notions of Identity at Makerere University, discussed salient points, dissecting the essence of building networks in reference to the women empowerment agenda that could benefit Africa. She told the women shift away from “self-centredness” to more collaboration and inclusiveness. She believes that to achieve real empowerment on the African continent, there is the need to conceptualize and to pay attention to Afrocentrism. It means to centre Africa in the world view and make it an important tool for powering decolonization.
Professor Sarah Ssali urged the delegates to surround themselves with people of substance so that they would have influence on them, enumerated the importance of networking which includes for sharing information, mobilizing resources, marketing products, helping to realize the continental goal of Africa.
Ms. Harriet Kyeremanteng Oppong, the Deputy Director at the Office of the Chief of Staff at the Presidency in Ghana, advised the young women to have ambitions and set their minds to achieving them. She was of the opinion that young women stay focused on their chosen careers and build solid networks since that will be of great benefit to them in times of need.
The panel session on the topic: “Economic Empowerment of Women: Getting it Right” carefully examined aspects of economic empowerment for women. It connects opportunities, women getting equal rights, employment including small businesses, access to finance, access to properties, access to education, access to information and training et cetera. Therefore, it is necessary for governments to put the right policies for women that would enhance their economic empowerment.
The final day was a fun trip to Naivasha Game Park in Nakuru County with a stopover at the Great Rift Valley. The YAWC 2022 East Africa subregional session was such an amazing and memorable event, and many of the delegates anticipate for the annual continental convocation of the next congress planned for October 2022 in Accra, Ghana located in West Africa.