Empowering Women for the 21st Century:
The Challenges of Politics, Business, Development and Leadership
9th Annual Conference -
Accra, Ghana 27-29 January 1997
1. The Africa Leadership Forum convened in Accra, Ghana, from 27 to 29 January 1997 its ninth annual international conference (Ota IX) on Empowering Women for the 21st century: The Challenges of Politics Business, Development and Leadership. It was attended by sixty-two participants from twenty six countries, among them women leaders from governments, parliaments, parties, NGOs, academia, the private sector, civil society organisations, and regional and international organisations (see list of participants in annex I). The conference was chaired by Mrs. Graca Machel (Mozambique) and was addressed and opened by the First Lady of Ghana, Her Excellency Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings.
2. At the outset, the conference participants unanimously paid tribute to the leadership of the Forum’s chairman, General Olusegun Obasanjo, and deplored his continued unjustified incarceration by the Nigerian authories. The conference called on General Sani Abacha, the Nigerian Military Head of State, to release General Obasanjo forthwith so as to enable him to resume his selfless activities in promoting African dignity, empowerment, leadership, good governance and human rights. The conference agreed to field a small team with the mandate to call upon General Abacha to convey to him the sentiments of the conference and to press for freedom for General Obasanjo and other political detainees in Nigeria.
3. The conference engaged in a frank and wide-reaching discussion, exchange of experience and search for future action advancing the empowerment of women as the world approaches a new century and millennium, reflected in the attached programme of work (Annex II). The forum provided by ALF allowed the participants to express their concerns, opinions, assessments and vision on the situation in Africa and in the individual countries. At the conclusion of its deliberations, the conference agreed on a series of recommendations, pertaining to action and practical measures proposed for the international, the regional, the sub-regional and national levels.
4. At the international level, a series of measures should be urgently taken to disseminate the Beijing Plan of Action, to reinforce and intensify the role played by international organisations in implementing and promoting agreements reached through concrete projects and to enhance the role of international organisations in conflict resolution:
- An abbreviated, authoritative version of the Beijing Plan of Action should be prepared by the United Nations Secretariat for further use by countries regional and sub-regional organizations;
- To implement the agreements reached at the international level, the budget of the United Nations should be increased above current levels with the increase exclusively to be earmarked for women empowerment programmes, including in the area of conflict resolution;
- The organisations of the United Nations system engaged in operational activities and the international financing institutions should earmark progressively increasing portions of their project budgets and expenditures for activities related to the advancement of women and the implementation of the Plan of Action at regional and national levels, which was unanimously adopted by all governments in Beijing;
- Resources should be channelled to the design and implementation of programmes aimed at building capacity of women’s organizations and their access to the rapid developments in the field of information and communication technologies; this will help avoid a further marginalisation of women and foster their integration into societal and international activities;
- The specific needs of women and children in international projects must more deliberately be provided for in various projects and programmes by international organizations;
- to give practical meaning to the principle of collective security enshrined in the United Nations Charter;
- to increase the number of programmes financed by international organisations aimed at building capacity of women's organisations in conflict prevention and. resolution as well as peace-building at the national level;
- to codify the right of intervention in the case of uncontainable domestic crisis and civil strife with the exclusive objective of protecting civilian population.
5. The above recommendations should. be accorded highest priority on the agenda of women's organisations who are invited to press their respective governments and the international organisations concerned for concrete measures in the directions advocated.
6. Civil society must play a key role in shaping the future of Africa on the threshold to the next millennium. Local, national and international NGOs will have to take the lead in this process especially with a view to eliminating poverty and gender-based discrimination, which are nothing less than denials of human rights. To underpin these activities, United Nations programmes and funds and other multilateral financial institutions must move beyond the currently prevailing sub-contracting arrangements of some of their project and programme components to NGOS. They must begin to set aside substantial resources for funding local communities to be intermediated by NGOs and to give high priority to such endeavours, especially if they involve promotion of gender equality. In the same vein, an increasing number of African consultants must be retained and women must be accorded priority.
7. At the regional level for Africa, the conference agreed on the following recommendations:
- African nations should be ranked - based on a progressively refined set of indicators - to reflect their accomplishment as regards women's participation in political and economic spheres, in particular with respect to leadership positions, and the advancement of women in general;
for these indicators, benchmarks should be determined below which the performance of countries shall be deemed unsatisfactory; indicators and benchmarks should also be placed within a timeframe during which progress should be attained; they thus would become targets for policy-makers, companies and society at large, who would feel compelled to devise strategies for the attainment of the targets;
- given the palpable lack of progress in the implementation of the Beijing Plan of Action, a message of concern should be addressed to the next OAU Council of Ministers (Tripoli, February 1997) deploring the absence of tangible progress and the apparent lack of political commitment and will;
- moreover, at present, the structures, agendas and processes of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) are male dominated; to redress this unsatisfactory situation a series of affirmative gender-sensitive measures must be taken by the OAU to give practical meaning to various provisions and endorsements of international action plans;
- to drive this process and to build necessary commitment and support throughout the Organisation and its membership, a small group of independent experts - with a significant representation of women experts - should be set up with the task of suggesting and implementing a more responsive organizational structure and of appointing a larger number of female staff, especially at senior levels, in accordance with the provisions of Beijing and other conferences;
- as women's rights are human rights, the composition of the African Commission on Human Rights - currently with only two women among its members - must be improved to provide for a better participation of women; to that effect African Governments are urged to nominate qualified. women and to propose to the OAU that they be appointed to the three upcoming vacancies
- the establishment of a meaningful early warning system on potential intra- and inter-state conflicts, drawing also on inputs from women's organisations and other civil society actors;
- drawing on the results of competent international research institutes and institutions, to disseminate information on all arms trades involving African countries so as to allow public scrutiny with a view to curbing unnecessary purchases;
- the production and deployment of landmines on African soil should be banned and an international agreement should be concluded to that effect;
- to reduce military expenditures as a whole and to introduce certain measures whereby official development assistance would be cut or frozen for countries exceeding agreed benchmark levels;
- the present availability of arms everywhere in African societies i,, a subject of deep preoccupation; all necessary steps should be taken to remove the basis arming civilians and thereby to demilitarize societies as a whole.
1. For the sub-regional level, it is recommended that ALF identify and connect organisations as focal points which should form one network in order to advance the access of women to critical positions of leadership and. to various sources of information in Africa.
The role of sub-regional organisations, such as ECOWAS, in peacemaking and peacekeeping should be strengthened and. they should also draw on the resources available in women's organisations.
2. At the national level a variety of measures should be initiated:
- the Beijing Plan of Action and its proposed abbreviated version should be translated as quickly as possible into various languages, in particular African languages, so as to deepen knowledge about its provisions at the grassroots level and about the agreements entered into by all Governments;
- progress in the advancement and empowerment of women requires the close interaction of parliamentarians - who legislate-governments -who allocate resources - and women activists and NGOs for the purpose of defining a common vision based on shared values;
- to provide a regular mechanism of feedback between all parliamentarians and their constituencies so as to make them accountable for action or inaction in advancing the cause of women;
- given forecasts and projections that the next millennium will be driven by advances in technology, the participants lamented the present high rates of illiteracy, forty years after independence. They urged governments to consider this as a first line of battle in the preparation of future generations of Africans and to cope with the challenges of the next century;
- given the critical role of education and the present low rate of female enrolment, renewed and sustained efforts will be required at the primary level in order to prevent a deterioration in literacy and to lay the necessary basis for future empowerment at the secondary and tertiary levels. A critical mass of qualified women is especially needed for science and technology as well as manufacturing;
- the process of revising curricula should be broadened with a view to mainstreaming gender/women in development issues, to give full recognition to the rights of women and to highlight female role models;
- to provide access to resources so as to enable women to enter and compete in the political process with a view to increasing the representation of women;
- to accelerate the advancement of women and to promote solidarity and mutually reinforcing concerns, regular exchanges of experience and peer training will be invaluable; to that end cross-fertilisation of existing networks of women leaders should be facilitated by ALF including:
- women in senior positions in the public service;
- women in managerial and executive positions in the private sector;
- women in academic and research institutions;
- Women in NGO and CBO leadership positions;
- Women in professional associations.
3. Such fora should lead to common agendas for the sustainable Promotion of gender/women in development issues and the necessary change in attitudes of societies as a whole.
- networking can be greatly facilitated through information and communications technologies and especially access to e-mail and the Internet; countries should ensure that connectivity be established and offered at affordable levels.
- special attention must be paid to reach-out and linkages to the rural level in terms of content, message and strategies; this poses a special responsibility for women already occupying leadership positions.
4. As regards the involvement of' women in the private sector and business activities, the participants underline the need to sensitize African women to sources of information pertaining to business activities. Women must also be educated, through capacity-building, on how to make a transition from the informal to the formal sector. Altogether, greater participation of businesswomen in the decisionmaking process should be facilitated on issues related to trade, investment and finance, including participation in intra-Africa trade and trade missions. Ultimately, African businesswomen should be encouraged to think big when it comes to economic empowerment so as to be able to capture a bigger slice of the markets and business opportunities. The African Development Bank and the Africa Project Development Facility must play a more assertive role in enabling women's economic empowerment. For their part, governments should provide incentives for women to have access to credit.
5. The conference participants expressed their concern at the worsening situation of the poor and in particular the poor women in Africa. The Microcredit Summit, about to be held in Washington, D.C. (2-4 February 1997) is therefore a most timely event to promote a much wider use of this effective mechanism for the alleviation of poverty. Indeed, the objective should be that by the year 2025 some 100 million families be the beneficiaries of microcredit and related financial services. This is unlikely to succeed short of the full commitment of Governments, local authorities and civil society as a whole. Equally, multilateral institutions and UN programmes and funds must provide financial and technical support to communities in Africa for poverty-focused and gender-sensitive microcredit and finance schemes at a much larger scale than is now the case. Such support should be provided with sufficient flexibility and a minimum of bureaucratic requirements and hurdles to place the schemes within the reach of the poorest. Non-governmental organisations can play an important intermediary role in the process.
6. In the same spirit, donor governments should pledge additional resources to multilateral institutions and funds specifically for the direct funding of NGC) grassroots microcredit and finance initiatives. All African ('Governments and NGCOs together with donors should measure the efficiency of such schemes not merely on the basis of traditional commercial banking criteria (such as rate of interest, level of savings and default/non-payment rate) but should also take explicit account of the poverty and gender impact. To that end, appropriate base line surveys should be developed as should indicators to measure impact.
7. The participants agreed to mobilize their own human resources and other capacities to develop and reinforce the solidarity between the African leaders present in Accra, men and women, especially poor rural women. The ultimate goal must be the elimination of all gender-based discrimination through research, advocacy and programme funding.
8. The meeting acknowledged and commended the Africa Leadership Forum (ALF) for the pioneering work it has done on the subject of corruption - which was identified as a malignant problem that impacts negatively on African development. It calls on the OAU to seize the momentum created by the three regional conferences concluded by ALF in 1995 on Corruption, Democracy and Human Rights in Africa, and commence a continental initiative that would comprehensively deal with the cancerous problem of corruption especially as it affects its member nations in all fields of societal activities.
9. The meeting also calls on the countries of the North, multilateral and bilateral agencies to concretise efforts toward the combat of corruption through a global initiative.
10. It was suggested that a forum should be created for young Africans to facilitate an opportunity to exchange information among themselves which could also serve as means of information gathering for the leadership training and development in Africa and thus, may help prepare the successor generation of Africans for the challenges of leadership in the next millennium.
11. The meeting also recommended that the Africa Leadership Forum, in consultation with other organisations, undertake to prepare a leadership skills package which can be disseminated to organisations in Africa concerned with leadership training. Preparing the successor generation of leaders must be done with a view to making them remain authentic Africans who can effectively engage and interact with the rest of the world as African citizens of the world.
12. Parliamentarians, ministers, and other opinion leaders with track records of integrity and honest achievements should take it as a matter of necessity to address young people sharing with them their experiences through lectures and symposia as an added means of motivating the young to aspire to greater heights of leadership. An participants at the meeting pledged to report back to the 1998 Forum on progress made in this respect.
13. Concerted efforts should be undertaken at both sub-regional as well as the regional levels to create a series of youth exchange programmes for young Africans. Exposure to different facets of life and living in Africa other than their countries of origin should enable them to expand their horizons.
14. As a corollary of the need for literacy and education, the well-. rounded development of children requires a stable family environment capable of imbuing in the growing chi-Id a sense of emotional stability - which is indispensable for developing the potentials of a child.
15. The conference agreed to recommend to the Africa Leadership Forum Executive Committee that, for its own part, it should assume a prominent and ongoing role in facilitating and evaluating the realisation of the above recommendations. To that end, ALF is called upon:
- to establish within its existing framework the African Women’s’ Forum and to organize annually one international conference to evaluate progress, exchange experience and stimulate concrete action, building on the present Accra conference;
- to invite participants in the African Women’s Forum to identify promising female participants below the age of 25 so that at least 1/3 of future participants can be drawn from among the youth;
- to ensure at all ALF conferences – manatorily – 50 per cent women’s participation:
- to seek advice from women in the media and the press as to how bets to communicate the concerns and recommendations pertaining to gender issues;
- to support the formation and operations of a group of African women leaders entrusted with promoting the African women’s agenda.
16. The conference participants expressed their sincere appreciation to the Government of Ghana for having enabled the holding of this conference and their particular and profound gratitude to the First Lady of Ghana, Mrs. Nana Agyeman Rawlings, for her abiding interest in the conference and its progress and for her generous hospitality extended to the participants at a specially orgnaised reception and a series of private meetings.
17. The participants expressed appreciation to the Africa Leadership Forum for having convened this important conference which provided a unique opportunity for exchange and mutual enrichment.