New Struggle

Forty-six years ago, a handful of African women from different liberation movements gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at the invitation of the then prime minister Julius Nyerere to talk about the status of women on the continent.

Forty-six years ago, a handful of African women from different liberation movements gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at the invitation of the then prime minister Julius Nyerere to talk about the status of women on the continent.

It was at that meeting that a concept to form a women's organisation that would highlight the plight of African women was discussed and later adopted.

The women had met during a crucial period in the struggle to free Africa from oppression and colonial bondage.

They had come from diverse political parties, and at the meeting, they set aside the barriers of language, ideology and other contradictions, and united to form the Congress of African Women (CAF), which later became known as the Pan African Women's Congress (Pawo).

The women agreed that Pawo was also to be used as a vehicle to mobilise international support for women's struggle in the continent.

Jeanne Martin-Cisse from Guinea became Pawo's first secretary general.

Madame Cisse, as she is fondly known in women's movement circles, became a prominent figure in the fight for women's rights.

After her appointment at Pawo, Madame Cisse became the first woman to be appointed to the UN. She was also the first woman to preside over the world body's Security Council and has chaired its special committee against apartheid.

South African women who were actively involved in the formation of Pawo include Gertrude Shope, former president of the ANC Women's league, Adelaide Tambo and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Speaking at Pawo's 9th congress, which was hosted by South Africa from February 14 to February 17 in Ekurhuleni, Madame Cisse, who was honoured with a standing ovation, urged delegates from 33 African countries to unite.

She said: "Many things have changed since the formation of the organisation. We now have different challenges that we have to get involved in. The development of Africa is not going to happen unless we women unite and empower each other. We lack unity and we need to breach that gap."

Gwen Ramakgopa, Angie Motshekga, Mavivi Mayakayaka-Manzini and Lulu Xingwana were also at the congress.

South Africa's ambassador to Brazil, Lindiwe Zulu, said while Pawo had succeeded in fighting for women's emancipation at international level and contributed significantly to the liberation of some African countries which included South Africa, Angola, Namibia and Mozambique, much more work still needed to be done.

"Pawo has been able to present women's issues at international level and ensured that those international bodies take right resolutions on women issues," Zulu said.

It has also ensured that governments from respective countries included issues concerning women on their agendas and also ensured that the decisions taken on the emancipation of women were implemented," she said.

But Zulu said there was a need for Pawo to transform itself from its original agenda of pushing for the liberation struggle and making itself relevant to the current situations facing women today.

She said critical issues that Pawo was now focusing on included the empowerment of women in decision making structures, the marginalisation of women, education, HIV-Aids and its impact on women, and how war-torn countries affected women.

Zulu said another challenge facing the organisation was that some governments did not recognise and support Powa.

Zulu said: "Individual governments need to recognise and support Pawo financially and otherwise."

She said Pawo evaluated its role within the continent and looked at ways to make the organisation's programmes more relevant to the needs of women.

South Africa, Zulu said, was nominated and accepted as the secretariat and an announcement is yet to be made as to who the next secretary-general of Pawo would be.

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