A Lecture delivered during Round Table Discussions on Role of African Women Leaders in the post-2015 Development Agenda & +20 Beijing Review Process held 9th-10th March 2015 at Harvard Law School by Guinea’s Hadja Makalé Camara
Ladies and Gentlemen - Women constitute more than half of the world's human population. Women give birth to the human race. We are the cradle of humankind. And yet, much evidence shows that women constitute 2/3rds of the world's illiterate population, earn only 1/10th of the world's income, possess only 1/one thousandth (1000th) of the world's property; and women are among the poorest, the most betrayed, the most violated, the most mutilated, the least educated and the most repressed.
In my country, Guinea, the tenth poorest country in the world, we have ratified all women rights conventions and we have attended all international conferences related to equal rights on education, health, jobs, land ownership and equal access to political decision-making. Today I can say we cannot find any more new laws discussed and approved by the international community that Guinea has not ratified - We have ratified all of them in Guinea!
However, laws and international conventions are not sufficient in themselves to empower women to attain these universal aspirations. The weight of cultural tradition and responsibility makes women in Guinea to be even more repressed than poverty stricken - Am I being pessimistic? No, not at all. What I am trying to say, is that nobody else can make changes on women rights beside women themselves.
|Hadja Makalé Camara at Harvard
So, as we celebrate our progress, we must remain focused on the work that remains to be done. For instance, I am here today talking to you as a mother, spouse, lawyer, legislator, former ambassador and cabinet minister, civil society activist and student of life - and I have a little story to tell you.
When I was young, I never accepted to be behind or at the bottom, I was fearless. At school, I had to be recognized for my efforts and determination. During university, when my classes finished at the end of each day, I studied at the American Cultural Center to learn English. At that time, my fellow students told me, "Makalé, you are wasting your time, because English in a French speaking country seemed to them useless". But because of my perseverance, I was granted a prestigious Humphrey Fellowship to study English in the United States.
Later, I became the first female in Guinea to lead a Cabinet Ministry dedicated solely to the promotion of women's affairs at the young age of 36 years; thrust into a position of political prominence. In this role, I made a nationwide tour of Guinea to learn first-hand, the conditions of women's challenges in work and welfare – I found the challenges were diverse and complicated. From this one month tour, I made a report to the national government to establish policies on women's rights.
For example, I promoted my belief that lessons for galvanizing strategies to strengthen women rights while nurturing democratic development in places like Guinea, starts with a good education for young girls by making them confident and self- reliable; it begins with promoting equal access to school for boys and girls; it begins with ending forced and early marriages and the horrors of female genital mutilation.
Nowadays, I invest myself in civil society activism as the Secretary General of the Network of African Women Ministers and Parliamentarians (NEWMAP) of Guinea. It is comprised of women leaders from different sectors. We lobby to move the agenda forward on women rights, women's roles and women's responsibilities. This Network played a key role in maintaining peace in Guinea during legislative elections. More than a thousand women, wearing white, led by the Network, organized a Peace Walk in Conakry to bring both the Government and the Opposition to sign a global agreement for holding legislative elections on September 28, 2013.
Before these elections, we led a delegation to the CENI, the independent body for organizing elections in Guinea, to require as permitted by law, that at least 30% of the candidates on the electoral lists of political parties should be Women. During the elections themselves, my Network built a big Coalition with 235 organizations. Through collaborative efforts, we trained 650 women observers. For the first time in Guinea, women observed and reported on election activities and security-related incidences. As a considerable segment of civil society, women tested the legality of the vote. But believe me, as a woman, nothing has been easy - What men have to do once, women have to do twice, even three times in some circumstances!
Today in Guinea, we are faced with the Ebola virus. My Network is involved in fighting this epidemic and with the assistance of Urgent Action Fund-Africa, present in this room today, we are doing more than we could by ourselves - I thank you Urgent Action Fund-AFRICA. By partnering from the bottom up and the top down, we help build a foundation that enables others to stand and rise above disease and poverty, and secure rights under democratic governance. We continue to lift the ceiling of oppression and violence by having strong commitment and taking actions while it is required.
When politics in favor of women rights are not fully implemented, the solution must be the empowerment of women. Half measures and partial remedies cannot address the whole problem. To be in a position of political decision making, women need to be competent and given an opportunity to have access to resources to get involved in politics; and the link must be established between public funding and gender equality within political parties. Women in Africa often refrain from involving themselves in politics due to traditional values – We are taught to remain silent.
African women always campaign for male candidates and end up staying in the shadows, are overlooked regarding political affairs. I have some words from Hillary Clinton I would like to share:
"Too many women, in too many countries, speak the same language, one of silence"
Let us speak the language of courage. Women should stand for themselves and support each other by understanding that we are powerful in numbers. Women should bring together the people who share the same views by assembling and networking. When women do not have the financial means to campaign, sponsors who are champions of women's rights must intervene to support them because their win is a win for justice and democracy. Women must exercise their right to govern.
A critical mass of women in elected positions introduces different and diverse perspectives, skills and approaches to public policy-making on issues of national importance. Africa currently has only two female Presidents - Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. In sharp contract however, African internal conflicts are among the worst in the world. Boko Haram is a huge destructive force for human beings, but especially for women. Capturing young girls from school and transforming them into human bombs can be compared to the holocaust. What are African women doing to stop this insane behavior?
Demonstrating to "bring back our girls" is not enough.
If African women were a part of the decision making superstructure, putting a stop to Boko Haram would have been made a priority long ago. In fact, the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary General of the United Nations called upon governments to take concrete measures for implementing the 1325 Resolution. This Resolution demands that State members put more women on the national, regional and international directing board of conflict prevention, management and resolution. The equal right to fully participate in decision making is essential for effective solutions for all issues within a society knowing that women represent more than fifty percent of the population.
For this reason, the well-balanced participation of men and women in political and public decision-making is a necessity for those of us committed to human rights, social justice and good governance in order to make the promise of a democratic society a reality for everyone. Women leaders must be transformative leaders and political role models. We must dare, always dare, and dare again to be engaged politically, otherwise, nothing is gained.
Thank you, very much.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hadja Makalé Camara, is the Secretary General of Network of Women Ministers and Parliamentarians of Guinea. From 2007 to 2011, she was Ambassador to France, Spain, Portugal, Monaco, UNESCO, etc. Prior she was Ambassador to Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania & Cape Verde. She established diplomatic relations between Guinea and South Korea when Ban Ki-moon was Foreign Minister in Seoul. Camera has served as the Minister of Social Affairs, Women Protection and Childhood, and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Breeding.
Camera has several academic qualifications including a Master’s degree in Labor Law. She is a former Humphrey Fellow.
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