SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PAN AFRICAN WOMEN ORGANISATION’S PRESIDENT MADAME ASSETOU KOITE, AT THE 56TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF PAWO
THE PAN AFRICA WOMEN’S HIGH LEVEL PANEL ON THE REVITALIZATION OF PAWO

HELD ON 30 JULY 2018 AT THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND CO-OPERATION, PRETORIA

The Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women Hon Bathabile Dlamini;
The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Hon Lindiwe Sisulu;
Members of the diplomatic corps
UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office (UN WOMEN) Themba Kalua;

Distinguished Guests;
I am deeply honored that this historical movement on the continent has mobilized all of you to come and join us as we look back in order to look forward. As the old adage goes if you do not know where you come from you cannot claim to know where you are going.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

From Queen Nzinga Mbande to Albertina Sisulu women have not only been at the forefront of historical moments, they have also led with great aplomb. As a Queen, Nzinga Mbande resisted the early thrusts of colonialism whilst building an empire which could revival any other in the world.
In Ethiopia, it was Queen Taytu Betul (c.1851–1918), wife of Menelik (King of Shoa and later Negus Negast or King of Kings) who deftly shielded Ethiopia from colonialism.
She is credited for devising a plan that led to the Ethiopian victory at Makalle, it is said that her presence was crucial in the Ethiopian victory at Adwa in 1896, the most significant victory of any African army during the climax of European colonialism. At every phase of numerous moments, women have been the trailblazers.

It is little wonder that even in Africa’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress, the seismic changes both in society and in liberation movements were made at the behest of women.

Despite being one of the last countries to break the shackles of colonialism it also has one of the oldest female formations on the continent, in form of the Bantu Women’s league which has now become the ANC Women’s League 1918 by one of our earliest women activists, Dr Charlotte Maxeke.
One of the issues at stake was the carrying of passes by black women. The pass came to be seen as a symbol of oppression and the Bantu Women’s League was created in protest of this. Black men had already been required to carry passes for some time. White men and women did not have to carry passes.
Prior to its formation a group of women led by Charlotte Maxeke burned their passes in front of municipal offices, staged protest marches, sang slogans and fought with the police 1913.

This was of the first protests of defiance against the apartheid regime. Writer, Sol Plaatjie commented on their strength and courage when he went to see them in the Kroonstad Prison. ‘They don’t care‘, he wrote in Tsala ea Batho, even if they die in jail. They swear they will cure that madness; they will stop their protest only when the law prevents policemen from stopping and demanding passes from other men’s wives?

In 1914, the South African colonial government had to respond to Charlotte Maxeke and her group by relaxing the women’s pass laws and their resistance ended in 1914.
This act of defiance was replicated in 1956 9 August when South African women led a total revolt against pass laws. Led by Albertina Sisulu and other gallant women.
It is therefore unsurprising that great women like Jeanne Martin Cissé of Guinea the founder and first Secretary General of the Pan-African Women’s Organization (PAWO) had the foresight to create a continental organisation that sort to:
Advance unity amongst African states, eradicate the blatant violation of human rights, and
Advance the struggle of women to participate in decision making in politics, economics, cultural and social spaces.
This historic day on 31 July 1962 Tanzania, was somewhat replicated in the form of the Organization for African Unity, currently known as the African Union. Once again women on the African continent have leading the charge both in vision and in action.
Since our formation we still hear statements like “women’s activism are a product of corrupting Western feminist influences”. But there a pockets of excellence on the African continent where we see progress in the way of gender parity on the continent, but the resistance is to advancing women’s rights continues.
This is a true testament to these wise words of counsel by author and novelists Zadie Smith “Progress is never permanent, [it] will always be threatened, [it] must be redoubled, [it must be] restated and reimagined if it is to survive,”

As such a number African states have emerged as world leaders in promoting women in leadership positions, this has not stemmed the tide when it comes to patriarchal and misogynist conduct in society.

Our continent historically has been blessed with numerous female revolutionaries. Moreover, what is evident is that PAWO became a transnational feminist movement. This movement has been instrumental in forging international consensus on a rights-based approach to women’s rights.

Continental and sub-regional influences are for domestic politics, serving as a critical conduit for changing international norms. In this sense, they are perhaps more important than global transnational influences as a vehicle for changing the status of women.

Today, most of the impetus for change comes from within Africa and from regional-level networks. This may explain why there is greater openness to these changing norms at present, even as resistance to advancing women’s rights continues. Africa has, for example, emerged as a global leader in promoting women’s leadership in politics.
To this end it is critical that a formation like PAWO unites and organizes women cadre who are skilled –educated, gifted with leadership and organizational skills, to ensure that gender equality truly manifests itself in our society. It is for this reason that the celebration of Pan African Women’s Day has been themed “Celebrating a Legacy of Liberation by the Pan African Women: Taking Forward the Struggle for Gender Equality”.

It is clarion call for the continent to honour a women’s contribution to the decolonization of the African continent. It is also a call to action for the continent to take forward the struggle for gender equality.

Having been declared as a special agency of the African Union last year, this year’s celebrations will focus on women on the continent.

We must ask ourselves what it means to move the baton from Queen Nzinga, Jean Martin Cisse, Maria Ruth Neto, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Gertrude Mongella, Wangari Mathaii, Albetina Sisulu and many others to the next generation.

How do we re-calibrate the women’s movement so that it can continue to champion issues which relate to the plight of women? What does it mean re-imagine society to address achieve real gender equality, the women of yesteryear are not only our refuge but an indelible rock of inspiration.
I wish to thank you all for coming and being with us on this very historic day.
May we fruitful deliberations that will reposition this glorious movement to be a movement of solidarity, champions of peace and conflict resolution and a champion of women’s economic emancipation.

AWO

HELD ON 30 JULY 2018 AT THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND CO-OPERATION, PRETORIA
The Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women Hon Bathabile Dlamini;
The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Hon Lindiwe Sisulu;
Members of the diplomatic corps
UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office (UN WOMEN) Themba Kalua;
Distinguished Guests;
I am deeply honored that this historical movement on the continent has mobilized all of you to come and join us as we look back in order to look forward. As the old adage goes if you do not know where you come from you cannot claim to know where you are going.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

From Queen Nzinga Mbande to Albertina Sisulu women have not only been at the forefront of historical moments, they have also led with great aplomb. As a Queen, Nzinga Mbande resisted the early thrusts of colonialism whilst building an empire which could revival any other in the world.
In Ethiopia, it was Queen Taytu Betul (c.1851–1918), wife of Menelik (King of Shoa and later Negus Negast or King of Kings) who deftly shielded Ethiopia from colonialism.
She is credited for devising a plan that led to the Ethiopian victory at Makalle, it is said that her presence was crucial in the Ethiopian victory at Adwa in 1896, the most significant victory of any African army during the climax of European colonialism. At every phase of numerous moments, women have been the trailblazers.

It is little wonder that even in Africa’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress, the seismic changes both in society and in liberation movements were made at the behest of women.

Despite being one of the last countries to break the shackles of colonialism it also has one of the oldest female formations on the continent, in form of the Bantu Women’s league which has now become the ANC Women’s League 1918 by one of our earliest women activists, Dr Charlotte Maxeke.
One of the issues at stake was the carrying of passes by black women. The pass came to be seen as a symbol of oppression and the Bantu Women’s League was created in protest of this. Black men had already been required to carry passes for some time. White men and women did not have to carry passes.
Prior to its formation a group of women led by Charlotte Maxeke burned their passes in front of municipal offices, staged protest marches, sang slogans and fought with the police 1913.

This was of the first protests of defiance against the apartheid regime. Writer, Sol Plaatjie commented on their strength and courage when he went to see them in the Kroonstad Prison. ‘They don’t care‘, he wrote in Tsala ea Batho, even if they die in jail. They swear they will cure that madness; they will stop their protest only when the law prevents policemen from stopping and demanding passes from other men’s wives?

In 1914, the South African colonial government had to respond to Charlotte Maxeke and her group by relaxing the women’s pass laws and their resistance ended in 1914.
This act of defiance was replicated in 1956 9 August when South African women led a total revolt against pass laws. Led by Albertina Sisulu and other gallant women.
It is therefore unsurprising that great women like Jeanne Martin Cissé of Guinea the founder and first Secretary General of the Pan-African Women’s Organization (PAWO) had the foresight to create a continental organisation that sort to:
Advance unity amongst African states, eradicate the blatant violation of human rights, and
Advance the struggle of women to participate in decision making in politics, economics, cultural and social spaces.
This historic day on 31 July 1962 Tanzania, was somewhat replicated in the form of the Organization for African Unity, currently known as the African Union. Once again women on the African continent have leading the charge both in vision and in action.
Since our formation we still hear statements like “women’s activism are a product of corrupting Western feminist influences”. But there a pockets of excellence on the African continent where we see progress in the way of gender parity on the continent, but the resistance is to advancing women’s rights continues.
This is a true testament to these wise words of counsel by author and novelists Zadie Smith “Progress is never permanent, [it] will always be threatened, [it] must be redoubled, [it must be] restated and reimagined if it is to survive,”

As such a number African states have emerged as world leaders in promoting women in leadership positions, this has not stemmed the tide when it comes to patriarchal and misogynist conduct in society.

Our continent historically has been blessed with numerous female revolutionaries. Moreover, what is evident is that PAWO became a transnational feminist movement. This movement has been instrumental in forging international consensus on a rights-based approach to women’s rights.

Continental and sub-regional influences are for domestic politics, serving as a critical conduit for changing international norms. In this sense, they are perhaps more important than global transnational influences as a vehicle for changing the status of women.

Today, most of the impetus for change comes from within Africa and from regional-level networks. This may explain why there is greater openness to these changing norms at present, even as resistance to advancing women’s rights continues. Africa has, for example, emerged as a global leader in promoting women’s leadership in politics.
To this end it is critical that a formation like PAWO unites and organizes women cadre who are skilled –educated, gifted with leadership and organizational skills, to ensure that gender equality truly manifests itself in our society. It is for this reason that the celebration of Pan African Women’s Day has been themed “Celebrating a Legacy of Liberation by the Pan African Women: Taking Forward the Struggle for Gender Equality”.

It is clarion call for the continent to honour a women’s contribution to the decolonization of the African continent. It is also a call to action for the continent to take forward the struggle for gender equality.

Having been declared as a special agency of the African Union last year, this year’s celebrations will focus on women on the continent.

We must ask ourselves what it means to move the baton from Queen Nzinga, Jean Martin Cisse, Maria Ruth Neto, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Gertrude Mongella, Wangari Mathaii, Albetina Sisulu and many others to the next generation.

How do we re-calibrate the women’s movement so that it can continue to champion issues which relate to the plight of women? What does it mean re-imagine society to address achieve real gender equality, the women of yesteryear are not only our refuge but an indelible rock of inspiration.
I wish to thank you all for coming and being with us on this very historic day.
May we fruitful deliberations that will reposition this glorious movement to be a movement of solidarity, champions of peace and conflict resolution and a champion of women’s economic emancipation.

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