A new networking group launched earlier this month hopes to stimulate women’s leadership in Africa and increase their participation and influence in politics and peacemaking.
The African Women Leaders Network aims to become a platform to advance, train and support female leaders. The network will also push for policies that empower and enable women across the political, economic and humanitarian fields.
A collaboration between UN Women, the African Union Commission and the Permanent Mission of Germany, AWLN emerged from a three-day forum including women leaders and youth representing African governments, international aid organizations and civil society groups held at the United Nations New York headquarters.
“We would hope that we would also use this network to push for the many good agreements, laws, conventions that already exist in Africa that are not being well implemented,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, told Devex.
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“We’ll identify a few of those that can essentially be low hanging fruit, because the context of implementation does exist but the buy-in is low. So give them a push and engage with leaders in many countries at the same time so we can build momentum and a much bigger voice on the continent on those issues.”
A preliminary priority for AWLN will be to increase women’s participation in upcoming elections, including in the national polls scheduled to take place in Rwanda, Kenya and Liberia this year. Leaders already associated with the network agreed to encourage and prepare women for public office, as well as work toward combatting the inherent challenges, including lack of access to campaign finance and violence against women.
“We have mapped out the different things that need to happen in those different countries, including being known to the independent electoral commission of those countries,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
In order to promote the inclusion of young women with diverse backgrounds, the network plans to work at the grassroots level, to provide an entry point for mentorships to develop.
AWLN also plans to conduct “solidarity visits” to countries facing strife and other difficulties, including South Sudan, Burundi and countries in the Sahel, Mlambo-Ngcuka told Devex.
These visits would include bringing together partners with opposing views within the same country. The idea is that with women’s cohesion representing different sides of a discourse, other leaders will take heed. The meetings will allow high-level women delegates to share their own experiences of overcoming similar challenges.
Creating AWLN was about “really forming consensus among women,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “They have to go back now and test this and appeal together to defuse tensions by being together to create an environment where mediation and tolerance is possible,” she said.
The next AWLN meeting is scheduled for February 2018, in Addis Ababa.
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