Thursday, March 3, 2016

Celebrating the Pan African Women's Organisation on International Women's Day

Let me first start by saying that the month of March is one of my favourite months in the year. Scratch that. The month of March is my favourite month in the year. You may ask why. Several personal and professional events take place in March. All my children have their birthdays in March; my mentor and friend, Carlos Lopes, has his birthday in March; my wedding anniversary is in March (mental note to self-buy a present); it is the independence anniversary of my motherland Ghana and most importantly, we celebrate International Women's Day (IWD). The International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on the 8th of March and in many countries is used to showcase the political and social struggles of women worldwide in a hopeful manner. This year’s theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

Celebrating our own
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, I would like to pay tribute to one of the greatest women’s organisations on the African continent. This organisation has dedicated its existence to the continuous empowerment of the African women. Sadly, this is one of the least known of the pan Africanist organisations, even though it is older than the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU). I personally was only introduced to this organisation a couple of years ago.

I wish to celebrate the Pan African Women's Organisation (PAWO). PAWO was founded in 1962, a year before the OAU was formed in 1963. This means that whilst the men of the continent were debating whether African unity meant economic unity or political unity (the now infamous Casablanca Group versus the Monrovia Group), the women of the continent had resolved to unite and did indeed unite, despite the artificial barriers of languages, political opinions prevailing at the time. 

Feminism in the Pan African narrative
The Pan African Women`s Organisation, (PAWO) has a special place in African history, being one of the oldest Africa wide organisations in the continent. But very little is known about the inception and even the current work of the organization. This is in contrast to the OAU where the founders are seen as great men of vision and worth. We salute Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Sekou Toure, and Julius Nyerere for the roles they played in the Pan African story. Other freedom fighters such as Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Cheikh Anta Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Amilcar Cabral, JE Casely Hayford, are named as standing for the unification and liberation struggle. 

Indeed, the outcome of the liberation struggle affected both men and women. One question no one asks however, is how come the narrative of African unity not have the names of any of the many women who also sacrificed and dedicated their lives to the liberation and emancipation of the African continent? Where were the women when the men were purportedly making history? Why are there no women in our pan African story? I do not believe it is as a result of indifference. Herstory (as opposed to history) indeed tells us of many women who dedicated their lives to support the push for independence and African unity. We need to celebrate them. 

Women of substance
Have you heard about Mrs. Jeanne Martin Cisse of Guinea who became first Secretary General of PAWO? A distinguished diplomat, an extraordinarily experienced politician in her home country and a mother of six, she broke many glass ceilings for women generally and African women specifically. She became the first female President of the UN Security Council. At the ripe age of 80, she is still fighting the cause of women worldwide. In an interview in 1972, she is widely quoted as saying ‘…men didn’t liberate Africa by themselves. They did need the woman’s part in the struggle...’. {word!}
Indeed, women belonging to many liberation movements worked tirelessly through PAWO and other political organisations to spearhead the struggle for political freedom and for the full emancipation of women in our continent.
Another great foremother of African Unity is Madam Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania.   Madam Mongella must be celebrated and applauded. She was instrumental in the targets and achievements chalked on behalf of all women at the Beijing Conference where she was the UN chair, thus getting her the name ‘Mama Beijing’ and many other portfolios where she has championed the cause of African women’s rights. She became the first president of the Pan African Parliament and continues to play a strong role in the general empowerment of women across the globe. 
More women of substance
As we celebrate IWD 2016, let us also celebrate the silent roles that African women have played since the dawn of time in ensuring that our pan African dream shall soon be achieved. May I use this opportunity to applaud the work of women, both living and passed, that have supported the pan African story and continue to support as we weave our destiny and that of our children.  Madame Ruth Neto, Ama Ghana, Queen Nzinga of Matamba, Mrs. Diallo Virginie Camara, Empress Taito, Winnie Mandela, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Yaa Asantewaa, Kaigiwara the Nyabingi Priestess and many more women whose names and activities cannot be found even on Google. 
Do you know any great women of herstory who contributed to African unity at a local national or pan African level? Share your stories with me on


  1. Excellent article, Rebecca. How can Coaches Without Borders support what you see?

  2. Dear Deb, thanks for making time to read the blog. Lets' definitely catch up soon and strategise on using CWOB more. love. Rx