On Friday March 17, 2017, Ms Graça Machel, who is the founder of the Graça Machel Trust, launched in Dar es Salaam, a new initiative called Women Advancing Africa (WAA).
As a former first lady, and the wife of South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela, she has taken a leading role the economic liberation of women. The Citizen News Editor Esther Karin Mngodo met with Ms Machel to discuss the vision of one of Africa’s most revered women:
How did WAA begin?
We have recognisable women leaders in the political arena, and other sectoral meetings, such as health, telecoms, etc. But there is a void when it comes to a platform for women in the economic sphere. As a Trust, our focus has been on the economy.
We do focus on education and women’s rights. But when it comes to women’s rights, our focus is on the economy. We believe that is where progress has been low, and there is no clarity among women themselves on where they want to be in five or ten years.
So, we decided to launch this initiative we call Women Advancing Africa to recognise, celebrate, to value what we have achieved. To build connections, synergies, to encourage one another and to feel that this time is ours in a pan-african movement.
WAA isn’t the first to advocate for women’s financial inclusion. What makes it different from what is already there?
I must say there are some national and sub-regional initiatives. But we do not know of a pan-African space in which women come together and talk, strategise and plan together. And this is what we thought to begin to do every two years.
Women Advancing Africa is a platform for women in different sectors be in business, entrepreneurship, science, communications, to come together and say, where are we today and where do we want to be. We don’t believe in progress made by stand-alones. We believe that progress can be made at a national level when we bring together women associations existing to work together. Networking is always our option, whether you are in construction, mining, any field. You are not going to be able to move alone in your field.
There are things, which are common to all of us, regardless of which field we are. So, we base our work on national networks, but we believe also, barriers in Tanzania are also barriers in Zambia, Uganda, Mozambique. So, why should we struggle alone?
Any one of our countries have common issues with other countries on the continent, which have to be addressed as a movement. We must hold hands and share knowledge and expertise. That is what we offer through WAA. It is a space to walk hand-in-hand, a place to transmit the energy of creativity and innovation which exists in Nigeria and Ghana to influence women in Uganda and Rwanda.
The energy of innovation and creativity which can be experienced in DRC to influence women in Malawi. That is how our pan-african movement will make us strong, united and unstoppable.
We claim our right to sit where decisions are made. We claim our right to shape policies, to shape plans and strategies. We claim our rights to access resources in a variety of forms – information, skills, financial, removal of legal obstacles. We want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners, to change women are regarded and treated. There are very good policies. Yet in practice, women are not regarded as equal.
We are going to assert in this second struggle, that equality is not a favour. We know it is not going to be given to us, but we are going to conquer it. For us to do that, we need this space to learn from one another, to empower women, to fight this together, to set priorities on a common agenda. If we are fragmented, working at many things at the same time, we are not going to move or make progress.
In what ways would women be able to benefit from WAA?
WAA is a platform for women to discover where they can sell their products – how we can increase intra-Africa trade. It is important to trade with China, and the US, and the UK, but to transform this continent, we have to learn how to trade with other people – men and women – inside the continent. This is how you understand the market in Togo, where you have never heard of. And what kind of products you should sell in Niger. Talk to them and build a sisterhood. That is why we chose these pillars carefully, particularly for African markets. We have the ability to make it.
We would like to suggest that different leaders in business networks in this country, to take this as yours. You are the voice of other women. Do not be afraid to showcase what you have achieved. Tell the stories and allow people to speak on their own behalf. That is a principle to being free. And when you speak on your own behalf, you are also saying ‘we’ collectively agree. This is an opportunity for Tanzania to take the lead in this second liberation in Africa.
As a young girl, did you ever see yourself taking the role of a mother in Africa, leading a movement and uniting women across borders in the continent? How did you get here?
When we are much younger, we tend to look at the environment which we are. We seek for opportunities for us to grow and in the realities which you are propelled to be in a certain platform. That platform, opens to you eyes and ears to understand much broader issues than what you understood when you were much younger.
I never thought when I was in my primary or secondary education that I could be a special representative for the UN Secretary General. Once I did my work as Minister of Education, and fortunately, we developed some strategies which became reference for the global community to say, this is how we have to deal with children in situations of conflict, then they asked me to leave the team which was global under the UN. It was just an opportunity that was opened to me along the implementation of programs which I believed in and felt very strongly about. And then you grow in the process.
Coming to what I am doing now, I have been involved in promoting girls education. I am one of the founders of FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationalists). I participated on that. But also, I have been part of emancipation of women for political positions. In that process, I realised that there is something missing and that is the economic liberation of women in Africa.
While there are many others who are going to be part of the political struggle for women, like now we are looking at who is going to be the next female president when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf steps down, other people are working on that. I felt like no one is driving a pan african initiative in the economic area.
As a girl, I never saw myself as First Lady, I must say that. Even in my early years, I grew as Minister of Education and not as First Lady. Much later, even when I married Madiba, I had embraced my causes with women’s rights, I continued to do that. It wasn’t because I was Madiba’s wife.
I must say, one of the reasons we had this empathy and our identity came to meet each other is because we were concerned with the same issues. We discovered that the issues I was concerned with were the same as his. So we gave hand-to-hand with each other to continue to work together. But in my case, it was not the position of First Lady which has defined me to be in the platforms which I now am. And as you know, I lost my first husband and that was when I did my work with the United Nations. Now that Madiba is no longer there, I continue to do my work. I think it is the case of choosing the causes you embrace.
We chose Tanzania because Tanzania is the cradle of political liberation. I am one of those who lived in that period of political liberation. All of us, we owe to Tanzania. We have learnt from Tanzania, lessons which have instilled our dreams and vision of what it means to empower people. We got in Tanzania, all kinds of support you can think of. In every village, everyone knew about Frelimo, ANC, Zanu and all of us.
We were supported by ordinary people in this nation. And the liberty of this country gave us what they could not even have for themselves. But they mobilised themselves to support the liberation movement. If we are free today, we have to bow to Tanzania today. We cannot thank you enough. But because words are short, we will say it a million times – thank you, thank you, thank you.
But because we believe that now we are in the second kind of liberation, which is the economic liberation, we thought we should come here to Tanzania for inspiration. We are here to connect with our history, our past, so we are grounded on how to go about with this second phase in which we as women, we are determined to take the centre stage. Not to be marginal. Women are confident. Women are determined in this economic liberation struggle. Yes, we are going to take that centre stage.
I have a strong emotional attachment here. I always have felt that Tanzania has given to continent. This country gave us the best. And it was not rich in those days. Tanzania did not have much of resources. But it was the heart and the minds of Tanzanian people who gave us the strength to propel us to be free. It is our obligation to say, we recognise and value you.
I am Mwalimu’s child. Mwalimu is my mentor. We never sat down to say he is mentoring me. But I followed him very carefully. I listened to him hundreds of times when he was addressing people. I observed how he carried himself as leader of this country and leader of the continent and leader of the globe, actually. I think he is one of the best examples which I have come across to my life. He is an inspiration to me.
It happens that we also had a family relationship which strengthened that. So, Tanzania as our cradle for liberation movement. Mara is Mwalimu and Mama Maria’s region. They are my family. If I have to make a contribution, knowing that there is a challenge there when it comes to children’s righs, why not start there?
Why focus on women in economic liberation at this time?
We believe that this is not a women’s issue. This is a national, sub regional, continental agreement. Why should we begin focusing on women, it is because we need to overcome those traditional sentiments of being timid, not being bold enough. But also we need to have our message clear.
We need to organise ourselves so that when we sit at the table with leaders, our partners, we say exactly what are the issues today and where we want to be tomorrow. And for that, we need to be strong amongst ourselves.
But we also need this opportunity for all those who are concerned with equity and equality and social justice. As I said, it is not a “women’s issue”. It is a development issue. It is a social justice issue.
We are going to be here, bringing women in our network. It is not by chance that we have had women speak about their work during the launch. We want to showcase our network. We want to show that women are working, they are already making progress. But we want a variety of women in a variety of sectors who are the best examples of the progress women have made. You see a diversity in African women in Dar es Salaam, young and old like me.
This will be the learning space in which we can in future, shape together and shape better how we want to present ourselves in Africa, how we want to change Africa but also how we want African women to present themselves to the world.
Together, we are in charge in putting African women at the centre stage in Africa and globally. We have already become lessons in fact, on how African women have become better than other women in the world. But we need to put this very clearly. What is it we think we can offer, inspire other women in the world.
We are absolutely sure that this nation, this continent will not advance unless women are at the driving seat. We are going to advance our continent while we are advancing ourselves. And we are going to make our continent more prosperous while we are changing ourselves. And we contribute this way.
That is why the pillars for this forum is financial inclusion, access to markets and social change. Many times, when we discuss the economy, we dwell in numbers, in shillings. We need to go beyond that, to know these are only tools to achieve social justice.
So must begin to address the transformation of equality, which will result to the transformation of women themselves. For we will have conscious citizens. We chose financial inclusion because anyone interested in business will know that access to capital is a challenge. We felt that these pillars are cross cutting.