Finding Womankind’s role in supporting the African women’s rights movement

Laura Brown – 17th March 2017

This month, I am camping out at the offices of FEMNET – The African Women’s Development and Communication Network in Nairobi. For those not in the know, FEMNET is the only member-based women’s rights network stretching across 5 regions of Africa (North, East, Southern, Central and West) and currently has over 500 members. Through advocacy initiatives, multiple communication channels and strengthening women’s rights organisations, FEMNET and its members present a powerful collective in the African women’s rights movement, able to address barriers to the attainment of women’s rights AT SCALE on the economy, violence against women and girls, women’s leadership and sexual and reproductive health.

FEMNET has a unique Pan-African identify – its membership comprises of strong, skilled, African feminists from across the continent with a deep knowledge of gender injustice in all its forms. FEMNET was conceived and born out of demands made by African women after key moments like the Third World Conference on Women in Arusha, Tanzania in October 1984. It is therefore 100% home-grown.

So I’ve been asking myself as Womankind’s Movement and Network Capacity Manager, what is our legitimate role in supporting the African women’s rights movement as a UK based organisation, not made up of diaspora Africans, not speaking local African languages and not based on the continent? I’m also asking myself what is my role here? I’m a white, British, middle class, able-bodied, straight woman – a real privilege layer cake. There can be no doubt that we all view the world through our own individual frame as we were reminded of by a commentator at the AWID Forum in Brazil in 2016 – . So I’m ‘checking my privilege’ daily  and this is also helping me to shape Womankind’s thinking on our role and approach to supporting the diverse African women’s rights movement.

A key starting point for us under our new strategy is that Womankind is a movement building enabler and is not building movements. This is an important distinction. FEMNET is leading movement building in Africa and we must take ourselves out of the frontline and follow their lead. FEMNET and Womankind certainly have a lot in common and the potential to collaborate is huge. However, before we identify ‘the what’ of collaboration, we must establish ‘the how’ and I think this can be summarised in a few brief steps. These steps aren’t revolutionary new ideas at all, but I think they can all too easily be forgotten under pressure for results and falling back on old patterns of power. Global gender justice is a long game we are all fighting for so a considered, respectful approach between actors is vital to sustain it.

Step One – all women are affected by patriarchy regardless of where we live. This gives us a starting point as allies working in solidarity for gender justice. In this way we are all part of the global women’s rights movement and can justify working together to further our goal.

Step Two – whilst step one is key, Womankind must actively understand our privilege and not perpetuate power imbalances or behaviour found in patriarchal systems in our engagement with women’s rights movements.

Step Three – Deep active listening. It is perhaps too simple to say this but it is so easy to meet with others with pre-conceived ideas of what we think should be done. Active listening is where the gold is found.

Step Four Validate ideas. It is not enough to listen and summarise, we must also validate what we have heard to ensure we haven’t again filtered it through our biases, prejudices and pre-determined agendas.

Step Five – Ongoing communication is key to collaboration. Within this it is important to be open and honest when things are going well and when there are challenges. It is also important that space to be ‘called out’ for our privileged behaviour is found. This builds trust for the long-term.

Of photos of African women on the dollar & women’s economic participation,  #FEMNET@CSW61 #CSW61. Click to Read

Of photos of African women on the dollar & women’s economic participation

In this 21st Century, we have lived to see women walk in space, fly aero planes, operate mean war machines and discover cures for globally destabilizing diseases.

In Africa, the cradle for human kind, we have seen women fight to their graves for a motherland that hardly recognizes their efforts; women holding half the sky in conflict situations that can tear a heart into shreds and we have seen women working bare knuckles to feed generations from absolute scratch.

While women continue to be maligned and side-lined, those who have achieved are hardly ever recognized…not nationally, not regionally and hardly ever on the currency of any African country!

Is it not concerning that of all the 195 countries of the world, only 12 once have or at least feature the faces on women in their currency?   Of these twelve countries, none of them are from Africa!

To dissect the trail of inequality in global and regional economic dynamics is a painful journey of gender discrimination and violation.  Despite the vast contributions by women to the economic train across the region, women, especially those in Africa have swallowed the bitter-pill of inequality at the economic platform in ways that can hardly be fully comprehended. And while inequality is so widespread so are the gaps that speak loudly of gender bias and discrimination.

In a recent desk study commissioned by the African Women’s Communications and Development Network, FEMNET, despite Africa having largely outgrown its donor dependency, the continent faces a much bigger and more complicated economic dilemma.

The report, Engendering Illicit Financial Flows Discourse & Strengthening Women Participation 2016 paints a gloomy picture of Economic vandalism and financial meltdown that is slowly pushing Africa back to its knees.

Illegal Financial Flows, capped by illegal taxation, tax evasions and human trafficking amongst others are strangling the economic progression of most African Countries.   What’s more? The biggest percentage suffering the backlash of the illicit financial flows are the most marginalized of communities especially women.

And so Africa persistently bleeds through illicit financial flows and its biggest sufferers are women.

Statistics are depressing to say the least. Take an issue like taxation and equal pay to bridge the gender gap for instance.   A closer look at gender and taxation reveals gender inequalities at work, inequalities in access to and control over economic resources and asset ownership.

A closer look at gender and taxation clearly reveals that taxation is not gender-neutral.

Most tax systems consist of direct taxes on income and wealth; indirect taxes on consumption; property taxes; trade taxes and wealth and inheritance taxes.

In most African countries, direct tax accounts account for only a quarter of tax accounts while indirect taxes account for 2/3 of tax revenue.

Gender biases in tax systems are often a reflection of structural sources of gender inequalities in markets, households and state institutions.  Women are mostly in informal sector employment and frequently earn less than men.

Within households, women carry a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work and domestic work and are often responsible for purchasing consumer goods needed in the household.  Very few women make public policies.  Still, women contribute so much more than can be collectively consolidated and this “much more” is hardly ever remunerated and sadly, neither is it reflected on the dollar!

FEMNET and other partners are calling are advocating for a gender-just tax system.   Gender-aware tax justice advocacy revolves around calls for tax reforms of aspects of personal income tax aimed at eliminating explicit and implicit gender biases and that are neither pro-poor nor engendered.

Gender justice advocates have argued that personal income tax systems including the structure of rates, exemptions, deductions, allowances and credits could be designed to actively promote an equal sharing of both paid and unpaid work between women and men as well as eliminate incentives for the perpetuation of gender inequality.  There is also urgent need to eliminate explicit bias in personal income tax codes and legislation.

It is for this reason that FEMNET is clear on the following recommendations to bridge the gender gap;-

  • Replace joint filing with individual filing as has happened in Kenya
  • Lowering tax rates, or providing tax relief on female labor income.
  • Recognition of care work as an implicit tax and redistributing market and unpaid work between women and men
  • Zero-rating or reduced rates for the basket of basic consumption goods for value-added taxes

These types of reduction in taxes on basic necessitates would increase the disposable income of poor women and increase their bargaining power within households.

How then is all these related to faces of women on African currencies you may ask?  Well, it is simple.  All issues Economy and all issues Illicit Financial Flows have the bottom-line of currencies that drive economies.  Women must be at the center of these currencies to ensure they are never overlooked!

This week, women from across the globe converge in New York on the 61st session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to take stalk of global gender quality aspirations and interrogate just how much the world has engrained gender equality.

This year’s theme; Women’s Economic empowerment in the changing world of work is apt and spot on for Africa and the world at large to seriously re-think the economic  arithmetic that still undermine and violate women’s rights.   The gaps and loopholes of gender inequality within tax injustices and macro-economics are staggering.

This is why to begin with, Africa needs to re-think its approaches to the economic arithmetic and for equalities sake, first engender the currencies and let women share the limelight on the place that matters.

Concept note image

FEMNET @ CSW61 – Join us for the Side Event on Illicit Financial Flows & its Impact on Women & Girls in Africa

Globally, Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) are defined as the unrecorded and mostly untaxed illicit leakage of capital and resources out of a country. IFFs are mostly unrecorded because of deliberate misreporting. They are also associated with active attempts to hide their origin, destination, and true ownership; and often end up in secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens). Increasingly, Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) is an issue that cannot be ignored by CSOs and policy makers  because it  has featured prominently in the SDGs, Financing for Development (FFD)3 and UNCTAD as a key financing issues that needs urgent redress mechanisms. FEMNET has also noted that women’s voices are minimal in policy discussions around trade, and resource allocation and mobilizing women to engage in the discourse on curbing IFFs has been a challenge.

Africa losses approximately 60 billion of US dollars each year  through different types of Illicit Financial Flows which include commercial activities, lack of resources, tax evasion, tax avoidance, criminal activities, human trafficking, forced labor and corruption(AU IFF HLP, 2015 Report). The loss of revenue through IFFs negatively impacts on the ability of governments to invest in sectors that enhance equality such as education and health, which in turn hinders the women’s development agenda.  FEMNET in partnership with Trust Africa, Hivos and Urgent Action Fund-Africa will host a side event at the margins of CSW61 to provide a platform for women from the African continent and across the world to discuss: “Illicit Financial Flows and its impact on women and girls in Africa”.  

Overall goal
To strategically discuss IFFs and their gendered impact and implications on women and girls in Africa, and amplify the voice calling for actions to curb the Illicit Financial Flows.

Specific objectives:

  1. To share information on gender and IFFs, specifically findings from FEMNET’s research paper on gender and Illicit Financial Flows, Gendered impact of cooperation’s on women workers and resourcing impacts and link with IFFs.
  2. To provide a platform for dialogue with other organizations on how to effectively address this problem within the continent and globally
  3. To strengthen mobilization, networking and partnership building among CSOs for building sustained localised, national, regional and global campaigns on Illicit Financial Flows

Target participants
Participation at the side event will be open to all African women and other organizations attending the 61st session of the UN commission on the status of women (CSW61) in New York. Key decision and policy makers, representatives of African government delegations and permanent missions, other women activist from other continents and representatives of international NGOs (INGOs) will also be invited to attend for shared learning. Virtually, you can join and engage/ follow conversations on twitter handle @FEMNETProg and hashtags: #CSW61Africa #CSW61 #StopTheBleeding add the hashtags of Trust Africa and Hivos

 Proposed Agenda:-

  • Brief Presentations by:
  •  Welcome Remarks: Mrs Emma Kaliya, Chairperson, FEMNET Board
    => Andrew Odete, Hivos East Africa
    => Caroline Kiarie, Urgent Action Fund-Africa
    => Crystal Simeoni, FEMNET
    Moderator: Dinah Musindarwezo, FEMNET

Date: 14th March, Time: 12.30 – 14:00, Venue: Armenian Cultural Centre Room: Vartan Hall.

For more information contact: Crystal Simeoni, Head of Advocacy, FEMNET:

Check out Some Events to Watch out for at the CSW61- FEMNET, NGO CSW/Africa and some for our Members and Partners

Engage/ Follow conversations on:

Twitter: @FemnetProg

 #CSW61Africa            #CSW61              #StopTheBleeding

Fab Feminists

#BeBoldForChange; Team Fab Feminists at the Global Goals World Cup

On Sunday 5th March, FEMNET was part of 28 regional teams of passionate young women and girls that participated in the Global Goals World Cup (GGWCUP) that was hosted at the Impala Grounds in Nairobi. This football tournament, unlike normal football matches, was aimed at advocating for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and participating teams were to choose which goal to play for based on their daily works and passion.

FEMNET was represented by team FAB Feminists and were playing for SDG goal 5 and in particular targets 5.2 and 5.3 that focus on ending all forms violence against women and harmful practices such as FGM, and child marriage.

Team Fab Feminists was composed of women and girls brought together by resolve to see an Africa that is safe for the girls and women, an Africa where women and girls realize their full potential without gendered discrimination and an Africa that appreciates women and girls as equal agents of change.

Members of the team ranged from students to young women working towards the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights through advancing #SRHRDialogues in their communities and amongst the constituencies to young women politicians.

The football tournament was intended to challenge the stereotypical belief that women’s place is at the kitchen and enable women claim their space in the public and male dominated sphere of sports. The fact that it was an all female tournament sent out a strong message; that women too can do and own it! The GGWCUP was not an on the pitch affair only; teams were expected to advocate for the goal they are playing for off the pitch as well in efforts to rally the crowd, raise awareness on the SDGs and give visibility to the issue they were playing for. That being the case, Fab Feminists had mobilized a team of cheerleaders who, just like the playing unit, were young women passionate about a gender equal society and dismantling patriarchy. They cheered the playing unit on; chanting and challenging those in attendance to take action and end Violence against Women.

FEMNET  hosted a photo booth where messages on ending violence against women, female genital mutilation, child marriages were disseminated using various branded items such as hand flags, graffiti and  placards with various BOLD messages. Some of the notable messages were “Blow The Whistle Not My Destiny”, “Kick The Ball Not My Body”.

Fab Feminists seized the platform to demand for an end to Violence Against Women in both private or public spaces. From the Fab Feminists, the message was clear; women must be included in decision making at the grass root level but also at the policy making and implementation stage.

Fab feminists further decried the need to eliminate harmful practices against women and girls such as Early and forced child marriages that prevents them from enjoying their childhood and denies them sufficient empowerment.

The message was loud and clear; #WhatWomenWant is to KICK OUT All forms of Violence against Women!!