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.

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!!


#SRHRDialogues on how to facilitate and advocate for #RightToHealth with a special focus on access to Contraception for Young Women Living with HIV

Insights from Juliana Odindo on #Voices

 Q1. What barriers do young women living with HIV face in accessing Contraception?

Young women living with HIV don’t have many contraceptive options. This is due to the fact that they are forced to reduce the pill burden  given that some of the Anti-retrovirals interact with some of the contraceptives. There are also challenges with service providers giving incorrect and coercive information (in some cases the women are illiterate, in some cases the language used is confusing or presents a different meaning to the woman i.e. if a nurse says “your tubes will be tied” the woman accepts the option knowing and assuming that her tubes can be untied at some point) . Young women especially do not have the confidence to probe for more information and in some instances there is just no time to ask more questions. The barriers are further amplified by the lack of variety in contraceptive options in  which case facilities offer only what they have. This creates a situation where there is no consistency in local and small facilities where most young women access contraceptives and pose a big challenge for those not on long term methods.

 Q2. What impact does this have on their sexual and reproductive health?

Young women living with HIV sometimes lose faith in service provision and the systems failure that they are forced to deal and contend with. This means that access for them is precarious which deprives young women living with HIV their voices, agency and control over their reproductive destinies and rights. This spirals into young women living with HIV ending up with children beyond their economic means, further amplifies the risk of infection for their children if not infected already including preventable infant mortality. In overall this has a negative effect on the health and well being of young women living including their sexual and reproductive health

Q3. What Policy and programs can address the barriers

 We need to avail resources for research  so that all the methods and options that are showing promising results should be finalized and released to into the market keeping to enable diversified access for young women living with HIV. This will enable us embody the leave no one behind principle as per 2030 agenda for sustainable development.  Available SRHR programs have documented challenges and recommendations that should be taken into account. We should leverage on the lessons learnt to design responsive, inclusive, integrated and comprehensive programs for enabling access to contraception for young women living with HIV.  Active participation of beneficiaries( in this case young women living with HIV)  is key and central as most successful programs have documented and emphasised on the need for meaningful engagement and participation.  Integration is  key to success, if the health system can be structured  in such a way that service providers have access to patients history without disjointment, this would facilitate access to holistic and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for young women living with HIV including better data management.

Q4. As a young woman leader, what has worked in shaping the leadership and meaningful engagement of young women in HIV response. Why?

 Mentorship has worked, this is because experience matters but with recognition that it should be directed and shaped to fit the lived realities and experiences of young women living with HIV. When shaping the leadership amongst young women living with HIV impact is demonstrated and linkages between contextual grassroots work and national, regional and global policy fostered. The overall funding decline for gender equality and women’s empowerment has affected the work of women rights organizations who interface with young living with HIV in communities. We therefore need access to  opportunities availed to enable young women living with HIV learn from the best leaders and funding that  recognizes social and technological innovation that facilitates young women living with HIV access to SRHR including family planning. This should extend to funding their contribution planning, policy and programming

 Q5. Moving forward Kindly outline what young women need and what is the role of various actors in making this happen?

In my opinion meaningful involvement of young women is not there yet as we still have very few young women in important spaces where decisions regarding our lives are made. Whenever efforts  made for us to be present, the end results has proven that it was tokenistic since in most case, nothing about your contribution features anywhere in the final policy documents. The few young women who are skilled and end up in the leadership positions are overwhelmed to the extent that they lose touch with the reality on the ground or are forced to transition from grassroots activism to policy advocacy at some point. Our communities don’t benefit from our representation; there should be a monitored bottom up approach and vice versa channels. Strengthen communication is required and also access to more opportunities for young women living with HIV to influence processes.

 Q6.What is your parting shot?

 Even among young women living with HIV there is diversity that no one magic bullet can address. This is how our contraception needs presents as well, especially interfaced with the special needs that comes with various ART regimens.  If I were in a position to do anything, I would look into the gaps and challenges that face the current systems and address them before I invest on any new method. Sometimes we don’t need new we just need improvements of the current.


 Read more about Juliana Odindo’s work and personal story  published on the International Aids Society  website where Juliana is a member -Growing up HIV; From Diagnosis To Activism


We Must Recognize the Care Economy and Redistribute Care Work This is #TheAfricaWeWant!

Research shows that women do over 75 per cent of all unpaid care work, with that proportion rising to even higher levels in some countries.[1] The socially defined norms entrenched in patriarchy assign this type of caring work as ‘women’s work’.

Unpaid care work takes place both in the household and in the wider community; it includes domestic work such as cooking and food preparation, cleaning, washing clothes, water and fuel collection, and direct care of people including children, older persons, persons with disabilities and able-bodied adults.

The Executive Director for the African Women’s Development & Communications Network (FEMNET) Dinah Musindarwezo while attending  the UN-Women High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment held in New York during the 71 UN General Assembly, September, 2016, made a resounding presentation highlighting the reality of the gaps in unpaid care work. The panel consisting of representatives of government, business, and civil society was chaired by the outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. It explored the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to improve economic outcomes for women, and promote women’s leadership in driving sustainable, inclusive, gender-responsive and environmentally sensitive economic development.

Contributing her perspectives to the released Report of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Ms Dinah Musindarwezo, joined other women’s rights advocates in calling for the recognition and valuing of all unpaid care work disproportionately done by women and girls especially those that are underprivileged and most marginalized.

This ‘call-to-action’ report sheds light on the centrality of unpaid work and care, which is one of the most pervasive and significant barriers to women’s economic empowerment noting that “the gender differences both in unpaid work and in all types of paid work are large and persistent, reflecting constraints on women’s economic opportunities and outcomes”.

Consisting for the most part of cleaning, cooking, and caring for children, the elderly or the sick, this work is carried out mainly by girls and women. Emphasizing the importance of care work, Dinah Musindarwezo argued that this work sustains countries’ economies as it maintains the current work force and nurtures the future work force. She added that this work is neither recognized nor given any value and as a result, it restricts women’s ability to earn income from paid work, channels women into low paid work, undermines girls’ education and thus their future earning potential, diminishes women’s health as they cannot enjoy leisure time and prevents women from participating fully in politics and decision making.

Ms Dinah Musindarwezo’s intervention at this High level event presented both the consequences and possible solutions[2] towards addressing unpaid care work as follows:-

The considerable time and opportunity-costs involved in unpaid care work have the following consequences on the care-givers majority of whom are women:-

  • restrict women’s ability to earn income from paid work,
  • channels women into low-paid work with poor conditions,
  • undermines girls and women’s education and thus their future earning potential,
  • diminishes women’s health,
  • reduces the time available for social activity and to have leisure time
  • prevents their full and meaningful participation in politics and economic decision-making.

 To rectify this:-

  1. Women and men should share unpaid care work more evenly.
  2. Governments should invest in high-quality public services essential to free up women’s time while also ensuring that quality care services are universally available.
  3. Carers should be actively included in decisions around care provision.
  4. Employers should be obliged by law to provide paid maternity and parental leave and flexible work proportionate with caring responsibilities.[3]
  5. Recognise, measure and value the amount of unpaid care work that is carried out by women. Time-use surveys have proved a valuable tool; donors and governments should look to fund such surveys in every country to count the full extent of unpaid care work

Dr. Mary Otieno, a lecturer and supervisor of Educational Planning and Policy Studies at the Kenyatta University and a member of FEMNET shares her experiences in a compelling opinion piece, “growing up as a ‘victim’ of unpaid care”. She was fortunate to escape its worst consequences and now uses her influence as an educator to speak against its negative effects on girls´ schooling.

To address this issue of unpaid care work and achieve wider change in African society, a comprehensive approach is needed. First is the recognition of the vast amount of unpaid care work being performed today and its central role in society, next is the reduction in the time and drudgery involved in providing care and finally, is the redistribution of responsibility for this care from households to the state through the provision of public services.

The inequalities of unpaid care work may be a new concept to internalize for many societies but a key fact is that it continues to be alive within patriarchal communities and thus must be addressed. Governments and policy makers must make this a priority if they truly care about bridging the existing inequality gender gaps.



[1] ODI (2016)  Women’s work: Mothers, children and the global childcare crisis at 1.5.16

[2]Woodroffe, Jessica and Capraro, Chiara. (May 2016) Breaking down the barriers: macroeconomic policies that promote women’s economic empowerment in the Gender & Development Network (GADN) Briefing  – accessible online

[3] Woodroffe, Jessica and Donald, Kate. (July 2014) Unpaid Care Work in the Gender & Development Network (GADN) Briefings –  accessible online