former first lady of south africa Greca MachelA human rights lawyer and philanthropist who was in Nairobi to launch the ‘New Faces, New Voices – Kenya’ initiative talks to Valerie Koga About her campaign to empower women.
What has been your best experience in the journey of rights advocacy?
When I was Minister of Education, all of Africa’s Ministers of Education and Culture came together to work and advocate for making girls’ education a policy.
We founded a network called the Forum of African Women Academics (FAWE), which is still based here in Kenya.
We campaigned for every African country to develop political agendas, especially education policy, to prioritize girls and develop strategies for girls to not only have assets, but to succeed within the system.
Today, there is no African country that does not have a policy on girls’ education. Now it is an African Union policy.
Of course, we still have challenges because we still have girls who are out of school. We still have girls who drop out. We still have girls who are getting into child marriage. The challenge is implementation.
Kenya is a country that has a policy on gender balance, yet has been struggling for the past 10 years to implement it. What do you think can be done to promote equality?
It is in the Constitution of Kenya that at least 30 percent of parliamentarians must be women. We said, let’s start with a target of 30 per cent so that one day you can reach 50 per cent. After more than 10 years, we have not reached 30 per cent.
It is no longer a question of policy, it is a question of implementation.
When you’re having an election, everyone participating in the election – political parties – have to make sure that at least 40 percent of the candidates in that party are women. If you have 40 percent, you can get 30 percent.
Need to say that, if you do not have 30 per cent, you cannot participate in the election. You have to ensure that women have the right to sit in Parliament.
With the work at New Faces New Voices, are you starting to see a change in the challenges women face?
Somebody was reminding me that a few years back, I came here and with the help of one of our networks, they organized a meeting with all the captains of the industry and we asked them why they don’t have women in leadership positions in their companies . ,
We said, there are many women in this country who are qualified, they have expertise and they have a lot of experience. Why don’t these companies take them on board?
It was a difficult conversation and we ended up saying, ‘It’s in your best interest, because your companies are going to do better if you have women on your boards, on your executive committees (XCOs); You will be very profitable.’
So it was not just a human rights issue for me but a business matter so that these companies can perform better. Many companies now have women in board positions, as chairpersons of boards, and even in excos.
We are improving women’s empowerment and liberation through networks and even through initiatives like Africhella, a gender lens initiative to provide capital for women.
It aims to provide an organization that will focus on putting financial resources in the hands of women; Women who are already in the formal economy.
Women are marginalized. When they grow individually and collectively, they grow the economy. But more importantly, they will transform societies.
Some women believe that they can only be small, but here they will find the confidence to know that we are not just made to be small, we can be big.
When a woman is big in the economy then the condition of her family is going to improve. Even in the extended family, she will help more people.
If you have three or four women in a community who are doing well, you reduce the poverty level as well.
What are your hopes for Africa?
It’s more than just expected. It is a question of determination to improve the standard of living of all. We are a continent with more poor people… where our education, health systems are not covering everyone. It is about how we engage ourselves to provide equal opportunities for every citizen.
It is the responsibility of this generation to do everything possible to provide equal opportunities to all so that we do not have such a high rate of inequality.
But in the midst of that, of course, how can we give equal opportunities to women, young people, people with disabilities, and make sure we don’t have abject poverty.