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Girls and Young Women Participation; African Agenda

Nyari Mashayamombe

Girls and Young Women Participation; African Agenda

When I started TaLI (Tag a Life International Trust) for girls and young women in 2010, I specifically named ‘international’ because I knew that the model that I’d introduced on the market was unique in that, the inclusion of boys, men, women, and communities, as a holistic approach in addressing girls and young women’s rights had not been popular in most countries within the human rights dis-course. I began to research about it and noted that international organisations like Save the Children and others had commissioned and released researches that encouraged exactly the inclusion of boys and men to be part of the agenda to end all inequalities agains girls and young women.

In the recent years I’ve become more inquisitive about the role participation, voice and leadership has over the lives of girls and young women beginning from their families, into their communities, their nation, region and the globe. I’m pleased to be part of the new founding members of the Afri-can Movement for Democracy, an organisation that is meant to unite African Human Rights Activ-ists and Democractes in finding ways to work with policy makers and politicians in Africa for devel-opment and democracy. My dream for allowing African girls and young women a voice at different levels in the region and globe, as well as my personal dream of impacting Africa seems to come to fruition as i engage in these exciting developments.

Over the last few weeks the World Movement for Democracy in partnership with National Democ-racy Institute, International Republicans Institute and the African Movement for Democracy held a conference in Tanzania under the theme; “Strengthening Governance in Africa: Building a New Generation of Democratic Political Leaders” where i had the amazing opportunity of leading and chairing a panel of discussion to talk about “Women and leadership: Why young women’s political participation has not been achieved in Africa” with panelists from the Democratic Republic of Con-go and Sudan. The experience from this conference is what has inspired the writing of this article.

Listening to the panelists before opening it to the audience which consisted of youth representations from East, West, Central and Southern Africa, one could hear the reality that the participation of girls and young women remains a challenge for Africa. The engaged discussion with both female and male audience members at this conference on the topic of girls and young women participation brain stormed some of the solutions that could be employed to ensure representation of girls in posi-tions of influence such as civic engagement. Chief among the suggested solutions was the invest-ment in girls and young women to teach them about citizenry participation at an early age, which i often like to call SMART democracy.

Most African countries have patriarchal societies where girls and young women are raised without a voice and ownership of their bodies, and they passively grown into being members of society who either support their family choices of public life or their husbands’. That is why in a number of Afri-can countries, during elections women can endure a degree of physically violence, divorce or being killed for supporting a political party which is not their husband or family’s. The youths who re-sponded to my panel of discussion in Tanzania reiterated what most research has reported that the social institutions are responsible for the exclusion of girls in leadership and decision making pro-cesses and these institutions must be challenged. Organisations like TaLI that are working to cre-ate life skills in girls to be able to be assertive and exercise agency regarding their rights, but most importantly working with boys, men and communities in ending religious and cultural practices that discriminate against girl’s participation can go a long way in provid-ing alternatives to their discrimination and exclusion. Advocacy and lobby has to be done with others locally, regionally and internationally to change these structures.

Countries like Zimbabwe as well as the more than 54 in Africa have largely signed and committed to a number of treaties and conventions where they have committed to ensuring equality between girls and boys, women and men in the region, and they have signed more internationally. Networks such as the African Movement for Democracy could en-sure holding the leadership accountable to the implementation of such commitments that emphasise the need for inclusion and elimination of obstacles against girls. It is my dream that as i begin my journey to work in the African region, the many young people that i’ve met on this journey, including those who were part of the Tanzania meeting will commit to the total emancipation and participation of girls and young women.

The challenge that i paused to all the Human Rights leaders who attended the confer-ence and attended the session (including politicians) was that, participation and equality begins with us. Many a times we demand that other leaders and politicians practice equality however in our organisations and programmes we are not practicing it. The best place to start embracing the fundamentals of equality is ensuring equal representation in our own governance boards where women and men should be equally represented, it should be seen in our staff appointments, not just for tokenism but to ensure that the young women meaningfully participate and lead, then our programming with be mean-ingful and we will be empowered to stand up and hold others to account.

Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, is founder of Tag a Life International Trust (TaLI), a Zimbabwean young women’s nonprofit organization, she is also a recording musician, philanthropist and devel-opment consultant involved with regional and global initiatives to support human rights, democracy, women’s development and participation in leadership across Africa. For more visit www.nyarimashayamombe.com

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