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African Women’s Decade Successfully Launched

The U.S Launching of the African Women’s Decade was successfully held last Friday, December 10th, 2010 at University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Shalupe Foundation and the Women of the Soil Association of Boston organized this great event.

The African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) was adopted in October 2009 by the African Union. This decade is to create gender equality and protection of women’s rights. Women have a voice and it needs to be heard more often.

The launching was a great success as it drew a number of well-respected women from across the world. These distinguished women included; Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, who is the permanent representative of the African Union to the US, Ambassador Sheila Siwela, Zambia’s Ambassador  to the US, and Ambassador Fatima Veiga, Ambassador of Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Cape Verde. I was honored to sit at the same table with these three women.

The event covered many topics from Why we are here? Why now? to What needs to be done for these ten years by African women, men, the younger generation and policy makers.

There was a performance directed by Akiba Abaka and U-Melini Mhalba Adebo, which depicted the difficulties of different African Women who live in the United States. The talk back was great and full of truth, life and positive energy.

The afternoon session had a panel, which focused on the subject of  Women of the African Diaspora in the 21st Century.

The panelists were: H.E Ambassador Sheila Siwela, Zambian Ambassador to the US, Makeba Kamara, Women Health Specialist and Activist, Carline Desire, Executive Director of the Association of Hatian Women in Boston, Robin M Chandler, Associate Professor of African American Studies at Northeastern University and myself, Akouassi Yao, Co Founder of Network Afrique.

As a panelist, I was tasked to represent the younger generation, and addressed five questions:

1. I was asked to define my identity as an African Woman of the 21st century.

I thought of this question for about three weeks, I meditated on it and could not find an answer. I was born in France, grew up in Cote d’Ivoire and live in the USA. How can I identify myself with three continents, three different cultures, three different societies, and three different realities? How do I define my identity, when I was born in a country that does not recognize Africans as part of their citizens, grew up in a country where family (extended) is the root of everything and live in a country where family is scattered and no longer exist. I do not have an identity as far as I am concerned and I truly desire to find WHO I AM.

2. We were asked to think of our greatest asset(s) that African Women bring to the table and the greatest challenge(s).

As African Women our greatest asset, is US. We are our own assets, in us there is everything, strength, love, perseverance, and determination. We laugh when we want to cry, we cry when we feel happy. We forgive our worst enemies. We raise an entire family with almost nothing; we are believers of change, we dare to stand up when we are told sit and shut up, we are makers of great MEN, we are the one through whom GOD put its seeds to create life. I am an asset and we are all assets. Our weakness is us, everything comes in two. Love-Hate. Black-White. Men-Women. Assets-Weaknesses. We have to know where we desire to lean, either in the asset part or the weakness part. It is easy to give up and lose trust in ourselves, African Women have to believe in themselves, believe that they can move mountains, create change for their life and the life of others. The obstacle does not come from the outside but from the inside. It is inside our being that we create the challenges. Within us we see the difficulties and we stop, and we blame others because it is easier to blame others. The one we should blame when it comes to our life is only us. The reason being that we are the makers of our destiny.

3. What strategies could be implemented by leaders to achieve the goal of the Decade.

I am someone who truly thinks that when you wait for someone to help you, you will be in a waiting position forever. Leaders are not the ones who makes the policies and laws. Leaders are people like you and I. We have to take the stand and act for us, and stop waiting for supposed leaders to come and change our situation. We know what we need, what we want, what we lack. The change has to be done from “bottom up” as Ambassador Amina Salum Ali said it. It starts with small actions like the launching of the event, contributing in others lives by helping them, helping your best friend when she is down, uplifting your sister when she makes a good decision in her life, being mentors for those who need mentoring, taking care of yourself…. Those are small steps but they count. Baby steps create grandiose change. Everything that you do, record it, write it down and measure the change that it is creating. That is how laws and policies can be created by YOU.

4. My favorite question- how to engage and energize young African Women so that they can become leaders and contribute to the change.

Young African Women are energized..right!!! I know we are all energized…I am energized, that’s for sure. Are we engaged by the elder generation…. I would say NO. How do they want us to learn and take on what they are doing to the next generation when they don’t teach us what they know? When I started in my venture of being a Social Entrepreneur, I was looking everywhere for African Women who have succeeded in their career, life, you name it. First they are  very complicated to find and second when you do, they don’t pay much attention to us (younger generation). The younger generation has to be more involved in decision making and actions, which are being taken and are going to affect our lives and the lives of other generations to come. We have a say, we have an opinion and the younger generation desires to be heard more.

5. The role of men in this campaign.

Zambia’s Ambassador said “Women are the only ones who sleep with their enemy”. We complain about men, but we cannot live without them. We bark at them, but with a simple touch they calm us down. Men are essential in this campaign, Men are nothing without Women, and Women are nothing without Men.

The Campaign has started and the talk is over now it is time for action. If you are an African Woman and define yourself as a Leader act today for a better tomorrow for every African Woman all around the world.

Nowadays, the Internet has made things easy, write a blog about strategies that you think you can do to participate in this campaign, mentor young women, find yourself a mentor, DO SOMETHING ! AFRICAN WOMEN, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING AND STOP SITTING AND WAITING.

I will give an example of what I have done:

  • I have written this note about the event to give you the information- INFORMATION IS POWER, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. As it was said “If we speak it, it will become a decade for African Women” YOU ARE WHAT YOU SAY
  • I am helping friends write their resumes(even though I do not have a job myself)
  • I spend time with my friends encouraging them to follow their dream and have the strength to do what they believe in and stop blaming others for the outcome of their life.
  • I spend time with mentors and I listen, I say LISTEN, to them (you have to learn to shut up and listen)
  • I am a social entrepreneur, therefore I have my own business, I buy my products from Women in Africa and it contributes in economical sustainability.
  • I am in the process of creating a program for Women in Cote d’Ivoire
  • I network; network is very essential if you want people to know who you are.

I am not doing a grandiose thing but at least I am doing something. Do something, make the difference, ‘you are here to impact the lives of many not just your life.’

By Akouassi Yao

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