Home > Uncategorized > Tension, tussles and teamwork

The African Platform for Action document had a painful birth.Tensions within the over one
hundred participating NCOs; between NGOs and government delegations;between the UN agencies (and especially the ECA) and the government delegations were all part of the “story
behind the story” of this historic document. Inevitably, some were dissatisfied by the outcome. But comparing the original document – d rafted by the ECA – with the final text. most would agree that the sleepless nights and endless debates paid off in the end.
In the absence of an NCO network for the whole continent, FEMNET was asked to convene the Dakar NCO forum. The substantive discussions of an otherwise vibrant and eye-opening gathering were very nearly derailed by the combination of in-fighting between FEMNET and other organisations who questioned the network’s mandate and organisational inefficiency in Senegal.Trouble started when, at the tail end of the opening ceremony.

FEMNET President Njoki Wainana requested volunteers for two committees to work on the NGO documents .Nine facilitators were chosen for the Platform for Action, out of th is list to coordinate inputs on the nine theme areas of the document,mostly from specialist NGOs in the theme areas. But because many women did not hear the announcement, and since the committee did not report back to a plenary until the closing day of the forum, some disenchanted delegates claimed they had not been aware of what was going on.

In the case of the Plan of Action, several workshops claimed they did not know of the existence of the committee or how to go about feeding information to it.
Matters came to a head when discontented delegates confronted Wainana, threatening to disown the two documents as unrepresentative Individuals prominent in till’ influential Pan-Africa n women Meeting of the African Women ‘s Economic Policy Group lawyers’ group, Women in Law And Development In Africa (WILDAF), while not formally putting their NCO’s name to the falling-out with FEMNET, played a visible role in galvanising these dissidents.

At a heated, three-hour meeting the protesters lashed out at the poor organisation of the forum, with some alleging that the drafting committee had been dominated bv the Kenvans.
Maintaining a and pleading for understanding watnana  explained gain how the
committees had been chosen and pointed to the extreme logistical problems posed by a much higher attendance than had been anticipated.

While those invoked in the drafting and some delegates urged the meeting to consider the drafts that had been prepared so that they could be tabled at the closing ceremony others insisted that , more transparent and representative mechanism be put in place.

In the end,the committees were reconstituted to include both the original drafters and four additional representatives from each region. Although the two documents were not ready for the closing ceremony of the NGO Forum, they were circulated within the next 48 hours at the meeting of technical experts. NGOs received high praise for rising above their sectional differences to deliver these two key inputs to the official conference.Ironically, the official conference helped to unite the livelv but diverse group of NGO participants.
In a letter to Towards Beijing ’95 , fEMNET’s Wainana protested at the “marginalisation” of the NGOs from the official conference. Among the examples she cited
were still’ cutting-short of the NCO presentation at the dosing ceremony of the forum to allow ECA Executive Sccretarv LaYilShi Yakar to make a one-hour speech; the fact that NGOs were no t given a chance to speak at the opening ceremony of the Expert meeting; and the “heaviest blow of all” when the convenor of the NGO Forum ’95, Thailand’s Khunying Supatra Masdit, was struck from the speakers’ list at the highest level official opening chaired by Senegalese
President Abdou Diouf without any notice.
During the official conference NGOs rallied to ex press their shock and dismay at the treatment of the Saharawi and Maurctanian delegations by the Senegalese authorities.
The Senegalese also came in for a tongue-lashing from the delegations of Swaziland, Ethiopia , Zimbabwe and South Africa, who were barred from the official opening by heavily armed security guards, allegedly because they arrived late. Deploring
the treatment thev received as “downright degrading.” the official delegations o f these countries said it was” ironic that a conference dedicated to equality, development and peace
should be marred by exclusion, harassment t and disermpowerment of women.
But some of the harshest language, at least in the corridors of the conference, was reserved for the ECA as the Secretariat for the official meeting. The arduous process of reaching consensus on a 136-paragraph document was made considerably more painful by the inefficiency of this UN agency, which kept women experts waiting for over 24 hours to see fresh drafts of their texts – not to mention texts in their language of proficiency.
These technical problems, blamed by Yakar on computer viruses and other gremlins, sparked suspicions that the ECA was being deliberately obstructive to prevent too many alterations to the original text.
Government expert s protested strongly at the last-minute introduction of proposed changes by UN agencies.They accused Yakar of trying to steamroller these through while they were still formulating their own amendments to the text.The amendment proposed by the UN agencies were largely factual, or designed to harmonize certain portions of the text with other UN documents, such as those emerging from the recent world population conference in Cairo. But African women questioned why the UN agencies had not met the ECA before the conference 10 suggest these amendments.They insisted on putting their own imprint on the document first,
before contemplating the UN proposed changes.
All these tensions were the backdrop against which the African Platform For Action was written. Yet the document breaks important new ground.
Although government experts did not accept  suggestion made by NGOs in their critique of the original Draft Platform For Action that aid to African countries be tied to the ratio between military and social expenditures, they did call on African governments to redirect military expenditure into improving science and technology especially for women.
They accepted an NGO suggestion which strengthens the 1993 Kampala Action plan On Women And Peace (the first such declaration bv African women on this subject) demanding that African governments ensure gender parity in peace negotiations and conflict resolution.
The Platform For Action includes a whole section drafted bv the NGOs on”the Girl Child” (a recent UNICEF buzzword), which emphasizes the importance of gender equity starting at an early age, with equal opportunity for girls to attend school; reduction of their workloads; elimination of traditional practices harmful to health; and the provision of sex education to avoid teenage pregnancies.
The Platform For Action stresses the access of girls to education as key to reducing population growth on the continent. It also contains strong texts on women’s participation in politics and on the importance of economic empowerment. With regard to IMF
and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programmes, the Platform comes up with a novel suggestion again at the prodding of  NGOs – that some of Africa’s huge’ inter rational debt burden be turned into resources for financing projects to enhance the economic stake of African women. In the section on political empowerment.
the Platform falls short of a call for quotas, but urges governments to “establish mechanisms and strengthen chances of women’s full and equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political process.”Among the most ‘Contested paragraphs of the document were those addressing culture, tradition and socialization. Women activists charge
that these paragraphs remain ambivalent.But others say that the paper’s strong emphasis on moving away from gender stereotypes at an early age is at least a beginning

African Agenda Vol.1 No.1

Colleen Lowe Morna freelance journalist
list and co-ordinator of the Women’s Feature Service in Johannesburg