Beijing+25: Young Feminists Set Agenda at Africa Regional Meeting

This blog is the second in our series on the Beijing+25 process, providing analysis on the first regional meeting that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 2019. Over the next few weeks, IWHC will continue the Beijing+25 series. Follow along, here.

For young feminists navigating the United Nations, intergovernmental meetings can be mysterious, daunting, and even incomprehensible. Yet, for the activists who attended the Economic and Social Commission for Africa (ECA) regional meeting for Beijing+25 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia these challenges did little to limit their impact. These young feminists were hungry for their voice, expertise, and experience to be heard, valued, and reflected in the larger civil society conversation as well as in the governments’ Political Declaration. Though the end result was less than they’d hoped for, their passion and perspectives were critical to the regional outcome and will continue to drive progress on gender equality throughout Africa.

Supporting the Participation of Young Feminists

To support the advocacy objectives of young African feminists, IWHC, in partnership with regional experts from partners Education as a Vaccine (EVA), the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), and Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), hosted a 2-day Advocacy in Practice (AIP) training with 15 young feminists from 10 countries ahead of the regional meeting. The AIP is a hands-on workshop that supports young advocates to hone advocacy skills and learn to navigate UN processes, with sexual and reproductive health and rights at its core.

According to Buky Williams, executive director of Education as a Vaccine (EVA) and a co-facilitator of the AIP, the training allowed young feminists the space to discuss, learn, and collaborate on shared priorities ahead of the intergovernmental meeting. It cultivated an environment where the community could speak freely, practice solidarity and equality, and strategize about how to have impact in the larger, more controlled spaces of the regional conference – including the Young Feminist Forum, the Civil Society Forum, and the intergovernmental meetings of various working groups.

The AIP participants worked with their peers to ensure that the Call to Action from the Youth Regional Consultations on Beijing+25 coming out of the Young Feminist Forum laid out a bold and inclusive feminist agenda that demanded that the “diverse needs of young women and girls and adolescents” be centered in the government declaration, “without discrimination of any kind, particularly on the basis of HIV status, geographical location, disability, identity and/or sexuality, especially for those that identify as trans and non binary.” They also called for the dismantling of patriarchy, an end to the extractivist model of development, and the recognition of young women and girls as active citizens and leaders. The document recognized persistent violence against sex workers, women human rights defenders, women of sexual minorities, people who use drugs, displaced, migrant and refugee women and girls, indigenous people, and women in rural and conflict-affected areas. Crucially, they called for reproductive justice and the allocation of public financing to guarantee youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

Olive Uwamariya, of SPECTRA/RESURJ, noted that the young women in the AIP brought a high level of energy to the broader feminist organizing in Addis. “They did not just occupy the space, they brought their voices into it clearly and made connections with each other.” The group created positive energy for their contributions from established feminists as well as some politicians, thereby facilitating intergenerational dialogue.

This camaraderie and spirit surged into the Civil Society Forum, where AIP participants were among more than 200 women from civil society organizations. In a strong demonstration of intersectional feminist solidarity and cross-movement action, the Civil Society Forum insisted on delaying the start time for four hours in a demand that UNECA’s venue be fully accessible for all participants with disabilities.

As Esther Wambui, founder and director of Zamara Foundation, noted, the statement from the Civil Society Forum was heavily influenced by the young feminists, echoing their calls to identify climate change as a critical gender issue for Africa, recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights, and highlight the importance of providing access to quality education and removing the barriers to completion, retention, and transition to school for women and girls, including pregnant girls, young mothers, and women with disabilities.

During the intergovernmental meetings, the AIP participants were able to access limited spaces and contribute to the outcome—joining forces to influence regional priorities and outcomes to reflect more inclusive, feminist, and progressive values. During the technical discussions with experts, they advocated for joint priorities shared by both their regional organizations and feminist civil society.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

While the final African Regional Political Declaration on Beijing+25 has made some strides forward, many issues and constituencies prioritized by young feminists continue to be left behind, including the rights of sex workers and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. In the region, religious and conservative leaders resisted progress on key issues for young women, especially sexual rights. Human rights and diversity also were resisted by some governments in north and west Africa.

But progress was noted in reducing maternal mortality, improving quality education, strengthening institutional mechanisms for gender equality, and in legislative, policy, and programmatic efforts to attain women’s rights. And, the document recognized gaps in participation in decision-making, equality of opportunities, unpaid care and informal work, production and management of sex-disaggregated data, and overcoming patriarchal practices.

All in all, the declaration demonstrates political will to lead on advancing inclusive women’s rights, and showcases the impact of AIP participants’ advocacy:

  • Persons with disabilities were specifically recognized for the first time in the preamble, to be considered in all aspects of the declaration;
  • The role of government partnerships with youth and civil society organizations was highlighted as crucial to realize human rights in a holistic and comprehensive manner; and
  • It specifically recognized the holistic concept of sexual and reproductive health and rights noting that it requires unprecedented attention, especially for young people, who comprise 60 percent of the population in Africa.

Additionally, governments committed to implement actions that, taken together, can have transformational impact on all women and girls, including:

  • Transforming cultural and religious institutions, their leaders and practices to eliminate harmful practices and create safer work spaces;
  • Focusing on STEM, including for out-of-school girls and removing barriers to school completion for pregnant girls, young mothers, and women with disabilities;
  • Institutionalizing equal pay for work of equal value;
  • Ensuring women and girls’ access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, and renewable energy;
  • Addressing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, particularly among women with disabilities, the elderly, refugees, and internally displaced women;
  • Closing gender statistics and analytical gap; and
  • Ensuring universal access to quality health care, including for HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health.

Several key points in the declaration address structural causes of inequality and discrimination and should be prioritized as we head into the CSW in March 2020:

  • Implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 effectively by fostering women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution and addressing the needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, including sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV prevention services;
  • Holding multinational and national corporations engaged in large-scale agriculture, mining, mega-projects, and commercial logging accountable for upholding human rights principles, eliminating labor exploitation of women and girls, as well as land and natural resources;
  • Investing in progressive taxation, curbing illicit financial flows, corporate accountability, and gender-responsive budgeting; and
  • Adopting gender-responsive policies to mitigate and reverse effects of climate change.

Young feminist leaders in the African women’s movement are motivated and engaging in transformative change. They will continue to demand to be taken into account by governments and UN agencies and will hold their sister organizations accountable for their own commitments to inclusive feminist progress—and to engaging voices from the ground.

Thabisa Myataza South Africa
Ndeye Yacine Faye Senegal
Chukwuma Ngozichukwu Nigeria
Buhlebenkosi Mhlanga Zimbabwe
Grace Kamau Kenya
Kyomya Macklean Mary Uganda
Esther Nyawira Kenya
Sesilia Shirima Tanzania
Akoth Mary Kenya
Facia B. Harris Liberia
Isabel Adokwe DRC
Joweri Namulondo Uganda
Chika Mercedes Ibeh Nigeria
Ruth Muganzi Uganda
Mangia Macuacua Mozambique


Stay tuned for the next installment of the Beijing+25 series. Follow IWHC to stay up-to-date and join #GenerationEquality.

Photo: IWHC

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