A Journey of Hope, Determination and Opportunity

Though there has been some progress in realising women’s rights in Africa, it must be acknowledged that the remaining challenges and gaps for the full realization of women’s rights is daunting. In every country in the continent, women continue to be denied full enjoyment of their rights. In Africa, 1 in 3 women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lifetime ; in 6 countries there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence; African women and girls account for 62% (179 000) of all global deaths from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth; an estimated 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, mainly in Africa and 125 million African women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18. If current trends continue, almost half of the world’s child brides in 2050 will be African. Protection gaps in the areas of health, marriage and family relations are particularly striking as is the non-recognition of intersectional forms of discrimination. In many countries, these gaps are also compounded by political instability and conflict.

Compounding the situation are setbacks such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is destroying the health of more women than men in Africa, eroding some of the development gains women had attained. In sub-Saharan Africa women comprises the highest percentage of new HIV infections globally. As a result, poverty, discrimination and gross inequality in Africa continues to wear a woman’s face. Concerned that the critical issues confronting African women were quickly returning to the shadows, even in The Gambia where we are based. AU Watch is stepping up to the challenge of tracking results and demanding that long overdue attention to gender parity in Africa not become derailed.

‘We Have Rights Too’ is a Directorate within the decentralized structure of AU Watch. When the founder of AU Watch, Dr Feyi Ogunade, established AU Watch, the women’s unit was a critical plank of the organisation. It was agreed that the Unit will be led by African women for African women. This is important as it means our roots and our hearts are in the communities we work with. They set our agenda, guide our decisions and sustain the change we create together. We are fearless and fair. We will always speak out about the issues that face African women and girls, no matter how uncomfortable some may find them.

‘We Have Rights Too’ was founded with a vision that if Africa is to achieve Agenda 2063, then all of us need to support and assist the AU and its Members to be the symbol and inspiration of peace, justice, and hope for all Africans, including women. At ‘We Have Rights Too’ we believe that if the AU and its Members are to achieve their objectives as enumerated in the Constitutive Act and become the continent’s principal multilateral forum for advancing development, strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, and confronting shared problems such as poverty, insecurity, illegal drugs and corruption, Africans around the world should assist this flagship continental organization to promote and protect the rights of women and girls in the continent.

We hold dear to the vision that Africa has more than enough to take care of all of us and that everyone should have the chance to live a life free from destitution, poverty, and with dignity and purpose. Everyone. This ambitious goal requires dedicated attention to one of the most marginalized groups in the continent — women. Women and girls in many African societies are marginalised and do not enjoy equal status with men. It is our collective responsibility to address the inequalities and human rights violations that currently prevent women from triggering positive generational changes and contributing to the realisation of Agenda 2063.

Changing mindsets is key to what we do, especially empowering women and girls to make decisions and have control over their own lives. Therefore, our approach has education and learning at its core,with the objective of addressing power imbalances.

We take a rights-based approach to development, with the aim of achieving a positive transformation of power relations among the various development actors. The goal of this approach is to increase the capacity of duty bearers – the AU, AUMS, government officials, religious and cultural leadersand rights holders.

Even though the promotion and protection of women’s rights is at the heart of what we do, we also empower African women entrepreneurs with critical financial services that they otherwise would not receive. We give grants, loans and training to build their businesses, helpthem open savings accounts to protect their hard-earned income, and give financial skills training so they have the confidence and knowledge to effectively manage their money. With access to these services, a voiceless mother can bloom into a confident leader in her family and her community. Together we are empowering women to fulfil their potential, lift themselves and their families out of poverty, educate their children, and transform their lives.

Isatou Ceesay