Eight Women Who Could Change The Face Of Africa
By Leslie Riddoch
Editor-in-Chief, G8 Editions
If the world leaders at Gleneagles want inspiring practical examples of what can be achieved against all odds, they will not hear it from one another. Or even from the African leaders to be shipped in under wraps halfway through their deliberations.
The real change agents are absent from the official proceedings. As usual.
That’s why eight women who together could change the face of Africa make up the front page of Africawoman – a tabloid paper which hit buses and trains across Scotland two weeks ago.
Africawoman is a Kenyan based NGO producing papers in print, on the net and in radio bulletin format written by 100 African women journalists. The project works “smartly” over the internet and four time zones – with women journalists from eight countries using a network of internet cafes to discuss, research and write story ideas. The resulting papers are posted on the website – www.africawoman.net - printed out to be read by African decision makers and sent to community radio stations. That way stories reach the majority of African women who cannot read or write.
Before the G8 at Gleneagles, I’ve taken five months out to commission, fundraise, edit and distribute two massive special editions of Africawoman to be distributed on buses and trains. The aim is to let Scots get some idea of the links that already exist between Scotland and Africa – and the solutions African women have devised to the problems that face their continent.
Practical problem solving is the emphasis Africawoman wants to see amongst the projects that will get the green light after the size of the G8 spending kitty is agreed.
Will the cash go on more big, centralised projects that have failed to work before – or will the west put money into the flexible arrangements that could save lives fast. Like local water gathering to stop death through waterborne infection, filters for stoves to stop death through respiratory diseases and burns, mobile phones for rural midwives so women with difficult births can be taken to antibiotics fast, mosquito nets to combat the greatest killer – malaria and a wholesale change in women’s legal status so they can own property, cannot be inherited like goods upon their husbands death and cannot be forced to have sex against their will by HIV+ partners.
The front cover of the W8 final edition of Africawoman has been so successful, it has reshaped a conference in Edinburgh on 23rd June. The plans was always to give key African women a platform before the G8. But now those top women have been banded into The W8 – they are Wangari Maathi, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, whose project to plant 30 million trees has also earned the women planters enough cash to set up 43k small businesses. Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela and former Minister in Mozambique who cut illiteracy by 22% in 5 years.Lornah Kiplagat – Kenya’s world record breaking long distance runner who had no support and now ploughs winnings into her High Altitude Training Centre for women. Hauwa Ibrahim, who secured the release of Amina Lawal, sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Alivera Kiiza who helped persuade her coffee co-operative in Tanzania to let women farmers own trees so they can become full co-operative members.Winnie Byanyima, an outspoken women’s rights campaigner who encouraged Uganda’s policy of openness about HIV/AIDs but is now critical of President Museveni’s leadership. Anna Tibaijuka head of the UN Habitat Agency and Africa Commissioner who warns of the flight to cities created by starvation and crop failure in Africa. Grace Githaiga, Africawoman writer and World Assoc of Community Broadcasters leader who’s helped set up more than a 100 stations with 250 million listeners in a continent where 70% of women are illiterate and state radio is often government controlled.
The great news is that female members of the Scottish Parliament have swung right in behind all of this Christine Grahame (SNP) and her excellent assistant Mark Hirst persuaded one women MSP from each party grouping plus the deputy presiding officer Trish Godman (that’s 8!) to set up the group and hold a Scottish parliament debate to make sure the views of African woman get heard at Gleneagles and beyond.
Will it make any difference? It already has. You are still reading. And we are finally meeting the people who will transform Africa after wasting time with many bureaucrats who will not. That is progress!