Over 40 queens, queen mothers and other women cultural leaders from over 16 African countries last week met in Kampala to devise ways of empowering rural women to promote development through their newly-formed association — African Queens and other Women Cultural Leaders Network (AQWLN).
The four-day conference at Speke Resort Munyonyo came up with a number of resolutions, including major ones focused on eradicating negative cultural practices, especially female genital mutilation and early marriages.
They also resolved to support social and economic transformation on the continent, fight HIV/AIDS, support efforts to alleviate poverty, promote maternal health and education for the girl-child and promote African languages and African integration. Francis Kagolo interviewed them on their commitments and brings you the excerpts.
Culture is diverse. In Uganda, we have people from diverse cultural backgrounds, but we all have the same needs. We have been fighting for the woman’s cause in our separate kingdoms, but this network and the unity we have built will take us far.
Once we make the life of the African woman better, the men, and indeed, the whole world will enjoy the benefits. We have the duty to enable our people appreciate culture and use it for development.
This new network emphasises the need to get our collective energy together to achieve more.
We have observed the plight of the girl child over time, being unable to access quality education, unemployment, and being forced into early marriages.
The women are suffering from poor maternal health, among other challenges. We must address all these because our culture is rooted in the people and for it to survive, they must be alive.
We can use cultural institutions to promote peace in Africa
. We must not fail in this because to do so we will be failing our own race and nationalities. As queens and women cultural leaders, we must redeem the trust that society has in us.
Nanahemaa Adjoa Awindor, development queen mother, Ashanti Kingdom, Ghana and chairperson of AQWLN
To be able to discuss any social issue, the first thing to do should be to improve the standard of education. We will be agents of change to address these issues through education. We shall work together with our partners who are already on ground.
There are a lot of social and psychological effects associated with FGM. Those who have experienced FGM give the impression that you lose it all as a woman when you are circumcised; you live without sexual feelings as a woman. Such women cease enjoying sex and become mere vehicles for child production.
They even lose confidence. Even when they are attracted to someone, they are scared to agree to go out with them.
As queens, the way to go is to abolish this practice because even to date men have not come out to tell us why they like it. We will use whatever strategy available to eradicate it; first through education using cultural media to sensitise the old women doing FGM.
We also learnt from President Yoweri Museveni that as cultural leaders, it is our duty to promote pan-Africanism. We have adopted this idea and agreed as queens and queen mothers to promote this notion for the unity of our people.
Janet Kem, Queen Mother from Guzang Fondom kingdom, Cameroon
Our network is about bringing together the African women to work towards preserving our positive African values and address the negative ones to promote development in our communities.
As a queen mother, I have been promoting education in our kingdom, including adult literacy for the old people to gain basic literacy skills.
I have been doing the same in the health sector through mobilising communities to contribute towards building health centres, especially maternity wards.
This is what we ought to do as cultural leaders, and the formation of this network is going to galvanize our efforts to achieve even more.
But most importantly, we need to help women gain access to land to grow their own food and improve their livelihoods.
This is the sure way to empowering them.
Abla Dzifa Gomashie, Deputy Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ghana
Nation building relies on the entire state — the government, civil society and the citizenry.
We need as women and women leaders to feed on each other’s strength and celebrate togetherness and learn to be happy for each other’s achievements.
We shall realise a better continent once the queens and other women leaders remain focused and pursue unity.
In Toro, we shall start with fighting for the girl-child. We need to see all girls going to school and not dropping out before completing the education cycle.
We also need to increase our effort to empower women and fight HIV/AIDS because we have a lot of it here.
We have to continue mobilising ourselves as queens, queen mothers, princesses and other women cultural leaders.
Our joint efforts will enable the African woman and Africa in general to overcome the negative cultural practices and shine.
This collective effort towards women empowerment and gender equality is timely; our efforts are geared towards helping the rural woman fight domestic violence and improving their lives.
Zubeida Teko, LCV woman councilor, Moroto
FGM is still practised widely among the Sebei in Kapchorwa, the Pokot in Amudat, and a section of Karimojong living on Moroto Mountain. As women leaders, this is our first target.
The practice must be eradicated.
The queens’ conference has taught us a lot; it has exposed Karimojong to whoever did not know about Karamoja.
The woman is still the source of family’s livelihood in Moroto.
Husbands and children depend on us.
We have realised that as women, we must stand up and fight bad cultural practices like FGM and early marriages.
We must and educate our people that it is better to send their daughters to school if we want the region to develop.
Margaret Lomonyang, woman cultural leader, Moroto district
One of the cultural practices spreading HIV is FGM because of the sharing of knives and other instruments during the cutting.
It also encourages early marriages because when a girl is circumcised, they tend to think they are mature and can now get married.
Besides, Karamoja has been lagging behind in education because our grandparents emphasised only livestock keeping.
As Karimojong, we are going to advocate for the fighting against other practices and also ensure the integration of our people in all government development programmes so that we can catch up with the rest of Uganda.
Christine Musisi, UN Women Regional Director for eastern and southern Africa
I am impressed that the cry for the women empowerment in Africa has brought us together.
The commitment of the queens to transform their positions from a symbolic position to one which transforms the lives of their people is one of the greatest impressions I have got from this conference.
The conference has also brought the realisation of the intrinsic and inherent power these queens and queen mothers have.
If they can explain to their people that some of the negative cultural practices are not good, that will be important.
They are the custodians of culture in Africa and if they come out and rule out these negative practices, a lot will be achieved in terms of women rights.
Things like FGM and early marriages are slowing down development. If they declare them illegal, you will see a lot of transformation on the continent because we know that once a woman is empowered so is the man and everybody.
We must explore opportunities for their organisation to become self-sustaining.