Building a Feminist Movement in Southern Africa

Building a Feminist Movement in Southern Africa

Date: May 8, 2021
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By Shamiso Chigorimbo and Emma Kaliya,

Johannesburg, 1 March:  Emerging from the slogan, “2015! Yes we can!”; “The Time Is Now!”, the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance in 2010 was working toward the Gender Protocol targets, “50% of decision making positions in all public and private sector must be held by women by 2015”. Fast forward to 2021, the aftermath of Beijing Plus 25 celebrations and International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the Alliance’s targets remain. The core of building a feminist movement across Southern Africa [1] is tangible targets, frameworks, and indictors Southern Africa Specific.

Founded in 2005, the Alliance started with a promising six members to present day 2021 with 15 country focal networks and 126 members. The Alliance continues to grow its membership with LGBTI+ organisations and partnerships with regional, international organisations such as Kaleidoscope Trust, SAfAIDS and MIET Africa. It takes the collaboration and implementation of the Alliance members to build a regional campaign over the past 20 years. Over the years, the Alliance action planning and strategy represent the diverse ideas and values of all members. There is effective participation, experimental learning and commitment in getting the work done on the ground and building a strong movement.

The realisation of gender equality and women in decision-making currently delayed by the effects of migration, economic instabilities and gender-based violence, which shift the balance of power. Feminist change means dismantling patriarchal beliefs, systems and institutions that oppress women and girls. This means changing the narrative, guided fundamentally for the Alliance by the normative frameworks provided in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

While the Alliance journey started in 2005, it emerges from the 1980s to 1990s, Women’s Movement that operated in persona agency, solidarity in dismantling patriarchy and calling for member States commitment and accountability. A growing sense of collaboration among multiple stakeholders arose from women’s participation during the liberation struggles. Where women fought side by side with men, constituting a good 10 to 30% of the cadres in the Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe liberation struggles. Women’s role in armed struggles entrenched in historical, socialist myths in which narratives are limited by barriers of feminine and masculine power relations that date back decades and centuries. The need to educate both men and women in feminism from young age is central.

The Alliance’s theme work is streamlined into five clusters (Governance, Economic Justice, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), Media and ICTs Climate Change and Sustainable Development). The five theme structures correlate to the three pillars of gender and sustainable development (voice choice and control). Under the governance cluster, the Alliance has been closely monitoring the women’s political participation through documentation and research on the representation of women in parliament over the years from 1995 to 2021, positively the numbers have doubled [3].

Central to the success of the Alliance has been networking and building relationships, Mme Emma Kaliya the Alliance Chairperson will speak to this success. “The Alliance was founded on the values of solidarity, sisterhood and the belief of serving our sub region (SADC). Most SADC member states have looked at the alliance as a resource to the Region concerning the compilation of the successive SADC Gender Barometers, which are now commonly used by researchers in different institutions of higher learning. Alliance work is widely appreciated across the globe to the extent that other Sub regions have openly come out to request for technical support around compilation of a Gender Barometer as a tool for accountability of member states on their obligations. As I look back to 2005, I feel the journey has been long and tedious but very rewarding, though we seem to be losing grip of our relationship with Member States, with whom we  shared good and bitter moments along the way before and a few more years after the adoption of the protocol. We look forward to more exciting times in the countdown to 2030”.


That said we wish to thank the SADC members states for enabling us to make our voice heard at several strategic gatherings. We want to assure our governments that we remain their firm partners and allies in taking forward the gender agenda in our countries. While, they have been elected to deliver a better life to all our citizens – especially for women and girls. We are the hands, feet, eyes and ears, hearts and heads, that can help deliver their visionary goals.

One of the persistent barriers to women’s effective participation is patriarchal discriminatory language, thinking, gas lighting and hidden backlash, which is underrepresented. Social norms and harmful traditional practices also pose as barriers to women’s equality. Power is in the hands of men and old women, which leaves young women and girls with disproportional care responsibility that, would limit them from advancing academically, entrepreneurially or socially.

Marginalised women and girls find themselves in activities that limit engagement in other areas that would position them as future leaders in vocational and formal leadership settings.

Weak economic muscle among women is another contributing factor limiting women’s participation in public life. Women still dominate micro and medium economies with few or no profits to write home about. To achieve pan-African feminist power and gender equality, African women’s evolving in the international development agenda as agents and actors in industrial and socio-economic revolutions is key.


Continued work by the women’s human rights actors and activist continues in a parallel path effects and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbates existing inequalities that disproportionately affect women, girls and other most vulnerable persons in society. The pandemic further exposes the feeble areas of the political and socio-economic system on which our society stands on. Women’s rights actors and feminists have been drawing attention to these areas and demanding change and improvement based on specific criteria and instruments.


The cancellation of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 2020, was the first inter-governmental event to be affected by the pandemic. In 2021, CSW 65 will take place as a virtual event, still drawing out collaboration and concrete commitments from member state and civil society carry a strong monitoring and evaluation role. In the last pre-CSW Africa regional meeting FEMNET and other civil society partners, with the Alliance as the Southern African mobiliser over 600 participants from across the four regions of the continent registered and over 300 joined. An incomparable number in the involvement of past CSWs. As the meeting was virtual and not physical, there are advantages to participation where no visa’s and travel resources to New York are required.

The Alliance continues to move forward practically and collaboratively, with the themed #VoiceandChoice in the time of COVID-19 and making new commitment to achieving gender equality with innovative new ways of working.  The Alliance has evolved with the emergent human rights call to envision sexual and reproductive health and rights for all based on specific guidelines. The year 2018 saw the Alliance take on this bold advocacy and campaigning bringing in other global and international instruments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ICPD instruments as guiding frameworks. Aluta continua!

[1] Giant Footprint, GL@Ten publication.


Shamiso Chigorimbo is th Policy nd Movemnet Building Manager and Gender Links and Emma Kaliya is a gender activist and also Chair of the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance

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