GL@10: Climbing every mountain

GL@10: Climbing every mountain

Date: March 25, 2011
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I am not a professional climber, literally or figuratively. But, growing up in the mystical highlands of southeast Zimbabwe, I have had an enduring love affair with mountains. There is so much about climbing that is a metaphor for life itself.

As you start a climb, there is always that sense of the impossible. Then, eyes to the ground, one step at a time, the impossible becomes possible. There are thorns, stony patches, and steep inclines: each tests your endurance. But as you look back on where you have come, blights on the landscape become mere dots compared to the panoramic view unfolding.

Distance gives you perspective. As you reach the peak you are overcome by a sense of achievement. Yet at every peak you are reminded that there is always one more peak till you get to the top. It is unlikely you will ever get to the summit! But you have the satisfaction of knowing, as they say in West Africa, that without pain, there is no gain!

As the founder and first executive director of GL reflecting on the first ten years of the NGO once described as a “small organisation with large footprints” I feel like a climber who has scaled that first peak. When I lodged the registration papers in March 2001, nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead.

From the backyard of my home with me and one intern, a wing and a prayer, GL has grown into an organisation with ten board members; 50 staff and ten offices around Southern Africa headquartered in Johannesburg. Fired by the simple dream of a Southern Africa in which women and men can realise their full potential in both their public and private lives, GL has led the civil society push for a SADC Protocol on Gender and Development that has 28 targets for the attainment of gender equality by 2015.

We have conducted pioneering research on gender and the media; ventured into the gender and local government sphere; popularised the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign; stretched it to 365; and started a ground-breaking research project on measuring the extent, effect and response to gender violence.

The beneficiary analysis that we conducted to coincide with our tenth anniversary in March 2011 shows that we have run 1159 workshops in all 15 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries; reached 48 984 beneficiaries directly and many more indirectly. GL’s vast website received 59 418 hits in February 2011 alone. 12 086 women and men have participated in our cyber dialogues. Across the board men constitute 40% of those who participate in GL activities.

We have produced 720 commentaries through our service, used three to four times each by the mainstream media not to mention researchers, trainers and many others. GL has recorded 1308 mentions in regional media (there could well be more; this is what we know).

Altogether GL has produced 119 research projects, 23 training manuals; 12 conference newspapers; 183 fact sheets and eight institutional videos. We have a contacts data base of 7330.

A ten year external evaluation of GL comments that: “Sometimes change comes through bloodshed; other times through dialogue, debate, persuasion and joint efforts. This is the kind of change that Gender Links and its partners seek to bring about. Not always easy to quantify, sometimes painstakingly slow, ten years is not a long enough time to measure the social change taking place in an entire region. But anecdotal evidence such as this suggests that slowly but surely change is happening: there can be no stopping the march to gender equality!”

Tafadzwa Muropa, a gender activist from Zimbabwe sums up the views of many beneficiaries whose testimonial evidence features in Giant Footprints when she says: “GL should be commended for its good work in Southern Arica and the rest of the continent. The challenge is to ensure that every woman, especially at the local level, gets empowered with the information that GL produces on a daily basis and becomes part of the process.

“The war is not yet over, but at least through collaboration with grassroots women’s organisations, we can surely kick gender inequality out of SADC. Secondly, if Gender Links can facilitate the participation of more women’s organisations and movements in the SADC region at the African Union level, then our voices will be amplified and our issues as SADC will also be taken abroad and this also gives us an opportunity of networking with our sisters in West, North, Central and East Africa.

“I only have two words to describe Gender Links: “perseverance” and “energy”. For any gender activist who would really want to network and get to learn about the daily struggles of gender activists in Southern Africa, Gender Links is the place to be and believe me, you can never go wrong. Gender Links is the home of gender activists in Southern Africa and will continue to be for years to come, through supporting its initiatives, and I must say, I am proud to be associated with Gender Links!”

GL Board Member and first chair of GL Thenjiwe Mtintso adds: “I would like to see GL not only sustaining where it is at, which is very critical – but going further up. The thing about success is it that it is dangerous, you cannot afford to go lower. When you climb a mountain you never get to the top. At the last board meeting we were flying, we believed we could fly and we flew. And that’s the thing about Gender Links, we have to keep going. Where is the top for gender? And when can we say we have achieved gender equality?”

I tell my daughters that mine is a rare profession in which you work to work your way out of a job. I have a sneaking feeling though that come 2015 GL will still need to be around, being a “yes we can” kind of organisation, and soldiering on!

(Colleen Lowe Morna is Executive Director of GL. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that features fresh views on everyday news. To access Giant Footprints, GL’s 10-year book, click here)


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