Athalia Molokomme

Athalia Molokomme

Date: March 4, 2011
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Gender Links at Ten: looking older than your age!

When I heard that Gender Links was turning ten years of age, my first reaction was typically to move quickly to correct the error. Colleen must have been working so hard that she had lost count of all the years of lobbying, writing, persuading, threatening and simply preaching. It can’t possibly have been only been ten years, no way. Then I read Colleen’s foreword and realised that she had in fact checked her dates and was strictly speaking correct; GL was indeed registered as a legal entity ten years ago, and like a marriage, its official anniversary is counted only from the point of legal recognition. So the lawyer in me was at ease, but the gender activist at my core kept gnawing at my conscience, refusing to surrender.

This feeling kept eating at me until it developed into a full fire in my belly which I recognised from many years ago; I had to tell the world the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about GL. So I decided to make that the theme of my contribution to this tenth anniversary celebration of Gender Links. So here we go.

As we all know, many great ideas, organisations and relationships develop and mature over time, and by the time they take on a formal, legal existence, they have matured and are ready to take off. Such, in my view has been the path of GL, and Colleen, as the brains and the womb that conceived and delivered GL, may be too close to the process to recognise this long and winding path. Allow me, as one of the proud midwives, to jog Colleen’s memory in this regard.

Gender Links is firmly rooted in, and was an inevitable product of the Southern African regional women’s movement, and I am convinced that it began to form in Colleen’s mind, albeit subconsciously, long before her time at the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE). It was in the mid-1990s after we returned from the Fourth UN World Conference on Women (Beijing). We were all fired up by the slogan: think globally, and act locally that we added a new one in the middle: network sub-regionally. And that is exactly what we did.

As a follow up to Beijing, a number of gender activists who had been working at national level in NGOs and academia forged a rare alliance with bureaucrats in national gender machineries and IGOs such as SADC and UNDP. The SADC Secretariat was used as a rallying point and various meetings and workshops were organised under their umbrella to coordinate the monitoring of the Beijing Platform of Action at a regional level. The Randburg Declaration, which preceded the SADC Gender and Development Declaration, was the result of many days of meeting in preparation for engendering SADC, which produced “Into the Future: Gender and SADC”.

Before SADC knew it, in 1997, a new item, “the institutionalisation of gender into SADC” had found its way into the agenda of the SADC Council of Ministers meeting. The following week, SADC Heads of State and Government found themselves signing a Protocol on Gender and Development, amid chants of “Oo saena…” in Blantyre, Malawi.

A long line of suspects and accomplices who will remain unidentified were involved in this process, but if truth be told, Colleen was the visible hand and driving force behind the whole thing, and the main suspect. As we say, the rest is herstory, which is where Gender Links comes in.

Networks are by nature fluid and often temporary liaisons, which bring people of similar principles and ideas together. They often dissipate and their members scatter in different directions to pursue their various dreams and causes. And so it happened with all of us, some went back to run their NGOs, government jobs, politicians to run their parties and academics to teach their courses. The SADC Gender Unit was set up to monitor the implementation of the Gender Declaration.

The following year, the SADC Addendum on Violence Against Women was moved primarily by the same line of suspects, some operating from new terrain, with the main accused – Colleen – now operating from the South African Commission for Gender Equality. The policies and institutional frameworks were now in place, at national and regional levels, and it was now time for implementation, time to walk the talk, and to ensure that the portrayal of women in the media matched these lofty statements of principle.

Clearly, there was need for an organisation outside the bureaucracy to play a watchdog and capacity building role at regional level. That organisation was none other than Gender Links, led by none other than the chief suspect, Colleen, and some of her accomplices naturally became the inaugural board members, serving from wherever they were.

It has been a pleasure to be associated with the tireless work of GL over the years, until my current responsibilities left me no choice but to let go, ever so reluctantly. I am proud of the many achievements of Gender Links, and learnt a whole lot from the challenges. I am not surprised that GL has become a household name at national, regional and global level. I especially like the fact that while GL pioneered entry into the hitherto unchartered waters of gender and the media, they have remained at the frontline of lobbying for gender equality in all areas of public and private life.

I was therefore not surprised that a couple of years ago, GL played a key role in the adoption of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, once again, with some of the usual suspects. I have no doubt that GL’s role in the struggle for gender equality will continue unabated for another decade, and many decades to come.

Happy Tenth Birthday GL, you really do look and behave older than your age. I am proud to have been present at your conception and birth.

Athalia Molokomme is former Deputy Chair of the Gender Links board and the current Attorney-General of Botswana.

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