Muna Ndulo

Muna Ndulo

Date: March 24, 2011
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This is a moment in Gender Link’s life that is incredibly special. For all of us it should lead to some reminiscence and, of course, lessons and taking stock as to where we are in the fight for gender equality and a world free of gender discrimination.

In ten years Gender Links has grown into an internationally recognised player in gender rights and the advancement of women. It has grown from the humble beginnings of a small office at the back of Colleen Lowe Morna’s house, with one employee and one computer, to its own office space and 50 employees; regional offices in Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Madagascar, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The growth alone is a big story and a lesson in how to develop an organisation.

GL has spearheaded the development and adoption of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol on Gender and Development. It has developed multiple programmes and trained thousands of gender activists and media personnel. GL has trained grassroots organisations in its constant efforts to build capacity at the local level to eradicate gender discrimination. By any account and standard this is a remarkable achievement. Its achievements can only be described as breathtaking and inspiring. I would go as far as to say the story of Gender Links is one of the most significant growth stories of an NGO in Southern Africa and equals the best elsewhere in the world.

Thanks to the work of gender activists and organisations like GL, it is now indisputable that women and men are entitled to the same rights and that the intricate web of those rights, equality, and peace is correlated with development. The world is experiencing unprecedented strides in gender rights, and gender dynamics continue to undergo rapid social, political, and economic changes. Now more than ever, women are represented in almost every facet of social, economic, political and civil life. In many African countries, women now have the right to own land and real property, to vote, to assembly, to redress wrong, and to run for offices previously held only by men. It is also generally accepted that women’s rights around the world are an important indicator of global well-being.

Despite these advances, there is still much more to be done. In many parts of the world including our own region women work more than men, yet are paid less. Gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime, and women and girls are often the ones that suffer the most poverty. While many countries have ratified international and regional agreements guaranteeing women equal rights and protection from discrimination, these agreements have not translated or have not given rise to better living and working conditions. Women still represent the majority of the poor and the uneducated in Africa. Young women are trafficked, forced to work as sex slaves and face the threat of HIV/AIDS infection.

There may be more women in leadership positions but that does not necessarily translate into gender equality or equal and active participation in decision-making. Both women and men face the tri facti burden of unemployment, illiteracy, and violence.

Gender Links serves not only to shine light on these conditions but to help alleviate obstacles to the achievement of equality between the sexes. It is committed to providing gender equality in every area of society in accordance with the provisions of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Unparalleled in its work in the Southern Africa region and beyond, Gender Links has earned a reputation for tirelessly educating, enabling, and creating paths for equality where none existed or had only begun to bud.

This year, Gender Links celebrates its 10th year of working towards the promotion of gender equality and the eradication of gender violence. Over the years, it has served as a beacon and an instrument of instruction and change. Though physically headquartered in South Africa, GL’s reach spans the globe. By its pioneering Sixteen Days of Activism and community work, GL has been instrumental in helping to combat gender violence and to create an enabling environment where both sexes can work towards the development of sustainable equality policies.

No doubt GL has had some setbacks. In the nature of things life cannot simply be a series of successes. The road to success is always under construction so it has been and will continue to be with Gender Links.

As we celebrate the achievements of Gender Links, we should not forget to give credit and thanks to those who have made this dream possible. Colleen Lowe Morna, the founding executive director, and Thenjiwe Mtintso, my predecessor and founding chair of GL, deserve our congratulations and heartfelt gratitude.

The importance of leadership and the role it has played in the development of GL should not be underestimated. No organisation can succeed without leadership. How well an organisation develops depends on the idiosyncratic characteristics of the people involved. Success is not a straight-forward function of auspicious conditions and of clever choice of programs suited to the context. Personalities and the quality of leadership influence outcomes.

The Gender Links staff- the men and women who plan and execute the numerous Gender Links programs, the donors and partners of Gender Links all deserve our thanks.

GL must keep its contacts and networks. It must always remember the wise saying: “if you want to go somewhere quickly travel alone. If you want to go far travel with others.”

I would like to close this short article on a personal note. I have been associated with GL from its inception. It has been ten years of personal growth, incredible friendship and personal satisfaction. Gender Links has been my mentor in gender issues. Much of what I know in gender studies I owe to Gender Links. I shall forever be grateful. I wish Gender Links great success.

Let us all join in celebrating the remarkable story of GL; its growth from 67 Eckstein Street, Observatory Johannesburg to 9 Derrick Avenue, Cyrildene, Johannesburg; its successes and achievements. As I have said often to GL staff – wisdom passed down from my mother – work never betrays the worker. Keep up the good work through this decade and beyond!

Dr Ndulo, Chair of the GL Board, is Professor of Law Cornell University Law School and Director of Cornell University’s Institute for African Development.

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