African Women Leaders Network call for increased representation of Women in the COVID-19 response at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Date: Sunday, March 21, 2021

At a side event during the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) convened women leaders across the continent to discuss the importance of women’s leadership in decision-making and key achievements of the AWLN National Chapters. The side event, titled “National Chapters: Driving Women’s Leadership in Africa”, was co-hosted by UN Women, the African Union Commission, the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the 2021 Chair of the African Union, and the Government of Germany.

Launched in June 2017, the Network now has 25 National Chapters across Africa. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these National Chapters strived to advance the Network’s goals of peace and security, political participation, agriculture, financial inclusion, and young women’s leadership. However, challenges remain, including armed violence and insecurity, rising domestic violence, early marriage and teen pregnancies, weak legislations on women’s political participation, and the negative impact of COVID-19 on food production and on women entrepreneurs.

In her keynote address, the former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, insisted: “in our drive to find solutions to our problems, challenges and development needs, one critical factor that we need is political will or leadership: leadership at continental level; leadership at regional level and leadership at national level.”

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka acknowledged the opportunity that the Network presents to transform the face of African leadership. Yet, recalling that “only 27 per cent of countries worldwide have [COVID-19] task teams where women are adequately represented,” she emphasized the need for change.

Madame Bineta Diop, AU Commission Special Envoy on Women, Peace, and Security, urged “all women leaders to continue advocating for bold changes and solutions that will sustain the gains made over the years.” As governments and other stakeholders strive to rebuild a post-COVID-19 ecosystem, she insisted on the need for gender-responsive solutions. 

In their opening remarks AWLN Young Women’s Caucus Chair Joannie Mbewa called for a strong and groundbreaking inter-generational movement bringing together women leaders.

Paul Empole Efambe Losoko, Charge d’affaires a.i. at the DRC Permanent Mission to the UN, acknowledged the role and leadership of women in the COVID-19 response. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to sustain the AWLN initiative. 

Moderated by Awa Ndiaye Seck, UN Women Special Representative on the Establishment of AWLN National Chapters, the event featured Julienne Lusenge of the AWLN DRC National Chapter, Barrister Ebere Ifendu of the AWLN Nigeria National Chapter, Jennifer Riria of the AWLN Kenya National Chapter, Emelda Vhiriri of the AWLN Zimbabwe National Chapter and Jamila Ksiksi, representing the AWLN Tunisia National Chapter.

Since 2017, the AWLN conducted joint UN-AU solidarity missions to revitalize women’s participation and leadership in peace, security and development in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. The missions brought much needed political attention to the situation on the ground, while promoting women’s meaningful participation as mediators in all efforts of conflict-resolution, sustainable development, peacebuilding and humanitarian interventions.

At the national level, the National Chapters are active in promoting women’s leadership in all sectors of public life. In 2020, they supported women leaders and women peacebuilders to advocate with armed groups to heed the Secretary General’s Call for a Global Ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Mali, the Network members are contributing to their country’s peace and transition process, including by advocating for the full implementation of the gender quota law.

In December 2020, the AWLN held its second inter-generational retreat on women’s leadership to further enhance young women’s leadership and build bridges across generations of women leaders in Africa.