Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — When the chair of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma walked into the 21st bi-annual Gender is my Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) meeting on Tuesday she was given a reception, I am sure, she does not usually receive when carrying out her official business. Women, who represent the 55 civil society organisations that make up the GIMAC movement, welcomed her with song.
This is the first GIMAC meeting since the appointment of Dlamini-Zuma as AU chair last July. This year the AU celebrates its 50th anniversary, and Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to serve as its leader.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the international Young Women's Christian Association, says the singing was not only in celebration of Dlamini-Zuma's appointment but it was also a way of "celebrating the journey, because we know it has not been an easy journey for her and other women".
GIMAC, now in its 10th year, was formed to create a space for civil society organisations to formulate plans and advocate on issues of importance for African women. This has included advocating for equitable representation of women in decision-making positions in the AU. Since its inception, GIMAC has held bi-annual meetings immediately prior to the annual AU summits and has over the years contributed to the adoption of several texts that promote and protect the rights of women. So it is no surprise that the members of GIMAC not only understand the struggle of women but that they feel a great sense of achievement in Dlamini-Zuma's appointment as chair.
The first day of the 21st GIMAC Summit focused on education. With the majority of Africa's population being youth, there is a particular responsibility to ensure that the continent's young people have the skills they need, Dlamini-Zuma said. "Education does not wait - it is a window that closes in time," she said, underscoring the urgency of the situation.
The 21st GIMAC Summit was co-chaired by the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), one of the civil society organisations that make up GIMAC. In her welcoming address, Oley Dibba-Wadda, FAWE executive director, said that it is "imperative that women and youth are supported and provided with the right tools so that they can engage and make meaningful contributions to decisions on the future of Africa".
Dlamini-Zuma also urged young people to get involved in politics. "Politics shapes the future," she said. "Even if you (youths) stay on the margins, you will inherit that future."
FAWE invited several students who have benefited from their educational bursaries to attend the summit. Perhaps inspired by Dlamini-Zuma, Sintayehu Bisetegn, a primary school student in Ethiopia who has received a full scholarship from FAWE, said she hopes to one day chair the AU.