‘Women need to be on de­vel­op­ment bullet train’

As ties be­tween Africa and China grow, women should not be left out, a prom­i­nent Tan­za­nian tells Chen Yingqun.

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - Con­tact the writer at cheny­ingqun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China and Africa should take women into ac­count when plan­ning eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment and in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion pro­grams, said Gertrude Mon­gella of Tan­za­nia, sec­re­tarygen­eral of the Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women.

Mon­gella, who at 69 is a prom­i­nent fig­ure in women’s is­sues in her coun­try and in­ter­na­tion­ally, said that China is play­ing a key role in Africa’s de­vel­op­ment, op­er­at­ing many big pro­grams in ar­eas such as in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and tourism. It is im­por­tant to make sure these pro­grams also ben­e­fit women from both sides, she said.

“De­vel­op­ment, in China in par­tic­u­lar, is like a bullet train, and with­out China’s de­vel­op­ment women will be left be­hind,” she said. “There will be a bullet train that moves from China to Africa and from Africa to China. Let’s all be on that train. We can­not just sit and watch men travel from China to Africa or from Africa to China. We have to be on the bullet train.”

When China sets up schol­ar­ships in Africa, for ex­am­ple, it should con­sider how the schol­ar­ships could help African women ob­tain ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, she said. In the tourism in­dus­try, it should look at whether women could sell more tourist sou­venirs or get jobs in tourism-re­lated in­dus­tries.

“China is very ac­tive in Africa’s de­vel­op­ment now, which is a great op­por­tu­nity for women in Africa, as they can play a more im­por­tant role in the process,” Mon­gella said. “We hope women in Tan­za­nia ben­e­fit from such in­dus­try, and more in­dus­tries to come.”

For Africa, China is a huge mar­ket. A huge amount of busi­ness could be gen­er­ated for both sides if ev­ery Chi­nese per­son drank a cup of Tan­za­nia’s fa­mous cof­fee ev­ery day.

“I want to see more women par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional trade and pro­grams and agree­ments signed by gov­ern­ments,” she said, adding that she would also like to see more women work­ing in re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tutes.

Mon­gella was in Bei­jing re­cently at the in­vi­ta­tion of the All-China Women’s Fed­er­a­tion to learn about Chi­nese women’s de­vel­op­ment. This year also marks the 20th an­niver­sary of both China’s state pol­icy of gen­der equal­ity and the Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women in 1995, held in Bei­jing.

Mon­gella said the con­fer­ence was the big­gest and most ef­fec­tive ever held un­der United Na­tions aus­pices and led to sev­eral break­throughs. The con­fer­ence first iden­ti­fied 12 fields in which to pro­mote progress and im­prove women’s de­vel­op­ment, prompt­ing many coun­tries to show con­cern for women’s causes and change poli­cies and laws. Mean­while, many peo­ple’s think­ing has shifted.

“With the Bei­jing con­fer­ence, we were able to break the si­lence on so many is­sues,” she said, cit­ing vi­o­lence against women as an ex­am­ple. “Ev­ery­where they speak of vi­o­lence against women as evil, the con­fer­ence crit­i­cized a lot of bad treat­ment of women.”

The con­fer­ence con­nected women from all over the world, and made them start shar­ing thoughts and ac­tions about women’s is­sues, she said. There has also been great progress in the past 20 years: Girls’ ed­u­ca­tion has in­creased, more women are re­ceiv­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion, and their aware­ness of women’s rights and women’s role in so­ci­ety is also im­prov­ing.

Gov­ern­ment com­mit­ments, such as Tan­za­nia’s prom­ise to im­prove women’s health, ed­u­ca­tion and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, have in­creased. Some coun­tries have ex­celled, such as Rwanda, where there are women lead­ers in many im­por­tant jobs, such as bank pres­i­dents and sher­iffs.

Mon­gella said she was one of very few women of her gen­er­a­tion who at­tended col­lege. She also be­came the first pres­i­dent of the Pan-African Par­lia­ment in 2004. She was a long­time mem­ber of Tan­za­nia’s par­lia­ment and a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter for most of the 1980s. She has served in nu­mer­ous na­tional and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and has re­ceived many awards, in­clud­ing an honorary doc­tor­ate from Ewha Wo­mans Univer­sity in South Korea.

Mon­gella said that male sup­port is very im­por­tant to her, es­pe­cially that of her fa­ther and hus­band, who gave her con­fi­dence and also made her ca­pa­ble of be­liev­ing in oth­ers.

“Men can sup­port you, so I also re­al­ized in pol­i­tics, don’t only look for sup­port from women, look also for the sup­port from men, be­cause they will in­clude you and make you part of it.

“If you ex­clude your­self, they will leave you aside and you will lose your con­fi­dence, but if you have the ca­pac­ity to work and to show that you can even do bet­ter than them, then they will feel com­fort­able and they will re­spect you. … Peo­ple will not vote for you be­cause you are a woman. They vote for you be­cause you are the best,” she said.

She said all women should work hard to break the glass ceil­ing and to play a big­ger role in the world. There have been many pow­er­ful and won­der­ful women lead­ers, such as Hi­lary Clin­ton, and these lead­ers all have courage, dili­gence and con­fi­dence, Mon­gella said. There still are many his­tor­i­cal bar­ri­ers fac­ing women that have not been over­come yet, so women need to work harder to re­move these bar­ri­ers and change women’s sta­tus.

Women world­wide face many sim­i­lar prob­lems, which some­times are not re­lated to their coun­tries’ eco­nomic sta­tus. The per­cent­age of women in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions re­mains low, whether in rich coun­tries or poor. Some­times, in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, that per­cent­age is higher than in de­vel­oped coun­tries, she notes. In 1995, for ex­am­ple, the per­cent­age of women in Tan­za­nia’s par­lia­ment was higher than in Ja­pan’s par­lia­ment.

In­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion could help women’s ca­reers, she said, by set­ting up in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted stan­dards that re­spect women’s rights.

“I would en­cour­age women in the world to make more ef­fort to study, to work and to seek a bet­ter eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

Some of the agree­ments es­tab­lished in 1995 have met with dif­fi­cul­ties in im­ple­men­ta­tion. That of­ten is re­lated to larger is­sues, such as when se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity are lack­ing.

In some African coun­tries, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity has caused women to be­come refugees, she noted. When they are home­less, it is more dif­fi­cult for women to care about ed­u­ca­tion and other is­sues.

“Women need to care about changes in the in­ter­na­tional sit­u­a­tion be­cause, whether they like or not, we are all af­fected by these changes,” Mon­gella said.

Con­struc­tion of in­ter­na­tional sys­tems is still un­der­way, and there are more pro­grams now tak­ing women into ac­count. How­ever, when gov­ern­ments deal with women’s is­sues, there are still too many com­pli­ca­tions. She said she would like to see women’s is­sues ex­pe­dited more of­ten.

In Europe, North Amer­ica and Asia, in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion took place be­fore the de­vel­op­ment of women is­sues, but Africa’s in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and the rise of the women’s agenda are hap­pen­ing at the same time. A key is­sue is how to ad­vance women’s is­sues while de­vel­op­ing the econ­omy.

“We’d bet­ter pay at­ten­tion to (in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion) and ask if it is help­ing the de­vel­op­ment of women if we in­dus­tri­al­ize this way, and not al­low women to be spec­ta­tors,” Mon­gella said

She said she hopes her grand­daugh­ter’s gen­er­a­tion will be able to live in a so­ci­ety where in­fra­struc­ture is com­pleted and poverty is erad­i­cated, and she would like to en­cour­age more of the younger gen­er­a­tion to seize Africa’s op­por­tu­ni­ties as much as they can.

China is very ac­tive in Africa’s de­vel­op­ment now, which is a great op­por­tu­nity for women in Africa, as they can play a more im­por­tant role in the process.” Gertrude Mon­gella,

Sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women

FAN WEN­JUN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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