August 16th, 2019
Good evening and bon appetit,
The only way forward for our continent is generational collaboration and we are starting this movement here and now.
This retreat is about conversations, about asking tough questions that we would otherwise not have the opportunity or the space to ask and that’s what my reflections will be about, a lot of why and how;
1- Our Co-leadership
I knew that every revolution has been driven by youth but I did not know I will take part in one. I did not know I will come from a generation that changed the course of history of my country, Tunisia and of the world eventually. My generation’s mission has already been defined in 2011 by the slogan of the revolution “Employment, Freedom, Dignity” and the tools of my generation have been also defined – technology and innovation
Thanks to the revolution I am the leader I am today because it made me believe that change can happen and we, young people, can do it. That’s why I am proud of my sisters and young people of Sudan who said their word and they are the ones who will build the sudan they want.
The street taught me to be fearless, radical, bold and stand up for my rights, but I have grown the past 8 years, from the resistance confrontation mood, to building, dialogue, and futuristic thinking mood, kind of grown from seeing myself as a subject to a citizen, to an actor and changemaker.
So that noisy me asking for participation, for a seat at the table, writing petitions, campaigning, since a few months now, became the youth envoy of the AU, which means I now have a seat at the table and it’s a heavy seat to elevate and amplify the voices of over 300 million youth on this continent. I realized more and more that nurturing, supporting and facilitating intergenerational spaces would be my humble contribution during my mandate.
Organizing this retreat is intergenerational in its process, when we had the first meeting with Mama Binta Diop she told us “this is your retreat, lead us”. That’s all we needed to hear to get organized, sometimes that’s all what we ask for – to listen to us and to trust us to lead, to be in charge and along the way she mentored us on how to navigate our home institutions, how to bring people together and connect the dots, the process of how we got here is as important as what we will discuss here.
2- Our Pan-Africanism
We have layers and layers of identity. What does it mean to be African? What does it mean to be an African woman leader? What does it mean to be young?
I was in south sudan two weeks ago and young South sudanese women told me that within the youth space, the conversation are led by young men, and in women’s spaces, they also feel excluded and not listened to. And that’s the question of where do I belong I comes in?
Maybe we can all find where we belong as African women in Pan-Africanism because historically Pan-Africanism was about Liberation, liberty to Be, to Become to Belong as an equal human being. But that vision of Pan-Africanism, requires a new approach to African leadership that is gender and generational inclusive because the struggle for dignity today is described as “voice and participation” – so we lost the radical nature where we started in our pan-african values. If we are to be true to young people, to young women, “Voice” is not enough to end unemployment and poverty!
Everyone now wants us to be entrepreneurs but the entrepreneurship that doesn’t enable us to become self liberated and productive is not Pan-African.
So building this movement for African women, AWLN, requires a redefinition of New Pan-Africanism of the 21st century to liberate ourselves from poverty, patriarchy and inequality and it’s for the millennials to redefine it because pan-Africanism of the 50s served its purpose, created independent nation states. For our generation, the Africa we want today is borderless with e-governance, e-commerce and e-citizenship. So How can AWLN become more grounded in a Pan-African identity and values because patriarchy is a threat to PanAfricanism too? How does it move away from elitist pan-africanism?
3- Our Value
There is a huge pressure on our generation to lead and not to fail and to save the world.
So much is expected from us – get to school, graduate, get a job, be an engineer, be a teacher, be an entrepreneur, be a leader, and be a mom and a wife because of course marriage is still in our societies considered the ultimate achievement of a woman while our male counterparts can travel the world.
Can’t we just be whatever the hell we want to be – our badass selves!!
And that’s why we need your mentorship, mothers. We honestly want to know; how did you do it? why do we have to go through a circle of injustices when we would know how you experienced it? Why do I have to stand powerless in front of patriarchy when I would know how you deal with it, and I do many times stand powerless because patriarchy is so creative and manifests every time differently. Why do I have to get depressed and burnout when I would know how you balance your life? how do you go through life on a daily basis as a woman leader? What tricks did your generation learn that you can pass on to us?
As much as we need you to listen to us, mothers, we need to hear from you, the more we know what you have endured and how did you overcome, the more we have the confidence to overcome it too.
We are hungry to learn from your wisdom so we do not fail the next generation but we need access to you as well, to seek guidance when we need it. We can’t be mentored through Personal Assistants and emails, we need your whatsapp numbers!!
We hope this retreat is the start of that relationship.
I know this is organized by the African Union and the United Nations but we’re hoping this is aspace free from AU/UN language, and we’re able to find our intergenerational language that connects us as women and breaks down barriers because, mothers, sometimes we feel trapped in these frameworks.
Sometimes we feel used, ticking boxes, a women empowerment box here, a youth participation there! We feel tokenized, patronized, UNized, AUized!
Before, there was that one conference the one meeting that will define the decision the solution and the action altogether, like the All African People’s Conference 1958 .Now we have so many conferences, many meetings that no one knows what’s the agenda why are we there and What do we show up for!
And yet we show up, for many young women it’s a free service, which at some point gives a sense of worthlessness. When you are constantly as a young african woman not valued for your skillset, free consultations, free writing, free note taking, free organizing, volunteering your time, your guts your soul then you burnout. You get depressed and no one remembers to check on you because of course, mental health is at the end of the world’s top priorities. Probably we also don’t build a support system in the first place because all of us learn from the male space and masculine competition, how to tear each other down, instead of opening the space for more women to thrive.
There is a cycle of bias that young people can offer their skillset and time for free all the time and that’s why youth in Africa is defined until 35, the only continent to have this age definition. While in other continents at 21 you finish school and get a job, in Africa at 35 you find yourself with no financial freedom, not able to support a family with no political and social life.
Since 1963, you told us the ambitions set at the time were that we’re going to have agro-based economy and industrialize. Isn’t legitimate for our generation then to ask – Why have we not in more than 60 years, reached economic independence?why women do not own the means of production? and how long it will take to see our richest continent deliver for us? Instead of hustling!
Because young women life is a hustle!! hustle for funding as civil society, hustle to collaborate with institutions, with governments, with ministries, hustle to participate in peace processes, hustle to have representation, hustle with protocol, with gatekeepers, hustle with bureaucracy, hustle from one meal to another, one DSA to another, from one bill to another!
And our hutle is romanticized
So, we need your help mothers, because the reality is that we live in a society that does not value its youth and young women, that does not value our contribution, our skillset, our innovative minds, that its okay to cut the cliterus, its okay to marry at 9 years old , its okay to be killed for going to school, that its a crime to have a period and that we better stay home if we cannot manage it. It’s always about being a girl not being a human.
Of course, we can see substantial progress because of the struggles and sacrifices of women like many of you here, mothers but don’t you think it’s a fragile progress, and not homogenous on the continent when two neighboring countries one has 60% women in parliament and the other 52% child marriage, so how do we stand in solidarity with all African girls?
As we ask a lot from you, mothers, we also need to reflect my sisters how can young women be there for senior women and advocate for issues that affect them.
We will not be young forever, all these generational categories are transitional and so there is a need for fluidity of support, advocacy and action.
The issues of pension, healthcare systems, insurance systems that are not sensitive to elder women needs and poor and marginalized elders that do not have access to the privileges that we have in this room.
These are some of the many questions and reflections I have and If we are all here it means we all believe that these spaces are necessary and impactful we now have to articulate what does generational co-leadership actually mean, what are the commitments it will take working together, sharing ideas, coaching and mentoring. And how do we make sure these conversations and spaces are everywhere in Africa that this is not the only one. In all conference we attend, there should be a space like this because it’s empowering, nurturing and badass.
Ms. Aya Chebbi
Special Envoy on Youth
African Union Commission