Thirty participants, twenty seven women and three men from Africa are attending a specialised training on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Israel. The countries represented are Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and South Sudan. The training is organised by the Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MASHAV)’s Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre (MCTC) in cooperation with UN Women East and Southern Africa Regional Office (UN Women ESARO).
MASHAV was founded in late 1957, and is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of the State of Israeli’s development cooperation programs. In turn MCTC was established by MASHAV in 1961 to assist in the training of women engaged on community work in the newly emerging states in Africa and Asia.
It concentrates on human and institutional capacity building by sharing Israel’s own development experience and expertise, imparting know-how and transferring innovative technologies and tested methodologies adaptable to a developing country’s needs.
MASHAV’s approach and methodologies ensure social, economic and environmental sustainable development, joining international community’s efforts to implement the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and the post-2015 Development Agenda, namely the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the event of natural disasters, MASHAV also provides humanitarian assistance and participates in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.
Since its establishment, over 19,500 participants from some 150 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Oceania, and the Caribbean have attended more than 650 capacity building programs and 28 International Conferences for Women Leaders, conducted in Israel. Hundreds more participants are reached annually in on the spot training programs abroad.
MTCT focuses on three areas of study: Community Development, Organisational and Management of Microenterprises, and Early Childhood Education, all with gender as a cross-cutting issue. In each training program there are up to 30 women and men from 10 to 27 countries. Usually two workshops are conducted concurrently in different languages. The centre is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa. A library specialising in education, social sciences and humanities, and a computer laboratory with internet access serve the participants’ needs.
UN Women is the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.
Over the years, UN Women Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESARO) has designed economic empowerment and leadership programmes whose key interventions will not only empower women and youth to access and control economic assets, but also build their entrepreneurial capacities as leaders in business, and bring women and youth to the forefront of agricultural transformation, small and medium enterprise development, and trade.
Addressing gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as increasing attention to economic and social development strategies are globally recognised as critical aspects of sustainable development. Women, especially in rural areas play a critical role in economies and societies in both developing and developed countries. Across the world, women have proven their commitment and resourcefulness in finding or adapting to new ways to improve their own lives, as well as those of their families and communities.
In several countries, small and medium enterprises owned by women are growing at a faster pace than the economy as a whole and consequently become a significant engine for job creation and growth.
At the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in September 2010, countries committed themselves to ‘promoting small and medium-sized enterprises through initiatives such as skills enhancement and technical training programmes, vocational training and entrepreneurial skills development as well as the promotion of financial services for micro, small-and medium-sized enterprises.
However, female entrepreneurs tend to have smaller networks than their male counterparts. Hence, it is necessary to create systems at the national and local levels for information exchange, training and technical advice and for assisting women in dealing with governments, donors and international institutions.
While agriculture remains one of the main pillars of economy within most developing countries, new forms of income and employment opportunities have to be promoted. Encouraging agricultural based innovative ventures will help the advancement of women in rural areas.
Guest of Honour at the training was the Zimbabwe Country Office's Deputy Country Representative Revai Makanje-Aalbaek who delivered a lecturer on the need to harness women's economic empowerment strategies with the private sector. Speaking at the same event, Ms Hava Karrie, Acting Director of MCTC emphasised the need for men, esepcially those with high political and policy stimulus to support women's economic empowerment initiatives.
The cooperation between UN Women ESARO and MASHAV is charged with historical significance, and cannot be understood in isolation from the chronological relations between Israel and Africa, especially within the frameworks of the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. In light of this, UN Women ESARO can only be highly commended for their transformational and thought leadership initiative, and for their ability to take advantage of historical moments to push the women’s agenda to the centre of this political organising. As Africa rises, women must surely rise along.
Relations between Israel and Africa can be traced back to the beginning of the African states' liberation from colonial rule in 1957-1960. Israel was among the first countries to extend substantial assistance to the newly independent and awakening countries through interventions in agriculture, medicine and defence to infrastructural projects such as the construction of airports, the establishment of shipping companies, educational and professional training institutions, etc.
Until 1973, some 30 Israeli embassies operated throughout the continent, and hundreds of experts from the MASHAV guided, trained and managed large projects in all these fields. Together Israel and Africa shared a common destiny as people who had suffered from discrimination and foreign rule, combined with a deep religious faithin whichthe mention of the name "Israel" remains almost sacred to date. Israel’s relationship with the then Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the AU was witnessed when Israel hosted an OAU delegation of conciliation, composed of the presidents of four African states (Senegal, Nigeria, Zaire and Cameroon), as part of the international efforts and initiatives to advance the peace process between Israel and its neighbours. The turning point in Israel-African relations occurred during the oil crisis of 1973 and the Yom Kippur War, when the Arab League applied heavy pressure on the OAU to pass a resolution recommending that member states sever relations with Israel, backed by the argument that by crossing the Suez Canal, Israel had occupied African land. This led to the large-scale closing of Israeli embassies throughout the continent drastically reduced the Israeli government and MASHAV presence. Renewal and initiation of new diplomatic relations between Israel and Africa began in the mid-1980's, parallel to the fluctuations in the Middle East peace process and Israel's relations with its neighbours, and mostly done in violation of the OAU's resolution andchallenging the authority of the Arab states. Today, Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with 39 of 47 of the countries south of the Sahara and has nine resident embassies on the continent. This restoration of diplomatic relations was accompanied by the renewal of government cooperation, albeit on a much smaller scale than had previously existed, focusing primarily on MASHAV training programs and humanitarian aid. Today, most of the Israeli activity on the African continent is of private corporations, primarily in the fields of development, diamonds, Africa's abundant raw materials and natural resources, infrastructure, telecommunications, and large agricultural projects.
At another level, the UN ESARO’s initiatives fit well under the ambit of fostering lasting peace and security initiatives on the African continent, especially as their interventions aim at reducing poverty amongst women, which is one of the causes of violence against women both in peace and in conflict times. ESARO’s partnerships also facilitate the rise of peace and security institutions in Africa, all adding up for cumulative processes towards lasting positive peace. (Galtung: 2012) Both Galtung and Gandhi contend that ending insecurities and conflict cannot be based on post-cold war concepts of developing frameworks and infrastructure for wars, but rather by non-violently resisting and eliminating the root causes of violence, and structural differences between women and men are one of the major causes of conflict and insecurities in Africa. (Gandhi in Galtung: 2012) Africa is rising and doing so in a unique and human centred way. While the Western initiatives after the Cold War focused on facilitating the growth of institutions for war and strategic studies, a new wave of institutional development also supported by UN Women focuses on peace building and conflict transformation institutions well focused on redefining national security from state centricism to a focus on human security. Rooted in the agenda for women’s rights, ESARO’s initiatives are backed by a rare epistemological standpoint that focuses more on finding reflective, critical and lasting solutions to the factors currently holding back the Africa continent’s growth.
In Kenya Esaro has built a similar partnership initiative with Kenyatta University, leading to the establishment of the African Centre for Transformative and Inclusive Leadership (ACTIL) in 2012. The ACTIL idea came at a period when Africa was celebrating 50 years of its independence, the discovery of more and more natural resources and the realisation for localising the benefits of the continent’s natural resources. Alongside this excitement was the a dialogue about the missing piece; the lack of equality between women and men even in terms of access to and utilisation of resources, and also the general lack of a transformative leadership crop as well as the rising military coups, armed conflicts, disease, violence against women and poverty. This practical reality provoked the idea of UN Women contributing to the emergence of leaders who can take the rich resources that Africa has including its people and use them to transform our societies to the level and vision that AU has crafted where we want to be in 50 years’ time. UN Women ESARO was very clear about this and thus chose to set up a centre of learning that can foster dialogue among leaders about what needs to change and how women can be agents of change alongside men. In UN Women ESARO’s conceptualisation and power analytical framework leadership is about creating quality and influential front-runners than just more followers - it is not about power over others but more about power within moving from inside to touch and groom others and transforming itself into power with others. The drivers of the ACTIL model of leadership create an environment within which people can respect each other and understand fundamental human rights and know that these are rights everybody in our society is entitled to enjoy.
In Zimbabwe UN Women ESARO has introduced the ACTIL Transformative Leadership model through its training of women parliamentarians and women leaders from the political parties in collaboration with the UN Women Country Office and the Parliament of Zimbabwe. This year the UN Women Country Office is in turn partnering with the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at African University (IPLG-AU) to introduce this leadership training model for women politician and young women for the next three years until 2017 under the Norway funded Gender, Peace and Security project. In addition to the training courses that will be offered, UN Women Zimbabwe will support the setting up of a full-fledged Transformative Leadership Department and at IPLG-AU to offer certificated courses on Transformative Leadership, Conflict Analysis and Conflict Management for both elderly women and young women.
Going forward, UN Women ESARO could make even more impact by harnessing the support of the African Union Chairperson’s Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security for the replication of similar initiatives in war torn spaces like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as a way of promoting the right of women to benefit from land and other natural resources for their economic empowerment and source of power and strength in the face of strife. Regional Economic Commissions continent wide can also support this initiative as a means of ensuring a uniform early warning framework for women across Africa when women’s efforts to highlight the effects of poverty on their peace and security are well coordinated and supported as part of the continent’s agenda for sustainable peace. Well done Esaro, well done MASHAV!.