South-South cooperation emerged as collective reaction to the global political and economic changes. South based countries felt a need to come together based on a shared common past namely colonialism and fighting for a war that was not theirs namely the World Wars. Many citizens in south based countries were taken across borders to fight on behalf of colonising countries. The unequal relationship between the North and South further reinforced the need for South-South cooperation. The Nairobi outcome document of the High Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation defines South-South Cooperation as “ a common endeavour of people and countries of the South , born of shared experiences and sympathies , based on their common objective of solidarity and guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty and ownership , free from any conditionality .South –South therefore in the ideal situation should be seen as a partnership among equals based on solidarity.
From the Bandung conference to the Non-Aligned Movement, the South South-South cooperation architecture continues to date with various forms of economic integration. Sadly, despite the initial push by South-South Cooperation to promote equality, the current situation is no better when we talk of equality. In South-South development projects, voices and concerns of women are normally muted. In the available jobs during for example a South-Cooperation mega project women tend to get the menial jobs of sweeping surfaces and clearing debris. Additionally, such projects also make women vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.
Sadly, African has become the new frontier for development, with almost every country coming up with infrastructural projects comprising of roads, railways and airports. A walk through African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal and Zambia, one is bound to see these mega projects.
Many a times when new development projects come, local communities are promised jobs which in the long run never materialise. Public awareness on the potential negative impact of a mega project is rarely done. Women tend to be the ones most affected by these mega projects such as construction of high ways, roads and airports. When family land is lost to pave way for development projects, women are the ones who suffer because at the household level they are the ones responsible for household food security. When communities get cut off due to infrastructural projects, women have to detour and walk longer distances to get to the community well. In extreme cases such social amenities like wells get destroyed to pave way for ‘development’, schools which would have helped ensure gender parity to an extent also get demolished, this can result into school drop-out as not every parent can afford to transfer their children. Sadly, in such instances the first casualty is normally the girl child. Furthermore, when families get compensated during mega projects development, which sometimes never happens, the compensation mainly goes to the husband or male member of the family in form of sons. Women get short changed in some cases either because they do not have tittle deeds, have not secured identity cards, do not know how to read and write or lack the negotiation power to ask for higher amounts of compensation or because of a patriarchal system that gives priority to males. Once the compensation money is released, men tend to move away from their homes and go to the nearest city or town, squander the entire compensation then come back home empty handed.
And when the South-South cooperation is in the form of technical cooperation, rarely is there exchange of technology with local women. They are relegated to be suppliers of food to the men working on the construction site within which a development project is taking place or to clear debris in dusty wheelbarrows.
It is therefore about time women claim a rightful place around issues of South-South Cooperation. If South-South Cooperation is to really work, women should be at the forefront and technology needs to be transferred to women.
As Thomas Sankara aptly put it, we cannot talk about liberation without women. We cannot talk about South-South Cooperation when women voices and experiences are muted.
Cover image Ó https://kenyanews.co.ke