In 1989 the Senegalese singing superstar Youssou N'Dour recorded, "Shaking the Tree," a song co-written with rock legend Peter Gabriel. The song celebrates a new age for African women with lyrics like "Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life . . . Turning the tide, you are on the incoming wave . . . It's your day - a woman's day." I love the song, but twenty years later, the celebration seems premature - has the new age really dawned for African women?
I got stuck on this question last week after meeting Neimat Kuku, a fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy and one of the founders of the Gender Centre for Research and Training, and NGO that supports women's rights and gender equality, in Khartoum.
As Sudan moves toward elections next spring, the first democratic elections in two decades, Kuku is working tirelessly across the political spectrum to ensure that women participate in the elections and that they are fully represented in the outcome. Women's representation is key, according to Kuku, because peace and development cannot take place without adequate political representation of women and a policy framework for women's rights. International conventions such as the Beijing Platform for Action and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are critical tools for her organization because they establish internationally recognized goals for women's rights.
After we spoke, I pondered the fact that the Beijing Platform for Action was created in 1995 and CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 - thirty years ago! While they are valuable in supporting the struggles of Kuku and her sisters in Sudan, and all those who are struggling for women's rights, why is progress on women's rights taking so long? Neimat Kuku and women all over the world are still waiting for their day.
Director, Institute for Developing Nations,