Prior to the establishment of the AWLI between 1996 and 1997, AMwA operated mainly as a charity based organisation supporting african women living in the UK.
Around 1985 there were many African Women living in the UK as students, professionals, migrants, refugees etc. They felt it was important for them to come together to provide support for themselves in a hostile foreign land and environment. They also wanted to sustain the links that they had with the social and political movements that they had been involved with. Some of them had been part of the Liberation struggles and some were part of the women’s movement and they wanted to sustain those links they had left behind on the continent.
AMwA realised the importance of developing an eye for new leadership and building on what was already there. And so it was that in 1995, AMwA led a delegation of young women to the Women’s Conference in Beijing. At this time, AMwA conducted a study to understand the challenges of young African women. The results of the study reflected that women on the continent did not have opportunities to express their ideas and no spaces to horn their skills.
So, after the years AMwA evolved along two lines; i.e. providing support for African Women in the UK and progressively African Women in Europe. The support they were giving to women on the continent was mainly through organising conferences every other year and sourcing some funding to allow active women’s representatives from the continent to attend international conferences but we felt that was not enough.
In 1996 AMwA’s Director then Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Everjoice Win and Stella Mukasa the then President of AMwA conceived the idea of organising a Leadership Institute. At the time, leadership institutes existed in other parts of the world but not Africa. Bisi pledged to take the leadership institute to Africa. Again, demonstrating how AMwA was taking charge of its own agenda. The first AWLI was then held in 1997 for three consecutive years in Kampala, Uganda, and Accra Ghana.
At the beginning the founders wanted to run the AWLI as a pilot for 3 years with the aim of securing a core group of African women on the continent preferably young African feminists who can define a more progressive agenda. They wanted to popularise the concept of women’s leadership. “The AWLI was actually the first program to come out and actively to define women as leaders. It was after AMwA started running the AWLI, naming women in the same sentence with leadership, that other programmes started emerging with similar concepts”Bisi narrates.
In setting up the AWLI the founders wanted to ask critical questions about who we are as women, what tools we bring to the women’s movement. What is our entry point and what are the things we would and would not take for granted. We wanted to build a feminist movement that was our agenda and has been since 1997.
To date the AWLI has become our niche; training over 4000 women across the African continent who are continuing to advance the women’s agenda on the continent in various ways including the establishment of organisations