2017 marks 20 years since the formation of the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI); a flagship programme of AKina Mama wa Afrika that many African women identify and relate with to date.
Conceived by two distinguished African Women Ms. Stella Mukasa and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, the AWLI was established in 1996 as a contribution towards the Post Beijing Initiatives in Africa. After attending the Women’s Human Rights Institute in Rutgers University, the duo were inspired to organize a similar program in Africa. “Why do we travel to USA to learn about human rights or women’s organising? They challenged themselves and after the two week program they committed to organize the Institute in Africa.
This dream was later shared other distinguished women like Everjoice Win, Sarah Mukasa, who was then the president of AMwAand heading the East/Horn of Africa Office, Husseina Abdullahi an independent consultant then. Jerusha Arothe-Vaughan, founder Member of AMwA and former President with other leaders who were active in AMwA concerned about the continuity and leadership in the women’s movement appreciated the institute as a vehicle for preparing the next generation of leaders. These were the women who breathed life into the AWLI we take pride in today.
AMwA decided that it was not enough to just organize adhoc activities around leadership…this is why AWLI was designed as a network to link emerging African Leaders.
“We wanted to popularize the concept of women’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge we were the first program to come out and actively define women as leaders. It was after AMwA started running the AWLI , naming women in the same sentence with leadership, that other programs started emerging with similar concepts. That is the impact we wanted to have. Before we started the AWLI it was unusual for women in the women’s movement to come out and say we want to promote women’s leadership, we want to mention women and leadership in the same sentence. As far as people were concerned it was conceptually incompatible i.e. women as leaders or leaders as women” Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
The 1st AWLI held from February 22nd –March 14th 1997 was one to reckon with, very competitive with over 350 applications received only 25 young African women from 18 countries were admitted into the 1st Institute. The AWLI was launched by Her Excellency the Vice President of Uganda, Dr. SPeciosa Wandira Kazibwe, at Lake Windsor Victoria Hotel, Entebbe. Highlights of the AWLI included lectures delivered by Dr. Pat McFadden the Feminist Studies Centre, Professor Charlotte Bunch Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, an inter-generational dialogue and a one day event in which participants met with the women parliamentarians; an event co-organized with Forum for Women in Democracy.
While the AWLI has evolved through the years with shorter periods of training, thematic orientation, self-sponsorship programs and strategic inclusion of men, the core mandate of strengthening African women’s capacities to lead and influence policy and decision making processes is still at the heart of AWLI. The activities that were undertaken then such as lectures, field visits, simultaneous workshops and group work, presentation of discussion papers, and intergenerational dialogues are still held to date. In addition the AWLI has also retained the use of the POT conceptual framework of Personal Empowerment, Organizational Development and Transfer of Skills although this was revised in 2012 for Personal Mastery, Organizing Skills and Taking Action, thus responding to the realities of African women and context.
To date AMwA is famously known for her flagship programme the AWLI which has strengthened the leadership capacities of over 4,000 African women in Africa and the United Kingdom. This is evidenced by the incredible efforts of the alumni championing the feminist agenda and influencing the development discourse on the African continent and beyond. The Tracer studies 2011 revealed that alumni had deepened their grounding in gender concepts, feminist theory as well as well as built agency to challenge patriarchy and other forms of oppression and exclusion.
As we celebrate 20 years of feminist leadership development in Africa, we salute all the founding members of the AWLI and Akina Mama wa Afrika for their courageous actions and commitment to advancing the feminist agenda in Africa. We are proud of you Great Women.