Founder of Make Every Woman Count (MEWC).
W4A: Tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
Rainatou: I am a resilient advocate for a peaceful and equitable world. Since the age of 12, I have been working and advocating to promote African women and girls rights. I have worked with several NGOs such as Unicef, World health Organisation, International Organisation for Migration, Women International League for Peace and Freedom where I was involved in several projects to promote gender equality, women and girls rights. I am a risk taker. I believe life is all about taking risks. I would rather jump in the water to see what it feels like than to stand there and wonder what it may have been like. I believe that Africa’s challenges will not be effectively addressed unless the exclusion faced by women and girls is tackled across the board so that they can fully participate in the economic, political & social development of the continent.
W4A: You founded MEWC December 2010, which seeks to promote the empowerment and the rights of African women and girls. What inspired you to start the organisation?
Rainatou: While the rights of women were instilled in me at a very young age, my passion was inspired by 10 young girls I used to give evening classes in my neighbourhood whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. I remember going to school and seeing young girls not much younger than myself staying at home to work or help their families. I just could not understand why they were not able to go to school, and I just couldn’t accept it. I decided if they are not able to go to school, I would teach them. So, I set up evening classes to teach the children basic reading and writing skills. I am proud to say that all of these young women have now gone through full education including University. Their stories touched me enormously and motivated me to be member of the Guinean Children Parliament where I advocated for the rights of girls to education and also later on to do a Master of International so that I would be better prepared to assist women and girls. I would say this is when the passion to help others was birthed.
When the African Union announced that 2010-2020 would be the African Women’s Decade (AWD), I knew what I had to do. From the beginning of my career I wanted to do something that could have a positive impact on African women’s and girls’ lives, but did not have a specific idea on how to implement it. The creation of the AWD prompted me to take control of my passion and career and thereby contribute to this landmark event. Through Make Every Woman Count, my aim is to provide a spectrum of platforms and tools for African women, grassroots, activists, international organizations and women’s rights groups.
I feel that what has been missing from the African women’s movement is a space, a voice that comes directly from African women. Most International organizations focused on empowering and gaining the equal rights of women often neglect the voices of African women themselves. . I see a bright future of young African women who are more and more showing themselves to be leaders in their own equal rights movements and through MEWC I hope to help them to find strength in their voices while raising awareness of their issues and their work on the international stage.
W4A: MEWC is a female led organisation. Do we need men to empower women too?
Rainatou: To empower a woman you must empower the entire society. Men have to be a part of this. If we don’t involve men we will not go very far. Cultural practices that have been around for centuries have told men and women of Africa (and beyond) that the woman should be at home. If we want to encourage women to educate themselves, and start their own business or find jobs, we must get the men on board. To do this we must be able to illustrate the benefits and importance of empowering women, by giving them tangible examples such as financial benefit and social benefit. Women’s rights will not progress unless women are in decision making roles. They need to be politically involved but first they must be educated
I am a strong believer of Adult Education. Adult education geared towards women is a powerful means to contribute to socio-economic development. For democracy to be achieved, women education is needed to educate them on the democratic culture as well as to inform them of their rights and responsibilities as democracy also requires people to actively participate at local, national and global levels.
W4A: Almost 2 years in, what’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how have you overcome it?
Rainatou: I would say the lack of funding and assistance. In order to get funding, you have to compete with bigger organisations and obviously they are the ones funders prefer giving money to.
As a young person, it is a very challenging journey to start your own organisation. Another challenge is that when you start out, many doors are closed to you. You find that you are reaching out to many people to gain their support, and they are not interested or simply do not respond, but this is what drove me to succeed even more! When I first had the idea for MEWC I didn’t tell anyone initially. I knew they might try to dissuade me or put me off. But I have always known that if you want to go up, you start something small and dream big. Life is full of challenges; you can be whatever you want as long as you believe in yourself.
I would like to be a role model for young African women, to inspire, to motivate them to stand out, to make a difference in whatever they choose to do, so that young African women, African youths in general, will really take over the leadership of all of our countries.
W4A: What is MEWC’s objective for 2012?
Rainatou: We are focused on producing our annual report to summarise the AWD’s achievements during 2012. We had the first report in 2011, each year we publish a report to highlight what is happening in countries across Africa and what they are doing to affect change during the African Women’s’ Decade. We hope to be able to raise funding to start projects for women in Africa. We will also hold a conference in October to celebrate the 2nd year of the AWD and to showcase the progress (and discuss roadblocks) of AWD in 2012. For the first time women are put at the centre of policy. We need to keep the African Union and African Governments accountable for their promises.
W4A: MEWC is a big advocate/sponsor of the African Women’s Decade. What is the biggest/most important change you want to see by 2020?
Rainatou: Removal of discrimination, both in law and in practice, as this greatly hinders women’s economic, social and political rights, women’s land rights, Sexual and reproductive health rights; 50:50 ratio of women to men in government in Africa. Gender equality and effective participation of women will lead to real participatory democracy and social justice for all, hence peace and sustainable development, food security and better healthcare for all. Women need to have a voice and be at the forefront of decision making. They already do this within their homes and their families; we need to extend this outside the home. That would be the start of real change. We currently have 2 female presidents in Africa and the new chairperson of the AU is a woman so we are on our way. When women see other women succeed, they are inspired to think I can do this too and it also inspires young women too. MEWC promotes female led political parties and we monitor the participation of women in elections and political activities in Africa. We want to give African women who want to stand for office a platform to promote themselves as candidates and hope to see more women in political parties.
W4A: Whose responsibility is it to ensure we see change in Africa?
Rainatou: All of us! We tend to think that it is only the Government’s responsibility, but we all have a duty to promote women’s rights and their empowerment because this will not only benefit women only but the all continent. The participation and inclusion of African Women & girls is vital to the continent growth and development. African governments can simply no longer afford to deny the full potential of one half of the population. Women & girls need to be empowered and the full power of their development skills unleashed to participate in the development economic, political and social of the continent Whether based in Africa or abroad, there is still so much we can do. This is why the AWD is so important because it is a promise in defence of women’s rights and to reduce gender inequality in Africa. The Decade sets a milestone for enhancing the respect and protection of women’s rights (which are human rights) through the implementation of the rule of law and accountability that will lead to social transformation that is necessary for strengthening participative democracy and development in Africa. This is a wonderful opportunity to make things happen and we should make the best use of these 10 years.
W4A: The empowerment of African Women has become a hot topic recently as various organisations are being established with Women at the centre of its cause/promoting the advancement of Women in the continent) Why do you think this is? Is this just another trend that will pass?
Rainatou: That’s tough. It’s hard to tell …I guess people have come to realise that there is more to Africa than starving people, raped women, war, child soldier,… whatever the reason, we need to remember that we cannot rely on others to develop the continent. We need to share the stories of our African women and no one can do this better than African women themselves. They live this and understand what they need more than anyone else. Organisations sometimes do not take the time to find out what the people’s needs are and therefore the work is not completed or is not sustainable. We also need to stop painting Africans as victims. It makes me mad to see adverts that promote the horrors of Africa and nothing else. However, we are now seeing the African communities rising and using social media to paint the picture we all know is true of Africa. This is good. It further excites me to see organisations like Women 4 Africa who are celebrating the achievement of African women and showing that it is not all negative and we are not all victims.
W4A: You were voted Most Inspirational Woman at the 2012 Women 4 Africa awards. Who and what inspires you?
Rainatou: African Women….
Back home, I have always seen women with so much courage, strength and resilience… They are the first to wake up and the last to go to bed; they keep their family and their country going. But those images disappear when I arrived in Europe as all I can see of African women are the image of raped women, a woman holding her starving dying child, a woman victim of domestic violence, HIV woman…; that why I founded MEWC to show to the world that these images don’t reflect the real images of African women. African women are the strongest and the most courageous women who are willing to scarify their well-being for their family and community.
My mother is one woman that has inspired me all my life. ! She taught me that I should always believe in myself. She always told me, “You come first, do not sacrifice this for anyone! You must have your own life. Your first husband is your job – be independent”.
I have had so many inspirational women around me that I have no excuse not to fight for myself.
W4A: What advice would you give to young men and women who want to make a difference in their world?
Rainatou: Don’t wait for money. We are in a world of Globalisation and Capitalisation where people are so focused on their own needs and serving themselves. Yet, we can succeed whilst helping others. Africa has many challenges and it is up to all of us to ensure we work together and make sure that Africa as a whole can grow and prosper. We need to promote peace and continue to think about the value of the community.
W4A: Finally, tell us one thing you love about Africa.
Rainatou: We are the warmest of people. We are so welcoming and make everyone feel at home. Everyone is a brother/sister. I don’t want us to lose this.
Thank you for granting W4A this interview.
To find out more about Make Every Woman Count visit http://www.makeeverywomancount.org