ICGSA 2022 Sets the Pace for Re-Imagining Future of Gender Studies
The International Conference on Gender Studies in Africa (ICGSA) closed on a high note on Friday 25th February, 2022 with resolutions on how to champion Gender Studies on the African continent. These called for the need to; theorise from the African context, network across the academia at local level, teach better, conduct more research and mentorship, as well as network more between academia and the field of practice in Africa and internationally.
“Networking across the academy on the continent is very important” emphasised Assoc. Prof. Sarah Ssali, the Dean, School of Women and Gender Studies (SWGS), Makerere University. “We have been able to inspire many other gender units to come up on the African continent; the current one being worked on is with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is being spearheaded by Dr. Tabitha Mulyampiti,” she added.
Other resolutions shared by Assoc. Prof. Ssali included the need to build a community of practice comprised of teachers and practitioners at the continental level as well as document and archive more in order to build memories.
“This is one of the things that is lacking heavily in Africa not just in Gender Studies but all over; we are constantly researching because we don’t know what those before us did. This creates a problem in that the memories become fractured,” she explained.
To help galvanise all these aspirations, ICGSA 2022 resolved to establish a Pan-African feminist network for Women and Gender Studies. “This is supposed to be a platform that is going to bring together the 500+ Gender Scholars and those yet to come, to build a better community of practice, academia and take the discipline further” Assoc. Prof. Ssali added.
The resolutions shared by the Dean tied in nicely with those of fellow panelist Prof. Shefer Tamara, Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa, as well as those of Prof. Joy Kwesiga, Vice Chancellor, Kabale University who chaired the Fifth and final Plenary Panel on The Future of Gender Studies in Africa.
Prof. Kwesiga in her presentation themed The Door is only Ajar made a few propositions to help Gender Studies Open the Door Fully, and Enter the Corridors of Power and Equity. These included;
- The need to acknowledge that Gender Studies are varied and their enhancement require both general and specific interventions.
- Curriculum reviews that emphasise transformatory areas (e.g. masculinity) are urgently required.
- The need to record and know our history: it underpins our cultural norms and practices, and informs us about the origins of gender inequality in our specific environment.
- Form networks along interests and specialties (education, health, economics, training, etc), regionally and even on linguistic basis.
- Learn from experience of the 1995 Beijing International Conference on Women – a stimulant to Gender Studies and birth of many organisations that promote gender equality.
Prof. Tamara in her reiteration critically observed that “Imagining future possibilities requires working with our pasts, especially those that continue to haunt us in the present.” These, she noted, include neoliberal capitalism and its consumerist universities, “where critical feminist scholarship only matters when it is packaged in particular ways and proliferates particular kinds of outputs. “
She called for the need to decolonise the curriculum by adopting alternative approaches to the classroom such as emphasis on non-didactic, collaborative, participatory, embodied, relational and affective feminist practices, as well as the value of working across modalities of art, activism and scholarship in both pedagogical and research practices, as key terrains of possibility on the way forward.
Citing the keynote address delivered by Prof. Amina Mama on the opening day of the conference, Prof. Tamara said, “We cannot simply acknowledge that we emerged from feminist grassroots movements, but we need to make sure that these connections are vibrant and alive.
“We need to be consistently reviving and reinvigorating these synergies, as she put it, between civil society movements and the scholarly projects, which of course means ongoing collaborations and networking” emphasised Prof. Tamara.
Delivering her remarks at close the conference, the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara thanked the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Principal College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS), Assoc. Prof. Josephine Ahikire, Dean SWGS Assoc. Prof. Sarah Ssali, as well as the faculty, staff and volunteers for the excellently organised and well-facilitated conference.
“I am delighted to note that in addition to my expectations being met, I had, in the few sessions I attended, the rare opportunity to hear firsthand, the accounts of the brave heroines of Afro-feminism and how important these accounts are for shaping future mindsets” remarked Mrs. Magara.
The Chairperson of Council nevertheless cautioned that in addition to decolonising the African academy, the debate should be blended with a candid discussion on the application of African scholarship to the needs and aspirations of African communities.
“The debate must go beyond the goal of accommodating the voices of African scholars in academia. The academy must provide space for indigenous knowledge, sharing local experiences, and prioritising discourse on African problems from African lenses” she noted.
The closing keynote address was delivered by Dr. Nyepudzayi Mercy Nyangulu, Founder and Chair, of the Women in Management Business and Development (WIMBD) TRUST of Zimbabwe, which coincidentally marks 30 years of existence on 27th October, 2022. On this celebratory note, Dr. Nyangulu proposed the following as recommendations to SWGS for the next 30 years.
- Leverage the rich list of SWGS alumni to influence Government Ministries as well as Higher Education Institutions to include a gender component in their curricula.
- Develop programs that can enhance collaboration, solidarity and sharing of experiences with Women’s Movements so as to strengthen needs assessment and data collection at the grassroots.
- Take advantage of e-learning to reach those in full-time employment with the aspirations of upgrading their qualifications in leadership and management
- Adopt community dialogues as a mechanism for learning more about gender-related issues such as child marriages and Gender Based Violence.
- Adopt gender programmes that encourage inter-generational learning and knowledge sharing
- Explore opening up SWGS Centres in other African countries as an income generating activity.
- Collaborate with National Gender Commissions to bring theory and practice together and develop new theories for Gender Praxis.
- Tap into the debate on masculinity that is gaining momentum so as to develop relevant programmes and grow the number of male champions
- Think outside the box, dream big and turn all the challenges afflicting gender studies into opportunities
- Follow up past students and their impact on society and use data findings to inform future programmes
- Broaden funding base by; going beyond development partners to institutions such as the African Union (AU) that have Ambassadorial positions e.g. in Child Marriages, Offering consultancy services to Countries as SWGS, etc.
The Guest of Honour at the closing ceremony and Minister of Gender Labour and Social Development, Hon. Betty Amongi Akena, who was accompanied by the Chairperson of the National Women’s Council (Uganda), Hajat Faridah Kibowa in her speech congratulated Makerere University upon successfully hosting the conference whose recommendations will inform policy.
Hon. Amongi Akena, a double alumna of the Bachelor of Political Science and Public Administration and Masters of International Relations and Diplomatic Studies commended her alma mater for pursuing a broad gender agenda, by establishing academic programmes at Undergraduate, Masters and PhD level. “You’ve harnessed, advanced and promoted gender equality over the years.”
She observed that the conference theme; Africa and Gender Studies: Celebrating 30 Years of Transformation and Re-imagining the Future was a timely underpinning of SDG 5. “We know that social, political and economic equality for women is an integral part of achieving all the SDGs.”
The Honourable Minister shared that the Government has come up with a comprehensive approach to reducing gender inequality by; repealing laws that discriminate against women and girls, increasing protection against violence, closing the gap in girls accessing education, digital technology, as well as sexual reproductive health services and rights.
“We also look at women’s equal leadership and participation as fundamental and with the quotas that guarantee women’s participation in politics, which we have been implementing, we have at least achieved a shift in the balance of power in those corridors” she said.