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The Pan African Women Liberation Organization and the 7th Pan African Congress

The Pan African Women Liberation Organization and the 7th Pan African Congress

In the meetings of the preparatory Committee there were intense debates about the history of the Pan African Movement and the silencing of women within the movement. Progressive women reminded the participants of the history of women in the movement and the lessons that should be learnt from the book, In Search of Mr. McKenzie. The Progressive forces of the IPC and the Progressive women worked hard for the Convening of the women’s Congress within the Pan African Congress. This Women’s Congress was held for one full day pre-congress, and out of this woman’s meeting emerged the Pan African Women’s Liberation Organization (PAWLO).

Organizing women in the context of Pan Africanism was not new. On the 31st July 1962 the Conference of African Women (CAF) was created in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Out of that meeting emerged the first Pan African Women Organization (PAWO). In July 1974 one month after the 6th Pan African Congress there was another Conference of African Women which was held in Dakar (Senegal) in July 1974. It was in Senegal where the 31st July was designated African Women Day. This division between Senegal and Tanzania in 1974 represented some of the same divisions that had existed between the Casablanca Groups and the Monrovia Group. In Senegal at the time there were leaders who were unsupportive of armed struggles against apartheid.

The major limitation of PAWO, however, was that by the time of the growth of the international women’s movement, PAWO became the forum for the wives of the very same repressive leaders who were oppressing African women. Miriam Babingida, wife of the dictator Ibrahim Babingida of Nigeria was the poster child of the first wives club that sought to speak on behalf of oppressed women. Her organizational vehicle for manipulating the principles of women’s liberation was “Better Life for Rural Women.”

PAWLO emerged from the ranks of the progressive women and men at the 7th Pan African Congress. Fatima Babiker Mahmoud, from Sudan, was elected the First President of PAWLO and in her address to the Congress she held that, “As African Women, we share a common history. We have similar challenges to face and a bitter future to look forward to. On this basis, it is important to stress our similarities rather than differences, if we are to achieve any meaningful change.”

PAWLO was established to implement the women’s action plans that had come out of the resolutions of the Congress. PAWLO brought together African women from the continent, from the oppressed societies in North America and Europe in a forum of their own for the first time in the history of Pan African Congresses. The resolutions of the PAWLO Congress agreed to bring together women with the objective of liberation in a common program and sustained action of work for improving the situation of African women.