Southern Africa: Pushing the boundaries of gender equality

Written by Colleen Lowe Morna

Source: Gender Links

Maputo, 20 February: Last week I sat in an air-conditioned room at the Polana Hotel going through a long to-do list, wondering if I had nothing better to do than listen to government officials making wordy statements about gender equality.

Like the head of any gender NGO, my mind drifted between the speeches and so many other preoccupations – evaluations, log frames, funding, twelve summits, staff issues, our annual report, an upcoming Board meeting and so much else. Do meetings like the SADC Gender Ministers meeting in preparation for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this March make any difference, I asked myself?

As the speeches continued, a sense of dejevu mingled with a realisation of change overcame me. Sixteen years ago, NGOs lobbied for a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development. Eight years ago, the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance stepped up the pressure, making the case for a legally binding SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

As I recalled the heated debates and compromises in the seven drafts that finally led to this unique sub-regional instrument that sets 28 targets for gender equality to be achieved by 2015, I realised that over the course of time, gender discourse in our region is becoming bolder, daring to push the no-go boundaries of the past.

At Livingstone in 2007 – the last meeting before the Heads of State summit that adopted the Protocol in August 2008 – officials virtually declared custom, culture and tradition out of bounds. I remember one male official asking with much passion: “Who is SADC to tell me how many wives I can marry?”

Fast forward to the Maputo meeting, that focused on gender violence, the theme of the CSW. We did not quite reopen the topic of polygamy. But when NGOs insisted that the SADC position paper make reference to the root causes of GBV, including harmful religious, customary and traditional practices, the wording sailed through with relative ease.

Earlier, I shared the results of a five-country study on the extent, effects, response, support and prevention of GBV. These results show that anywhere between one quarter and two thirds of women in the region experience some form of GBV during their lifetime. I explained that the highest form of violence does not enter police statistics at all. This is verbal and emotional violence: the corrosive underbelly of GBV that undermines women’s agency and is at the core of the gender inequality in our region.

In the past, one might have expected a snide and patronising comment, especially on Valentine’s Day, when it is oh so easy to paper over this issue with roses and chocolates. Instead, all present pledged their support for the radical One Billion Rising campaign, started by Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues fame. I even managed to say the V word – gasp – in the presence of all assembled!

My most pleasant surprise occurred at the caucus meeting of the NGOs to draft our own statement for the minister’s meeting. Let me clarify that in past meetings one of the complete no-go areas concerned sexual orientation.

Governments sniffed this out in any wording suggested by South Africa (the only country in the region that outlaws discrimination based on sexual preference in its Constitution) and certain NGOs. Even the term “marginalised groups” denoted sexual orientation in the eyes of wary officials. Women’s NGOs also remained deeply divided on the issue: some for, others against, others cautioning that pushing too hard on this issue would compromise fragile gains.

Yet last week in caucus meetings of NGOs from all fifteen SADC countries, the need to start pushing the boundaries on this issue received widespread support. Emma Kaliya, an NGO activist from Malawi, member of the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance think tank and spokesperson for the NGOs at the summit gave this matter her personal push.

She declared before the Ministers assembled: “Marginalised groups – the poor, rural dwellers, the disabled, sex workers, and sexual minorities among others – must be acknowledged and accorded their rights; rights cannot be given with one hand and taken away with another. Rights must not be confused with morality.”

Malawi is an interesting microcosm of the change in gender discourse taking place in Southern Africa. Although one of the most conservative countries in SADC, Malawi now has the region’s first woman head of state (Joyce Banda) who has hinted at lifting the laws against homosexuality in her country.

The SADC Gender Ministers meeting registered one other significant gain – commitment to an addendum to the SADC Gender Protocol on Gender and Climate Change. The swirling floods in Mozambique that hit Mauritius at the time of the meeting leave little doubt that climate change is upon us. But there has been considerable bureaucratic inertia to reopening the SADC Gender Protocol now that two thirds of the signatories have ratified the instrument that is officially in force.

NGOs have again led the way, pressurising governments to acknowledge that no instrument on gender equality can ever be totally closed. Like Constitutions, regional protocols must constantly respond to the needs of the day. These reflect in our choice of words, and of emphasis. In the end, as I learned last week, no task is more important than continually pushing the boundaries of the gender discourse in our beloved region.

(Colleen Lowe Morna is Chief Executive Officer of Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on every day news).

I put my headphones on and I’m gone

We assess success like herbivores/ More green, more esteem & clout to liberate us from that twenty four hourly bout/ Better known as the day to day struggle, no escape from to make one you got to hustle/ & that’s where the mistake comes, the tussle/ Between fiendn’ out for the dream or the puzzle/ That perplexed minds since the beginning of time/ Why are we here, do we really have free will/ Are we gods, god like or beast still/ – Oddissee

An Arts Residency for Grammar School Children

For over 17 years, Grammy Award winner Bunny Hull (songwriter of Patti LaBelle’s classic “New Attitude,” among others) has been conducting music and writing workshops for children.

Through her experiences, Bunny developed a highly acclaimed children’s book series called Young Masters Little Wisdom, and eventually mounted a one-time only performance piece called “Secrets of the Heart” based on the series.

Due to the strength of that performance, Bunny was offered a chance to apply for an Actor’s Fund program sponsored by Sony, which would guide artists to become “teaching artists” and enable them to write standards-based curriculum for California’s public schools.

Bunny knew participation in the program would give her a tremendous opportunity to assist in turning around the decline of arts programs in schools.

“Most school arts programs weren’t ‘programs’ anymore,” she told me. “They had become more of an after school activity, mostly centered on visual arts and a little bit of music. There was very little theater arts or dance. I felt a need to create something that would be more a part of every day curriculum and happen during school hours.”

Her application to the Actor’s Fund program was accepted. Bunny honed and refined “Secrets of the Heart” during the process and her instructor, Leonardo Bravo (Director of School Programs at the Los Angeles Music Center), recognized that the program was perfect for schools. He encouraged her to take “Secrets of the Heart” and make it the centerpiece of a series of arts workshops.

She heeded Bravo’s advice and those workshops have now grown into an non-profit organization called Dream A World Education, Inc. “Secrets of the Heart” has become a six-week residency program designed for class levels kindergarten through second grade.

The program uses music, dance, theater and visual arts to teach children about “the secrets:” friendship, kindness, imagination and gratitude. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the program assists children in connecting to the biggest “secret of the heart,” the unique and individual inspiration they have within themselves.

This past fall, I attended the first and last sessions of the most recent residency at Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles.

At the introductory session, I watched Bunny and her team of artists use fun, rhythmic music and delightfully interactive storytelling to introduce kids to the concept that each one of them is a “young master.” Given today’s technological distractions, it was heartening to see that a traditional, live presentation could hold the rapt attention of nearly 200 five- to seven-year-olds.

The children’s reaction to the performers was so strong that they naturally imitated them, and truly reveled in placing a peace sign over their hearts and reciting the pledge, “I promise to use my gifts every day, in every way, for I am a young master. Peace!”

Six weeks later, I returned to see the culmination of at least 24 arts-based classes. The enthusiasm had doubled and the joy in the vast school auditorium was palpable.

With the help of “Secrets of the Heart” instructors, each of three classrooms had written their own song centered around friendship and smiling, expressed dance through the concept of kindness, written a story using their “magic eye” and created head-dresses that each child individually decorated with what they are personally thankful for.

It was fascinating to note the individual and natural artistic inclinations of the children. Some particularly came alive while singing their classroom’s song, and others seemed to enjoy participating telling part of a story, or explaining how they would “go inside” a painting.

One thing is certain: not a single child in that room was disengaged from what was happening.

This is not only attributable to Bunny and her team, but also the teachers and parents. Before a residency begins, Bunny does an individual workshop for both sets of adults. The purpose is to ensure that what the children learn during the six weeks is reinforced in the classroom and at home.

One of the biggest “Secrets of the Heart” champions is Leo Politi’s passionate and enthusiastic school principal, Brad Rumble.

Says Rumble, “Secrets of the Heart” helps children recognize their potential at a very early age better than any program I’ve ever seen. “Over six weeks, I watch my students develop self-confidence and begin to understand and appreciate their own uniqueness. The feedback from parents is also incredible. It is as empowering for them as it is for the kids.”

Rumble does not exaggerate. I was moved to see how the enthusiasm for the program extended to the parents. It was evident that they were heavily involved in the process and took it very seriously. Parents beamed with pride over vision boards made with their children. Each vision board was representative of the dreams they have for their families, and the values parents and children had discussed throughout the process of “Secrets of the Heart.”

Current funding for Dream A World Education doesn’t allow Bunny and her crew to do more than four schools per year. “I am currently looking for investors,” Bunny says. “Between that and fundraising efforts, I want to have a decent foundation in place so I can partner with more schools and grow the program. I’m doing so much of it myself right now, and I need administrative help.”

“Secrets of the Heart” is an invaluable program that reinforces the importance of the arts, and what it can mean for a child’s self esteem. All educators or potential benefactors who care about the arts in school should take the time to see the power of this program for themselves.

The next residency program is about to begin at Gardner Street Elementary School followed by Loyola Village Elementary; both in Los Angeles. The opening performance is on January 18th, 2012. For more information on attending, or to find out how to support Dream A World Education visit To find out about Dream A World’s music and books visit

Below is a photo of Bunny Hull with some of her “Secrets of the Heart” students, followed by an example of the vision boards families created with their children.




Visit Morija!

We invite you to enjoy the rich history, arts & culture of the peoples of Lesotho. Whether you are from Lesotho, or Southern African or from another part of the global family, you will be welcome in Morija, Lesotho. Explore for yourself the wonders of this multi-faceted and unique heritage site. If you cannot come physically to Morija in Lesotho, then through the power of the internet you can still discover important information concerning the famous collections of Morija Museum & Archives, the works of Basotho artists, and learn more about various projects in the arts, culture, heritage management and community-based tourism.

Morija is the perfect place to explore Basotho culture. Visit the many attractions including Morija Museum & Archives, Maeder House & the Morija Arts Center, and the dinosaur footprints. Experience outdoor activities such as hiking, pony trekking, bird watching and mountain biking. Plus, Morija hosts the country’s annual Arts & Cultural Festival, an event you should not miss!

Visit for more information!

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

This is a re-post from Huffington Post by Sir Ken Robinson.

I’ve spoken twice at TED. The first time was in 2006. TED was a very different event then. It was a private conference for about 1,200 people. After the event, the talks were packaged in a box set of DVDs and sent just to the attendees. I gave a talk called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” A few months later, Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, called to say they were planning to put a few talks on their website as an experiment and asked if they could include mine. The timing was perfect. Social media was beginning to take shape and the insatiable appetite for YouTube and short videos was about to emerge. The experiment was an instant success and has turned TED into a global cultural phenomenon. There are now several hundred talks on the website and the number of downloads has passed one billion.

I’m surprised and delighted to say that my first talk remains the most viewed of all TED Talks so far. It’s been downloaded well over 20 million times from all platforms in over 150 countries and continues to be downloaded about 10,000 times a day from the TED site alone. Admittedly that doesn’t compare with “Gangnam Style” with its 800 million downloads but it’s still a lot for a 20 minute talk on education. Because it’s constantly shown at large and small conferences, workshops and meetings around the world, the number of viewers is certainly much higher than the download figure and may well be over 200 million people.

In the past six years, I’ve had countless emails and tweets from young people who’ve shown it to their parents and teachers; from teachers, who’ve shown it to their students and their principals; from parents who’ve shared it with their kids, and from leaders who’ve shown it to their whole organizations. Why is this talk so popular and what’s the significance of its popularity?

People and organizations everywhere can see that current systems of education are failing to meet the challenges we now all face and they’re working furiously to create alternatives.– Sir Ken Robinson

There are two main themes in the talk. First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them. Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do. One reason the talk has traveled so far is that these themes resonate so deeply with people at a personal level. I hear constantly from people around the world who feel marginalized by their own education, who want to thank me for helping them to understand why that may be and that they’re not alone. In the talk, I mentioned a book I was writing about the need to find our true talents and how often people are pushed away from them. The responses I get show that this is a common experience that’s deeply felt and ultimately resented. (Incidentally, I said in the talk that the book is called Epiphany. I later changed the title to The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. It was too late to change the reference in the talk, which has since done wonders to promote sales of books called Epiphany… )

A second reason for the impact of the talk is that people and organizations everywhere can see that current systems of education are failing to meet the challenges we now all face and they’re working furiously to create alternatives. In many countries, they’re doing this in the face of national policies and cultural attitudes that seem locked in past. The dominant systems of education are based on three principles — or assumptions at least — that are exactly opposite to how human lives are actually lived. Apart from that, they’re fine. First, they promote standardization and a narrow view of intelligence when human talents are diverse and personal. Second, they promote compliance when cultural progress and achievement depend on the cultivation of imagination and creativity. Third, they are linear and rigid when the course of each human life, including yours, is organic and largely unpredictable. As the rate of change continues to accelerate, building new forms of education on these alternative principles is not a romantic whimsy: it’s essential to personal fulfillment and to the sustainability of the world we are now creating.

To some extent, my first talk has been a rallying point for a different conversation about education and I’m delighted that it has. It’s a conversation that’s become more and not less urgent in the last six years and TED has been a powerful force in taking it forward. In 2010, I gave my second talk at TED, which was called “Bring on the Learning Revolution“, based on my book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. By then there were hundreds of TED and TEDx talks online and many that give powerful examples of new styles of education. Many others explore the nature of creativity and how emerging technologies can extend our creative abilities and can transform teaching and learning at the same time.

Educators everywhere now use TED Talks as resources to open up and inform debate about the nature of education and to develop their own practices in new directions. It’s a great testament to TED that it has become not only a way of advocating change in education but also one of the most effective ways of bringing it about.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today’s most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or to learn about future weekend’s ideas to contribute as a writer.


Watch the video: