Knowledge leads to transformations.

More knowledge about the situation of women in Africa enables us to understand and visualize it and the obstacles they face, making it possible to intervene effectively. Knowledge opens up new possibilities, creates alternatives and has a direct impact on development in many ways. Hence, it is necessary for this knowledge to be developed among all people, through all areas and kinds of experience, appreciating the contribution from African women.

Different organizations and agencies of the United Nations’ system promote research and information exchange on the situation of women in the world, writing reports and articles that disseminate this knowledge. Examples of this include: UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women; INSTRAW, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women; the gender departments of the UNDP, WHO, ILO, UNESCO and OHCHR - the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; etc. In Africa, institutions such as the AU - African Union, NEPAD - the New Partnership for African Development, the African Development Bank, or regional organizations (ECOWAS, SADC etc.) have incorporated gender as a priority in their activities, providing knowledge on the matter from Africa.

One of the six organic divisions of UNECA - the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which issues reports for ECOSOC - the UN’s Economic and Social Council, is for "Gender and Development". UNECA created the African Gender Development Index, one of whose aims is to raise awareness about women in Africa by analysis and creating visibility.

At the First United Nations World Conference on Women held in 1975 in Mexico, the African Centre for Women (ACW) was set up, today known as the African Centre for Gender and Development (ACGD), a regional structure of the United Nations for Africa on matters of gender and development, with its headquarters in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

In 2006, the African Alliance for Women Empowerment (AFRAWE) was launched, whose purpose is to empower African women socially, politically and economically. To this end, the alliance fosters the exchange and dissemination of knowledge and best practices.

Some centres of excellence in the matter of gender in Sub-Saharan Africa include the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town; UNISA - the Institute of Gender Studies in Pretoria; the Zimbabwe Women’s Additional Resource Center in Harare; ISIS - Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange in Kampala (Uganda); and the Laboratory of Gender at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (Senegal).


Women's access to knowledge

As for women's access to knowledge, the African School of Economics, set up in Benin with support from Princeton University, and the Global Center in Kenya backed by the University of Columbia, both promote women's access to higher education. They highlight the contributions from African women to knowledge-building and give these visibility.

FEMME, the African Women’s Communication and Development Network, is a pan-African network established in 1988. Through its Regional Secretariat in Nairobi and its focal points in 30 African countries, it has served to exchange information, experience, ideas and strategies among African women’s organisations, supporting women’s movements in Africa.

Since 2006, following the meeting in Maputo between African and Spanish women, “African and Spanish Women for a Better World” meetings have been held annually. The first meeting led to the Network of African and Spanish Women for a Better World as a group for mutual understanding and exchange of experience and knowledge between African and Spanish women and organizations, which is at put at society’s disposal by the governments of Spain and Mozambique.


Creation and dissemination of knowledge about Africa

We should also mention the centres that are not gender-specific, but which work to find and disseminate knowledge about Africa. These include the African Studies Centre of Leiden; the UCLA African Studies Center in Los Angeles; the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala; SOAS - the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London; the Centre of African Studies at Cambridge; LAM - Les Afriques dans le monde, which resulted from the merger of CEAN - Centre d'étude d'Afrique Noire of Sciences Po Bordeaux and CREPAO - Centre d'études et de recherches sur les pays d'Afrique Orientale; the University of Pau et des Pays de l'Adour, Centre d’Etudes Africaines at EHESS in Paris,  CEMAF - Centre d’Étude des Mondes Africains in Paris, Ivry and Aix en Provence, and the Centre for African Studies at the University of Coimbra.

On a European level, AEGIS - a Network of African Studies Centres, brings together different institutions and African research centres in EU member countries.

Some of the main research centres into Africa on the continent itself are: CODESRIA (the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa ) in Senegal; the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town; ISS - the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Pretoria and Dakar; and OSSREA, the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, in Addis Ababa. 

In Spain, the Spanish Association of Africanists (Asociación Española de Africanistas) pioneered knowledge generation about Africa. It was created in 1984 and its headquarters is in the Colegio Mayor (student residence) Nuestra Señora De África. CEA - the African Studies Centre of Barcelona (an association created in 1987), was also a pioneer in this, as was the African Studies Group at the Autonomous University of Madrid (1995), which launched the first specific doctoral course on African studies in Spain. Other important centres in Spain are: Fundación Sur - a knowledge website about Africa, created by CIDAF (Centre for Information and Documentation on Africa), Manos Unidas and Cáritas Española; HEGOA - the Institute of Studies on Development and International Cooperation, in Bilbao; and CIDOB - the Centre for Research into International Relations and Development, in Barcelona.


Author: African Studies Group at the Autonomous University of Madrid