Tribute to Matilda Mwaba: IWG Africa Representative

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It was with enormous sadness that the Global Executive of the International Working Group (IWG) on Women & Sport learned of Ms. Matilda Mwaba’s sudden passing on 11 January 2021, aged 63. 

For the past ten years, Matilda has been a very active and valuable member of the IWG Global Executive, a diverse and geographically spread 13-member board made up of women’s sport advocates, continental representatives and co-opted experts.

Matilda first became involved with the IWG in 2008, as an expert advisor. She was later invited by IWG and WomenSport International (WSI) to speak as part of a joint panel at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in March 2010. From there, she went on to make an impression at the IWG World Conference on Women & Sport in Sydney, Australia, in May 2010. She was invited to join the IWG Global Executive in March 2011 as a co-opted member and presented as part of a team at UNCSW in March 2011. Such was her ongoing positive impact; she was officially elected as Africa Representative in 2014. During her tenure on the IWG Global Executive she supported four IWG Secretariat & World Conference quadrennials: Australia 2006 – 2010; Finland 2010 – 2014; Botswana 2014 – 2018; and New Zealand 2018 – 2022. Throughout this time, she represented African women and girls with grace and great skill, advocating for and giving them a voice around the global table.

A veteran sports administrator in Zambia, Matilda was the first woman to hold the position of Zambia Judo Association president and was the founder of the National Women in Sport and Physical Activity and Recreation (NOWSPAR). She was also a former National Olympic Committee of Zambia (NOCZ) board member and was inducted into the African Union Sport Council Region 5’s Sports Hall of Fame December 2020, a follow up on her award from AUSC Region in recognition of her successful efforts on gender within the Region and presented by President Robert Mugabe in 2014. In 2019, she was honoured by Zambia President Edgar Lungu, who presented her with the Insignia of Meritorious Achievement because of her work.

In the lead-up to Finland 2014, Matilda worked extremely hard to ensure the attendance of a strong African contingent. In Helsinki she presented the results of the southern Africa Gender Leadership Study with IWG Global Executive members, Diane Huffman and former Co-Chair, Kari Fasting, and led a discussion following the presentation. She also hosted an Africa Regional Meeting in parallel, attended by over 100 participants. She was later awarded the AUSC Region 5 Medal of Honour.

Matilda was thrilled when Botswana won rights to the IWG Secretariat & Conference 2014 – 2018 and worked diligently with the Secretariat over the next four years to ensure it was successful and meaningful across Africa. In 2016, Matilda, NOWSPAR and the Botswana Secretariat joined to stage the Africa Women and Sport Conference. Two years later, the continent-wide ‘Women Sport Africa Network’ was founded. This network was the first of its kind in Africa, dedicated to connecting, promoting and supporting ongoing work to increase participation of women and girls in sport and physical activity. This network is as strong as ever today and is testament to Matilda’s hard work. 

Matilda, in her drive to engage women and provide opportunities for them, was constantly in the Zambian Minister of Sports’ office ensuring that the staff and politicians were aware of IWG and its benefits to the women of Zambia. She regularly made official presentations on behalf of IWG regionally, gaining support. The Zambian government took her seriously and hosted transportation across the border, to ensure women and girls from Zambia took part at Botswana 2018. Matilda ensured the Permanent Secretary from Zambia had a place of honour at the conference.

Since New Zealand became host in late 2018, Matilda continued to champion and support the IWG at every turn. She took an avid interest in the work being done by New Zealand, in the wake of COVID-19, to turn the IWG World Conference on Women & Sport into a hybrid physical-digital event. She constantly contributed ideas and was working to ensure Africa-wide engagement in May 2022.

When the news reached the IWG Global Executive, Raewyn Lovett ONZM, IWG Co-Chair, New Zealand Secretariat & World Conference 2018 – 2022, said:

“It is with great shock and immense sadness that I must acknowledge the sudden passing of Ms Matilda Mwaba, Africa Representative on the IWG Global Executive.

 I have been asked to speak on behalf of the 12 remaining members of the Board, who have all expressed great sorrow since the news reached us. Matilda has been an outstanding advocate for gender equality in sport and physical activity in Africa and globally.

 She was a dear friend, trusted colleague and enthusiastic partner in the ongoing work of IWG. She will be deeply missed by all who knew and worked with her over her many years of dedicated service to positive change for women and girls.

 Our thoughts and prayers are currently with Matilda’s family, friends and colleagues at NOWSPAR and the Women Sport Africa Network.”

Game Mothibi, IWG Secretary General, Botswana 2014 – 2018, said: 

“Matilda, affectionately called ‘Tilly’ by IWG Botswana Secretariat, was a friend, a mother to all of us during the time IWG was hosted in Botswana.

She was loved by all as she made several trips to Botswana for meetings and to give us support. She was very supportive and always ready to advise and help the office to run projects. She was very instrumental in Botswana hosting the Africa Women and Sport Conference and later co-founded Women Sport Africa Network. She also arranged for volunteers from Norway to work with IWG Botswana.

She was hard working, inspiring and always ready to give support. Her untimely departure has left great sorrow to all of us who closely interacted with her, but we know she has ran a good race and fought a good fight for women and girls in sport in Africa.

Her memories shall live on and may her beautiful soul find peace with God’s angels. She was indeed an African warrior.”

Raija Mattila, IWG Co-Chair, Finland Secretariat & World Conference 2010 – 2014, said:

“During the IWG Secretariat in Finland 2010-2014, Matilda brought the African voice to the global gender equality community with pride and determination – and always action in mind.

 She invited the African countries under one umbrella, focusing their common sport political agenda on gender equality and education – often in challenging environments.

Matilda was respected around the world and her fearless comments and thoughts where often heard in the conferences across the globe.

To the IWG World Conference on Women & Sport in Helsinki (2014), Matilda inspired and invited a large number of African participants, who contributed significantly to the outcomes of the Brighton + Helsinki 2014 Declaration on Women & Sport.  

She was a friend of everyone and made a connection to people no matter where they came from. She brought light and joy to our shared moments. She will be forever missed.”

Rest in peace Matilda Mwaba, you will be greatly missed and remembered for your exceptional dedication to mentoring young athletes and the fierce role you played in promoting gender equality in sport and physical activity in Africa and around the world.

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