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A Tribute to Dr. Margaret Snyder

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

The ASA Women’s Caucus celebrates the life and work of our sister Dr. Margaret “Peg” Snyder. Dr. Snyder has been an inspiration to our members, and her contributions to the women’s movement, feminism, and its intersections with activism, development, and politics will continue to impact our work and the lives of women globally.

Among her other contributions were co-founding Women’s World Banking and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, and serving as treasurer of the Green Belt Movement International. After her retirement from the United Nations, she became a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University (1992-93) and a Fulbright scholar in Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University (1995-96). Her authored and co-authored books include Transforming Development: Women, Poverty and Politics (a history of UNIFEM), Above the Odds: A Decade of Change for Ugandan Women Entrepreneurs, Farmers, Merchants, Entrepreneurs: African Women Grow the GDP While Fostering Human Development, and African Women and Development: A History, which tells the story of the Addis Ababa-based ATRCW.

In 1971 she received a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. That same year Peg Snyder secured a grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to assist the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), headquartered in Addis Ababa, to develop a five-year program for women in Africa. That led to the establishment in 1975 of the African Training and Research Center for Women (ATRCW) at UNECA, the first international program on Women and Development, very much aligned with the International Conference on Women held in Mexico City that same year. James Riby-Williams from Ghana, head of the Social Development Division at UNECA, was very supportive in UNECA’s adoption of the ATRCW. In its first years, it developed an international reputation for its work in policy formation, in data gathering and publications, and in on-site training in African countries in English, French, and Portuguese. In the early years at ATRCW Peg established close working relations with stellar African women leaders including Phoebe Asiyo, Thelma Awori, Wangari Maathai, Esther Ocloo, and Aida Ginday, among many others, to establish ATRCW as a leading source of research and publications on women and development in Africa. It was particularly important because it gave African women a “seat at the table” by its position within the United Nations and its voice at the annual meetings of African ministers of economic and social development.

In 1978 when the United Nations established the Voluntary Fund for the Development of Women (VFDW) they recruited Peg Snyder as its first Director, based in New York. VFDW subsequently became UNIFEM, with Peg as its Director until 1989. UNIFEM later expanded to UN-Women.

Peg Snyder was a long-time supporter of the Women’s Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus’ annual Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize was co-named in her honor in 2005. As Mary Osirim noted: “Naana Banyiwa Horne and I were co-conveners of the Women’s Caucus at the time and worked with Claire Robertson to establish the Book Prize in honor of Ama Ata Aidoo and Peg Snyder. In fact, so many of Peg’s friends and colleagues eagerly contributed to this prize in honor of her 75th Birthday and the many pioneering contributions that she made to women, gender, and development in East Africa.”

In 2015, she delivered the annual Women’s Caucus lecture, “Four Decisive Decades: The Birth and Growth of a Global Women’s Movement,” which marked the fortieth anniversary of the first global women’s conference in Mexico City and the subsequent founding of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), as well as the formal founding of the African Studies Association’s Women’s Caucus. Dr. Abosede George, the winner of the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, reflected on meeting Dr. Snyder at the Women’s Caucus annual luncheon in 2015, “As we can see from all the tributes that have been flowing out, Margaret Snyder was an institution builder. She created institutions and spaces that made it possible for others to do their work or to be recognized for their work. We are connected through one of her co-creations, the Aidoo-Snyder book prize, which has had a tremendous impact on my career. It was my honor and a slightly surreal privilege to receive the award in the presence of Snyder herself. Margaret Snyder was incredibly gracious about the occasion. Her demeanor said to me that the Aidoo-Snyder Prize was grounded in a sense of mission that she and Ama Ata Aidoo shared towards amplifying the power of African women, and not in anything having to do with being a patron of the arts and letters per se. It was my honor to receive the prize in Margaret Snyder’s presence, to be connected to the mission that the prize represents, and to carry it forward.”

Current and past members and friends of the ASA Women’s caucus honor the legacy of Dr. Snyder and celebrate her work advancing women’s rights especially in Africa. It’s in that spirit that our caucus members continue to promote justice, equity, and freedom. Margaret “Peg” Snyder joins the ancestors may she rest in peace.

Caption: Photo was taken at the 2005 Women’s Caucus Luncheon when the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize was inaugurated. Front row left to right: Ama Ata Aidoo and Margaret Snyder. Rear row left to right: Lynda Day (2005 Treasurer), Akosua Adomako Ampofo (2005 Co-Convener), Nana Benjiwaa Home (past Co-Convener), and Mary Osirim (2005 Co-Convener).

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