She was my mentor; she made my career with the UN. And she was the most selfless person I have ever known. Until her passing she never wavered from this commitment to improving the lives of women in Africa.
I first met Peg just over 45 years ago when she recruited me sight unseen to join the multi-institutional team she was putting together at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. Known as the African Training and Research Centre for Women (ATRCW), this was the first centre to respond to the demands from women at the 1975 Mexico Women’s Conference to have focal points within the UN dealing directly with their many and diverse needs. Having been instrumental in bringing many African women’s voices to Mexico, it was only fitting that Peg should be chosen to head up the African Centre, and I was honoured to be invited to join the team. Although I was only 28 at the time and Peg could have chosen someone with much more experience, characteristically, she wanted to give the younger generation a chance and, thus, I became one of the many people who had their entire life changed by and owed their UN career to this extraordinary woman.
No one could have had a better boss. Peg’s first instruction was to write a plan for what I would do for the next 3 years if no one got in my way. This I did, and she more or less then let me get on with it. Having no travel money, she persuaded UNICEF’s regional office in Nairobi to provide this and, with the support of her many friends in UN agencies, governments and NGOs throughout Africa, we were able to make a real difference. One of my favourite projects was the introduction of corn mills into Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) to save women endless hours in grinding crops. This not only gave me the privilege of working with Brenda McSweeney – then Assistant Resident Representative of UNDP in Ouagadougou, but also the chance to marvel at how Peg bullied ECA (which was not an executing agency) into procuring grinding mills rather than paper clips. This was a pioneering pilot project and, while there were really very few grinding mills in Africa in 1975…they now can be seen in almost every village.
The three years based in Addis were magical. Peg not only guided my career and taught me how to learn from African women themselves, she introduced me to her entire network of friends ---- many of whom, including Thelma Awori, Achola Pala, and Terry Kantai --- I still count as my own close friends today. Peg managed to secure the bungalow next to her own for me to live in while in Addis and so we were neighbours as well as colleagues and I have very fond memories of the many parties she hosted next door when Women’s Conferences were being held, and the many evening suppers we shared during curfew when they were not. I was sad when Peg left Addis to move to New York to set up UNIFEM. But, I returned to London 10 months later to rejoin the international NGO that had seconded me to ATRCW and was to continue my working relationship with Peg through many consultancies to help build UNIFEM along side Peg’s first deputy – Banke Akerele and fellow consultant Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo. During those 9 years, I always stayed with Peg at her lovely apartment in Mitchell Place and came – as so many of her friends have done also – to regard it as my home away from home.
Just before Peg retired from UNIFEM, I was ready to hand over the well established Harare Office to an African woman, and Peg arranged for me to transfer to New York to head up a newly created Technical Section in support of the three Regional Sections. Although Peg had left the office before I arrived in New York in 1990, she helped me to secure my own apartment in her building – and so, for the second time around, we became neighbours. For the following 30 years until her death we became really close friends and shared a busy social life with the many visitors who came through New York and stayed over at Mitchell Place or came for lunch or supper. Every year Peg hosted a Christmas Eve supper – one year with Wangari Maathai and her entire family, and on New Year’s Eve we would go to the evening performance of Alvin Ailey at City Center before returning for cheese and wine with neighbours in her apartment and then going to the roof garden to watch the fireworks. Another favourite social occasion was visiting Ginny Sauerwein (former UN Coordinator for NGO Affairs) at her lovely home outside of NY City to take her Airdale Terriers for long Sunday walks and playing with the litters of puppies which arrived on a frequent basis. I was happy to be able to organize parties for Peg’s 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays and she, in return, organized parties for my 50th, 60th, 65th and 70th birthdays. All of them magical! At Peg’s 75th birthday, we asked for donations to help set up a Book Prize in her honour --- the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize administered by the African Studies Association that gives an annual prize to an African woman author – alternating between fiction and non-fiction.
In addition to her busy social life after leaving UNIFEM, Peg also became really immersed in gardening – as Chair of the gardening committee at Mitchell Place – and was instrumental in turning our roof garden into one of the loveliest in Manhattan. Many parties were hosted up there including one to celebrate the marriage of Wanjira Mathai. A special box with a very special flowering plant will be dedicated with a plaque to Peg to help us to remember her. She also continued to support the women’s movement. She was on the Board of Green Belt Movement USA, continued working with Women’s World Banking and helped to set up the Johnson Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund and served as a Board Member. She wrote numerous articles and book reviews, traveled to deliver many lectures and continued to visit organizations such as SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association) in India to which she had given support during her time at UNIFEM. And of course, she also wrote her books on ATRCW and UNIFEM, as well as her two books on Ugandan women entrepreneurs. Peg’s extensive collection of documents is archived at Princeton University. Her role as a ‘first in the UN’ was celebrated in 2016 with an exhibition at UNHQ ‘HERstory: A Celebration of leading women in the United Nations’ which was launched by Ban Ki-Moon and Antonio Guterres.
I will miss my mentor, friend and neighbour. This is a hole in my life I will never be able to fill, but I am glad that I have had the honour to spend so much of my life in the company of such an extraordinary person and had my life so enriched as a result. We will all miss you Peg – but you will never be forgotten.
Our paths crossed once again when I retired and we worked together on the Board of Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund to support market women in Liberia. Peg, now in her 80s, showed no sign of slowing down. We traveled together to Liberia to meet with market women and better understand their realities and hopes for themselves and their families. I so very much enjoyed working with Peg again. Her warmth, her kindness, her wit and her intellect made work fun!
Peg was a colleague and a friend. When I think of Peg, I smile. There are some people who bring out the best in other people. Peg was one of those people. May she Rest in Peace and May Her Memory Be A Blessing. I miss you, Peg.
From 1977 to 1979 I turned to ECA/ATRCW leading-edge publications in conducting my research into lessons to be learned from the Women’s Education Project in tandem with its dynamic Coordinator, women's education pioneer Scholastique Kompaoré. For my doctoral thesis I used Peg’s/ATRCW’s time–budget livelihoods model, that compared male and female workloads. I suggested expanding the model to include additional variables important in West Africa — Peg later adopted these into their model!
I’m now discovering that I know just one corner of Peg’s amazing mosaic promoting women’s rights and advancement globally. I’m excited at the prospect of hearing and joining to shout-out all four corners of Dr. Margaret 'Peg' Snyder's phenomenal legacy!
With admiration and affection, Brenda
|More tributes to — & articles by — Dr. Margaret 'Peg' Snyder, illustrating her stellar legacy: that lives on!|
Launching our new 'Women & UN Origins' series — first entry by Dr. Margaret 'Peg' Snyder, titled "THEY CAN MOVE US BUT THEY CAN’T STOP US: Surviving the Early Years of 'Women and Development' in the United Nations." Link: http://unitwin.blogspot.com/2020/07/announcing-our-new-origins-series-first.html
~ 15 November 2016:
Dr. Margaret 'Peg' Snyder (our Affiliate-Member) celebrated by distinguished journalist Barbara Crossette! Link: https://unitwin.blogspot.com/2016/11/dr-margaret-peg-snyder-our-affiliate.html
~ 18 December 2015: