A Tribute to Margaret “Peg” Snyder (1929-2021)

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, 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).]

In memoriam
Tributes to Margaret “Peg” Snyder

“Margaret Snyder knew how to establish institutions for the long haul, beyond the work any of us can do in our own lifetimes.” –Dr. Kathleen Sheldon, former Co-convener, ASA Women’s Caucus
“She was a great ally to African women and an ethical woman. She also was an unflagging supporter of the ASAWC. Her work lives on. May her soul Rest In Peace and her family be comforted and strengthened. We should eulogize her and celebrate her life.”–Dr. Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, former co-convener of the ASA Women’s Caucus
“Setting up the WC book prize fund in her honor was my distinct pleasure. Her cheery personality and positive spirit made her a joy to be around, and with a light-hearted approach to hearing loss which would have devastated others, she soldiered on and gained my never-ending awe and admiration.” –Dr. Lynda Day, former co-convener of the ASA Women’s Caucus

“Nwando and I were so pleased to be able to host Peg Snyder as the Women’s Caucus Luncheon speaker in 2015. In our brief time with her at ASA that weekend, we could see the qualities that made all her accomplishments possible–her clarity of analysis and strategy, always expressed with a touch of humor; her generosity in acknowledging the many other women who shared her goals, and the calm warmth she exuded. As Peg said when we tried to arrange one thing or another for her at ASA, “Don’t worry. I can take care of it myself.” And she did.” –Judith Van Allen, former co-convener of the ASA Women’s Caucus

“I became one of the many people who had their entire life changed by and owed their UN career to this extraordinary woman.” It was the same for me. But even more than my career, Peg shaped the way I learned to deal with the world: how not to be stopped by conventional limits, how to think outside of the box.
I came to Addis Ababa in 1975 with my Ethiopian husband Berhanu (after we had both finished our PhDs in Boston). Haile Selassie had been overthrown, and my husband had been one of the founders of the student movement in North America that was highly influential in that happening. After the Emperor was deposed, Berhanu wanted us to return to Ethiopia as soon as possible. But unfortunately, the Dergue took power before we got there, and Berhanu didn’t get to have a hand in his dream of building a democratic Ethiopia.

I had an offer to teach at Addis Ababa University, but shortly after we arrived the university was shut down after shooting incidents that killed both students and professors. While looking for some other employment, I heard of a newly established women’s program (the first international program on women in development) at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis. Just shortly before, Edna Bay and myself, working closely with ASA and the Women’s Caucus that we first organized, edited a collection of articles published as Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change (Stanford U. Press, 1975). I went to ECA and met Peg Snyder. After we talked for a while she said, “We can offer you a contract for $300 to do an annotated bibliography on women and development in Africa.” Having no other offers, I took it! That contract turned into 25 years of full-time employment in the United Nations – first for 11 years as head of research and publications at the African Training and Research Center for Women that Peg had founded at ECA, then heading the Program to Promote Information Technology in Africa (until my retirement in 2000).

Peg was always very encouraging, but she was also a firm taskmaster. In 1978 the Swedish funding of ATRCW (even though ATRCW became one of the most successful programs at ECA, it never had any funding from the UN budget until about 1985!) was under review. We needed to finish the publication of some 15 reports and studies that had been completed, but at the time there was no paper to be had at ECA or elsewhere in Addis Ababa (I had scoured the local printshops to find this out). I told Peg: “We can’t do it. There’s no paper at ECA or elsewhere In Addis Ababa, and the ports are closed at Assab, Massawa and Djibouti.” (This was the time of the Red Terror as well as the Eritrean uprising). Peg said, “And you’re going to let that stop you?” I managed to find a solution; I contacted the American Embassy and found that they had a surplus of A4 paper that they couldn’t use because it wasn’t US letterhead standard. I identified funds to buy the paper, and we printed all the studies that had been completed and got our funding renewed.

Peg was appointed Director of the newly-established Voluntary Fund for the Development of Women at United Nations, New York in 1978, necessitating Peg’s relocation to New York. I continued to live and work in Addis Ababa, but stayed closely in touch with Peg, always visiting her when I went on home leave to the US. I remember especially visiting her when I was 8+ months pregnant with my daughter Ribka in 1979. Peg often told people “Nancy almost had her baby on my couch.” She became an unofficial godmother of Ribka, and at age 78 flew to Isla Mujeres in Mexico to attend my daughter’s wedding.

Peg was the most selfless person I have ever known. The stories of her kindness are legion. They stand out immensely for me. Most importantly, though, she was unwavering in her dedication to improving the situation of women in Africa. Her passing is a great loss to humanity.” –Dr. Nancy Hafkin, a founding member of the ASA Women’s Caucus