Plights of African woman as we mark another Women’s Day
Here comes another International Women’s Day celebration. Every day is a great day to celebrate the amazing women in your life but International Women’s Day gives you an extra reason to do just that. This Day, celebrated every year on March 8 is a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Our words can change the whole world because we are all together.
The day also marks a call to action as it encourages all people to actively choose to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and support the of various women focused charity organisation like the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), which was founded in June 2009.
One way to start doing that is to remind them how awesome women are. Share your appreciation with your amazing mum, incredible sister or remarkable girlfriend as a wonderful way to celebrate.
Women had begun agitating for greater equality and less oppressive working conditions and equality before the law. Women’s Day is marked to re-energise their efforts and bring them all together in one virtual place.
This year’s theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. This is a clarion call on us all to speak against and challenge discrimination against women and demand for the emancipation of women. It is therefore expedient to think critically about our own thoughts; actions and how we can better promote gender equality and celebrate women’s achievements. There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman. Likewise there is no more inspiring role model than a man who respects and cherishes women and champions their cause. I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.
Women need to reshape their own perception of how they view themselves. Women should step up as women and take the lead. Our words in favour of the equality for girls and women will go a long way to make a difference. Our words have also been echoed all around the world.
International Women’s Day also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the road ahead, what remains to be done in our quest for gender equality and how we might harness our collective energy, so that when we look back in five years time, we will say, “Yes 2021, I remember – that was a year of great celebration – but it was also the year we resolved to finish the unfinished business of gender equality despite the Corona virus outbreak in 2020.’
A day for us like this provides a useful opportunity to reinforce the fact that everyone has a role to play in forging a more gender balanced world. Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women is of great benefit to any economy and the society at large. However, in many African countries, women face stumbling blocks as a result of cultural practices, gender inequalities and gender-based discriminations. Hence, the need to raise awareness about the disadvantages of these discriminations, not only to women and girls but to the community at large.
It is indeed sad to know that in Africa, many girls and women pass through a lot to survive. And if the African continent must move forward, these are some of the plights faced by girls and women in Nigeria and Africa that must be interrogated.
Women and girl children around the world, especially Africa, face great adversity, violence, child marriage, injustice, poverty, insecurity, domestic violence, structures within society and new traditions (within Africa), which are deliberately imposed to keep women down and oppressed. Stereotypes and perceptions which are meant to define them, rather than uplift them.
As we all know, women are the mainstay and backbone of rural economies across the developing world. They face handicaps in accessing credit, finding collateral, have poor and limited education, poor access to markets and a lack of opportunity and technologies and so on. If African governments realized that a large part of economic development is basically dependent on the advancement of its women, then perhaps things may change.
Many African people refuse to think and some African countries are in a state of anarchy, where leaders are driven by greed, lust for power, deceit and the like. At the moment many African countries behave as if they’re daft, passive and ignorant people lead by corrupt and foolish leaders. Funny enough, it is the voices of the African women that have helped me understand thier plights and what still need to be done.
According to a 2010 United Nations (UN) report on violence against women in Africa, the scourge of violence against women in Africa is still largely rampant but hidden beneath cultural practices and beliefs. This because of a number of reasons, namely; the predominance of the system of patriarchy across Africa has meant that women are still perceived of and treated as subordinate to men; violence against women is accepted as the cultural norm in many societies and is often condoned by community and sometimes state leaders; the stigma attached to female victims of violence has resulted in very low rates of reporting; and often if women do report violence against them, they are either turned away because the authorities see violence against women as a matter to be dealt with privately or within the family or they struggle to access justice in a criminal justice system that is not informed by or sensitive to the needs of women.
We need to redouble our efforts to reduce violence against women and their children. Not less than 1.2 million women in Nigeria over the age of 15 had experienced domestic or family violence. Quite often than not, adolescent girls and women face intersecting disadvantages because of their age, gender, ethnic background, sexual identity, religion affiliation, income, disability amongst other compounded factors. We have seen pictures, evoked images of girls/ women in different situations such as domestic violence, discrimination against them, gender inequality and abuse of their human rights.
So this is why we are shining the light on this particular situation of women in emergencies at the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid organisation. It is also committed to the empowerment of women, provision of Legal aids and protection of women’s human rights through lobbying, advocacy, training and skill development, amongst other strategies. It also offers free legal services to vulnerable children in our society.
It is often forgotten that women and girls are not only helpless victims, they are sources of power, power to cope, power to prevent, power to reduce risk, power for resilience and transformation and to build back better after crisis. That is the power that we invoke and tap into in order to bring out the best in them.
The recent attacks on young girls in Nigeria and other African areas facing internal strife has also brought to light the security problems that girls face in their efforts to attain education. The importance of education to the girl child cannot be overemphasized.
The issue of religious violence against girls/women in Africa has been brought in the forefront by the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls and many others by the Islamic Militants Boko Haram. “Boko Haram” roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden.” The incident highlighted the African girl child’s plight at a time when there are concerted efforts, not only by African governments but international organisations such as the United Nations Women, to push for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Another painful factor facing the African girl/women is the issue of Sexual harassment. More than one in five women has experienced sexual harassment in the work place and we have seen an increase in complaints of sexual harassment since the recent high profile cases. But the problem is that many times, there is nowhere for women to report incidents of sexual violence or they are too frightened of the repercussions in their community if they do report.
It is important to note that women are still not paid equally for work of equal value. And this gap is compounded by the fact that most workplaces operate with a view that people, who are paid more, matter more. The very existence of the pay gap further marginalises women and is an added burden. Not only are women paid less but they are perceived to be less valuable.
Ironically, women have half the retirement savings of men despite doing some of the most valuable caring work in the country.
In the Nigerian Constitution for an example, it is the duty of the State to ensure there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex or on any other ground. However, no implementing legislation has been enacted so far concerning that.
Women in decision making roles are still the exception rather than the norm. Without a critical mass of women in our parliaments or our boardrooms, women’s voices are still absent from the major decisions made in this country.
Most businesses owned by women are micro or medium-sized in Africa. Governments have a role to play in changing the way women are perceived and a lot more needs to be done by institutions on the continent. There are many social and traditional pressures, which the African countries have to overcome and this is one example of a step in the right direction.
Another sad aspect is the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the health of the African woman is affected lack of medical facilities, supplies and trained staff and poor transport means that 60 per cent of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa do not have a health worker present during childbirth, a situation which heightens complications, leading to higher maternal and child death, according to WHO.
In Nigeria, WHO estimates that 800,000 women are living with fistula, a disabling condition often caused by problems in child birth. The number grows by 20,000 each year. And many women die annually from complications related to pregnancy.
African women play a significant part in agriculture (the United Nations Development Programme estimates that women farmers account for nearly 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force in sub-Saharan Africa). Despite the role women play in agriculture, productivity on women-owned farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men, according to a new report jointly published by the World Bank and the ONE Campaign entitled “Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa.”
The report reveals deep-rooted inequalities in African agriculture. In the six countries profiled, the report found that women farmers are refused access to land ownership, credit and productive farm inputs like fertilisers, pesticides and farming tools, and access to markets, factors essential to their productivity.
Therefore, one of the most important steps countries can take to drive progress is to ensure and improve the political, economic and social rights and opportunities of women. Africa has achieved notable economic growth in recent years. To be sustained, that growth must be inclusive, and translate into concrete improvements in the lives of women, men and children.
Countries that eliminate gender disparities in education, for example, will accelerate progress towards eliminating hunger and will improve child and maternal health, as educated women and girls are better able to make informed choices about family planning, nutrition, health, and education.
Gender inequality prevails in various sectors of the society. Hence, it is pertinent to note that closing the gender gap could help reduce hunger and improve livelihoods for Africa’s growing population.
It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. It is not enough to simply talk of equality; one must believe it and work at it as well. Let us work at it together. For every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.
•Falana is a Human Rights activist and Founder of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid.
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