Empowering African women: is poverty sexist?
There is still almost half a year to go to address the African Union Summit 2015 theme, the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063”. But as Dr Sipho Moyo, Africa executive director at the One Campaign contends, poverty is sexist and won’t be dealt with unless the global injustice of gender inequality is dealt with once and for all.
On International Women’s Day this year, our organisation published a policy report that revealed the scale of the gender gap in the world’s poorest countries. The report, titled Poverty is Sexist: Why Girls and Women Must be at the Heart of the Fight to End Extreme Poverty, is a sobering reflection on the injustice of a world in which, whether you live or die depends on an accident of geography – on where you were born.
It cannot be right that a woman in Africa is 100 times more likely to die bringing a new life into the world than a woman in Europe. And beyond maternal mortality, the numbers all around are sobering.
Almost 40,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides every day, with a greater chance of suffering abuse from their husbands.
Only a little over 20% of poor rural girls in Africa complete primary education and fewer than 10% finish lower secondary school. Of adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 58% are women.
The challenges and injustices that girls and women in the developing world face are many – across all aspects of life – and include structural, social, economic and political barriers. In Africa, far more than anywhere else, women are disproportionately affected by corruption because of reduced access to resources, lower participation in governance and weaker protection of their rights.
For some, this may sound like a bit of old news but in Africa, where the gender gap between male and female is greatest, a girl is more likely to be denied an education than a boy.
As a woman, you do not have the same rights to credit or land as a man.
So, simply put, poverty is sexist and it won’t be overcome unless we start to deal with the global injustice of gender inequality. While the structural, social, political and economic barriers women face in the developing world are staggering, the year 2015 is an amazing opportunity to change that.
New Global Goals
In September at the UN, the new Global Goals will be agreed which will set the development agenda for the next 15 years. To end poverty by 2030, these goals must put girls and women at the heart of the new agenda and address all aspects of women’s rights and economic empowerment.
The African Union has declared 2015 the Year of Women’s Empowerment. This is also an opportunity to seize and promote the advancement of humankind by insisting on policy interventions by our African governments that promote and ensure equal opportunities for women and girls. African leaders were implored to come out of the June Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a clear set of policy reforms and budget commitments in their declarations, to include:
• Agricultural development and hunger: Committing to deliver tailored agricultural training to women, increase their access to productive inputs, and advance equal land tenure rights for all by breaking through legal and cultural challenges;
• Health: Improve the quantity and quality of health spending in line with the Abuja commitment, prioritise budget space for the salaries and retention of more health workers at all levels as one key element of strengthening health systems and improving access to health services for women;
• Financial and legal empowerment: Increase domestic investment in girls and women, ensuring that all budgeting and planning processes are gender-sensitive, and ensure access to justice for girls and women;
• Transparency: Improve transparency of natural resource management, particularly through making information on payments from extractives companies publicly accessible and available to citizens and civil society, including communities living near to extractive plants.
• AU leadership on SDGs: Ensure that the new Goals are focused, financed and followed with girls and women at their heart. At the adoption of the new Goals, leaders must agree to an ambitious framework that has a strong focus on unleashing the potential of girls and women through clear targets on agricultural development, nutrition, health, energy, development finance and accountability. These goals must tackle gender inequality, including through ending violence against women, child marriages, human trafficking and the exploitation of girls and women.
Before the June AU Heads of State Summit, ONE held Policy Forums in different African countries, together with some partners from the action/2015 coalition. These forums are key to building consensus from African citizens and obtaining their buy-in to pressure Africa’s leaders into agreeing on a strong declaration for Women’s Empowerment.
As part of this Poverty is Sexist campaign, ONE has brought together an outstanding line-up of top women musicians – nine amazing artists from seven African countries – to record a song called “Strong Girl”. The song was released on 13 May as a means of raising awareness about this campaign and to recruit thousands of people worldwide to the fight for justice. The song is a rallying cry to world leaders to act now to empower girls and women everywhere.
The rallying call is that employment, banking and business policies must be better tailored to women, including the creation of decent, paid jobs; women must enjoy easy access to financial services. All legal differences on the basis of gender that limit women’s economic empowerment must be dismantled.
In the campaign to end this endemic, global injustice, the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to be held this month, is going to be key, as this is where world leaders will draw up the blueprint for how the envisaged Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be financed.
Our organisation is calling upon donors to commit to spending 50% of aid to the least developed countries, where women and girls are most disadvantaged; saying that all public spending and trade policies should consider the impact on both men and women and also, fill the data gap, so that with better data, women’s issues are placed at the centre of the development story. And as such, all governments should commit to a Last Mile Fund to build statistical capacity so that the hardest to reach populations – which include women and girls – are counted.
The case is clear across all sectors. Empowering women – giving them the power and tools they need to change their own status – allows them to take advantage of equal opportunities, break from cultural and social constraints that may be holding them back and enable them to become drivers of poverty reduction. For all these reasons, the fundamental message is clear: if we are going to end extreme poverty, we need to start with girls and women, and then everyone else will benefit.
The idea of women empowerment is great for Africa and it is true that inclusion of women in economic development of Africa is vital. Our leaders have to come with the best policies that will not only serve this time but policies that will be sustainable even after the mission is accomplished. Meritocracy and efficiency should not be given up to empower women rather governments should aim at improving the merits of women in the society. I believe we can achieve gender balance if we keep an open mind, that is, not clinging to old traditions that undermine the integrity of women.
African women have first and foremost to empower themselves before they are empowered by external agents. Self empowerment is far better than exterior empowerment. African women have to believe in themselves that they are able. They have to fight against male superiority complex, against male dominated economic systems. They have to stand by themselves. African women are the key producers in the African economy, only that they are denied access to economic gains and economic decisions making. The war against poverty needs women as independent fighters to equally enjoy the fruits of economic freedom.