As African economies grow and more African women become empowered, millions more women are being left behind in poverty, deprivation and destitution. This was the theme of a recent conference in London. Patricia Lamour reports.
According to The Economist, “over the past decade, 6 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing countries were African. In 8 of the past 10 years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan”. So does this economic growth mean that Africa is rising, and what does it mean for African women?
Looking back, it has been 3 years since the launch of the African Women’s Decade by the African Union, 10 years since the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), 19 years since the Beijing Platform for Action for women in 1995, and 20 years since the Women’s Pre-Congress of the 7th Pan African Congress (PAC) in Kampala, Uganda.
Back then, women were rising in protest against the World Bank and IMF-imposed structural adjustment policies (or sophisticated arrangements for poverty, as the 7th PAC called them). Now, women activists have become gender experts, and pan-Africanists have become politicians and business people.
So where does that leave African women, “that half of humanity that is responsible for bringing into the world the other half”, as Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the AU Commission would say.
“Where are African women now and what is the way forward?” This was the key question put to a panel of gender experts and female leaders by Rainatou Sow, the founder of Make Every Woman Count (MEWC), who was awarded the accolade of “Most Inspirational Woman of the Year 2012” by the UK organisation Women4Africa, as well as being featured inForbes’ 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa.
The occasion was MEWC’s annual conference, hosted by Nadje Al-Ali, professor and chair of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of London’s School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
The event was packed by some 250 women and men listening to a line-up of who’s who in gender and development, including Diakhoumba Gassama, human rights lawyer and international consultant; Micheline Ravololonarisoa, feminist and former head of the Africa Section of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, now UN Women), Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, of the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD); Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell, of the Policy Centre for African Peoples; Fatuma Kinsi Abass, of the Pastoralist Girls Initiative in Kenya; Faiza Jama Mohamed, director of Equality Now’s Nairobi office, and Patricia Lee-Sang, founder of the Gender Education and Enterprise Development for Africa (GEEDA).
Belinda Otas of New African Woman was also there, moderating the men’s panel of speakers, challenging them with the question “How can we engage men as part of the solution?”, put to Sam Onigbanjo, co-founder of Women4Africa; Ernest Okwudike of Alliance 54 and founder of the African & Global Women in Business Forum; and Rene Claudel Mugenzi of the London Centre for Social Impact, amongst others.
The conference acknowledged that there are now significantly more girls going to school in Africa, some African women becoming heads of state, more African women becoming leading figures in international agencies, more becoming entrepreneurs, leading actresses and even millionaires than at the start of the African Women’s Decade. In fact, African women are becoming more visible and making the power lists of Forbes, Time, and even New African!
However, despite the narrative on growth in Africa, the level of deprivation and destitution for African women and girls still remains unacceptably high, and far too many experience inequality, poverty or die from giving birth. There are too many African girls not going to, or not staying in, secondary school and forced into early marriage.
Far too few women own land, businesses or are able to access credit, and women are still being raped, disfigured or killed as a result of domestic violence, refugee displacement or crimes of war.