“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens” — former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
Gender equality is a core development objective, essential to allowing women and men to contribute equally to society and the economy. Even though there are over 650 million women in Africa, representing more than half of the continent’s 1.32 billion people population, in almost all parts of Africa, girls and women are marginalized in the home, at schools, workplace, public and political spheres.
In African countries — and indeed all over the world — women face multiple barriers and gender-based discrimination in both private and public settings. This discrimination sets in early, starting from the nature of education given to girls or till what particular age and culminating in the type of work they’re channeled into or the kind of behavior expected of them in marriage.
In both private spheres and public ones, a lot of African women are grappling with occupational segregation and multiple barriers.
These include lack of access to land and capital, unfair inheritance rights, lack of financial resources and technology, marginalization and under-representation of women in politics, gender-based violence, and other issues, which are caused by cultural mindsets and stereotypes.
Owing to these obstacles, women find it harder to get on an equal footing with men in virtually every setting in society. Further compounding gender inequalities are legal barriers, and even though there are legal frameworks in a number of countries in Africa that cover sexual harassment in entrepreneurship, employment and public service, enforcement and access to justice is not only slow but also challenging.
In some countries in the region, such frameworks to protect the interest and safety of women are not even in existence let alone enforced. Below, I will be discussing measures to eradicate the major barriers women in Africa both in private and public settings.
The Need to Promote Gender Equality in African States
Gender equality is a basic right of every human, be it a woman or a man
From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), created 71 years ago, to the Millennium Declaration Goals (MDGs), designed 15 years ago, and to the Sustainable Development Goals, set just four years ago, global attention stays focused on the promotion of human rights and getting rid of discrimination and inequitable outcomes for girls, boys, women, and men.
But in spite of widespread recognition of women’s rights, in addition to the benefits that all of society would gain from ensuring equitable treatment and access to resources & opportunities for women and men, there are still inequalities. At both the regional and national levels, there’s growing recognition that as women in Africa achieve higher measures of socioeconomic well-being, a range of benefits accrue to all of society.
Unfortunately, in spite of this growing understanding, eliminating inequalities for women in this region has been going on at a slow pace. In almost all parts of Africa, there are significant gaps between opportunities for men and women, and this problem remains a primary challenge, serving as a severe impediment to structural economic as well as social transformation, which persists as the goal of every country on the continent.
Men dominate the African political space, and only a few women contest for public positions and are elected into political offices in virtually all countries in the region. This isn’t because women don’t want to serve their country, but due to the fact that the political structure & the patriarchy nature of the society always stand in their way. Thus, African women remain severely under-represented in decision-making positions.
All over the world, women’s political participation has been recognized as a key measure of the status of women in any country. To protect women’s interest, crack down on the perennial problems of gender oppression, slavery of women, and other gender-based issues facing women in Africa, it is important to urge more female participation in politics and policy-making.
TAWF’s Analytical Approach
In this essay, the African Woman Foundation considers gender inequality from the human development perspective, and our recommendations to tackle the problem emphasize improving women’s capabilities and opportunities as well as contributing to better outcomes for both present and future generations of women in the region.
It is recognized that the nexus between gender equality and human development rests on three (3) overlapping issues:
Economic: This has to do with ensuring more productive work at home and in the marketplace for women that are employers, employees as well as entrepreneurs.
Social & environmental: This involves ensuring better health, education, putting to an end to physical and sexual violence against African women, and ensuring sustainable resource use for both present and future generations of women.
Political: Clamoring for more equal voice and representation of women in governance, decision-making, and resource allocation.
Ways to Eliminate the Major Barriers against Gender Equality
Gender inequality remains a major impediment to attaining sustainable development in Africa
When we have many women participating in politics, they can help protect and represent the interest of women in society and advocate what is good for women, since men will always seek ways to further consolidate their grip on women and will never represent women’s interests.
One of the major reasons that women in Africa are lagging behind their counterparts from other parts of the world is that there are few of them involved in decision-making and governance. This is why TAWF advocates more women involvement in politics at all levels of governance, from local authorities to central government. This will ensure there’s a voice for women that can combat gender oppression, female subjugation, women slavery, and help change the way men regard women.
Women should not be treated as only useful for home care, sex and child bearing. Individuals, families, societies, and nations have to change how the African woman and girl are treated and all women worldwide.
One of the best ways to promote gender equality is through education. Research has shown that women with a secondary level of education earn roughly twice as much as the ones without the qualification. Still, only one in three girls (around 33%) in low-income countries completes lower secondary education in comparison with three out four girls (75%) internationally.
Not only does education provides vocational and life skills for girls, but also helps eliminate other impediments to women’s economic participation, which brings about exponential improvements.
There is need for more African women leaders to participate in politics and change policies, which restrict women’s rights, serving as role models to younger generations of women. Female politicians and policy-makers often place a priority on social issues that affect women and girls, such as education, parental leave, and childcare.
They represent the female voice during policy discussions to tackle challenges, like equal pay, reproductive rights, women oppression, and gender-based violence. Also, women politicians can help change societal opinions of women positively and even raise parental expectations for their daughters.
This is why we urge more female political participation to close the existing gender gap.
Finally, the African Women Foundation supports government policies and partner with non-governmental organizations to empower women and bring an end to gender inequality. This is vital to alleviating poverty and attaining sustainable development in Africa.
Founder: The African Woman Foundation (TAWF)