Mar 19th, 2013 7:49 PM UTC
By Warren Nyamugasira
This post was originally published in New Vision
The day of reckoning has come round yet again. On behalf of the world, the United Nations has set up a process for thinking about the next big thing to succeed the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to end two years.
When the MDGs were adopted by over 189 countries in 2000, they were a powerful statement of a world leadership intent on banishing poverty and hunger: putting every child through school, giving women parity with their male counterparts, and stopping unnecessary deaths of our infants and children.
It was a leadership determined to improve the health of mothers so that when giving birth to the next generation, they do not have to die in the process.
HIV/AIDS, malaria and other killer diseases which were on the rampage, were to be stopped in their tracks, while the sustainability of our environment was to be assured.
Indeed progress has been made on some of these goals. For example, results in poverty reduction have accelerated over the past decade. Fewer children are dying than was the case at the turn of the millennium.
However, little change has been registered in many of the other goals, especially those to do with the preventable death of child-bearing women.
My wife, a communications practitioner and a fellow development activist, is convinced that until women take charge of developing and implementing such goals, making them effective and relevant to the problems that afflict them and the families they take care of, full success will continue to elude us.
I agree with her completely (which by the way is the safest way to keep peace in the home). Women do the heaviest lifting in sustaining humanity, especially in our African societies. They are the mothers, farmers, producers and reproducers. They are at the heart of keeping us well-fed and well-nurtured. In sub-Saharan Africa, they produce 90% of staple foods and contribute 20-30% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So how on earth did anyone expect to meet all those MDGs to do with eliminating poverty, hunger and malnutrition when those very women farmers are restricted to only 8% of land ownership and access to only 10% of available credit?
Now that another opportunity to rectify the mistake is here, our male leaders must not repeat the same mistake of trying to think for the women.
To reflect Africa’s priorities and concerns, we must put our best foot forward first by giving full respect to our women and letting them have their say first. I have a feeling that if given a safe space women were to draw what they think of men, they would most likely draw men with no ears, small eyes, a small heart, even smaller brains but big mouths.
Men accuse women of talking a lot. But actually it is men who like to talk and do so expensively. When they draw budgets, they prioritise seminars, workshops and conferences. If need be, men will even talk to themselves. They seem to think that to feed the people all they need to do is talk, make resolutions and return to their offices and homes exactly to do nothing.
To feed our people, what needs to be done first and foremost, is to give women land rights and allocate requisite resources to them to get the job done. But can you find a country in Africa that has addressed this issue head on? No. Can’t men see that continuing to ignore land rights for women is an expensive mistake?
By the way, 2010-2020 is the African Women’s decade while 2014 has been designated the Year of Agriculture. If anything concrete is to happen, this is the time for women to swing into action so as to set the agenda.
Fortunately, the UN High Level Panel on the next set of MDGs is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of the Republic of Liberia. Women must work through her to ensure that the next global development agenda is one that goes to the heart of the world’s malaise as understood and experienced by the heavy-lifting women in their lived realities.
Already, women know what did not work because the design of the current MDGs was defective and the implementation incompetent. They see how men under-fund vital sectors such as agriculture, health and education and then in broad daylight, steal the little money meant to feed and educate the children and attend to the sick and dying.
They see how men pledged to allocate 10% of the national budget to agriculture and 15% to health and ended up allocating less than half the amount.
Time for positive energy and corrective action is now. Let women guide us to determine the future direction of our world’s development.
Jan 14th, 2013 12:41 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently created a video featuring Malawi’s first female president, Joyce Banda, talking about the importance of women’s health and empowerment. Blog and Video by Janet Fleischman and Julia Nagel
When Joyce Banda unexpectedly ascended to the presidency of Malawi last April, after the death of President Mutharika, many in her country and around the world wondered what her impact would be as Malawi’s first female president. Among the many challenges, her government faces high rates of maternal mortality, high total fertility rates, and high HIV prevalence among women and girls, combined with low levels of women’s economic empowerment and widespread violence against women.
CSIS wanted to learn more about how women leaders in Africa are bringing new attention to women’s health and empowerment in their own countries, and to bring those voices into the discussion about US policy priorities for women’s global health. To do this, we sent a small team to Malawi and Zambia in December 2012.
During an interview with President Banda in Malawi, which we have turned into this short video, we were able to ask her about these issues. Her response underscored the exciting prospects raised by her tenure as well as the daunting challenges ahead.
President Banda was especially passionate that the economic empowerment of women is an essential step to ensure that there is effective family planning: “it is only when a woman is economically empowered that she can negotiate at household level with her husband about the number of children that body of hers can have.”
President Banda went on to describe her own compelling personal story of the vital link between education for girls and economic empowerment for women, against a backdrop of violence against women. “I had three children, in an abusive marriage. And then finally I said, no. I have to walk out. For the sake of my children… So for me when I talk about the importance of economic empowerment of women, it’s because I tried it.”
In Malawi, we saw a woman wearing a T-shirt celebrating the first 100 days of JB’s presidency. Banda’s supporters expressed hope about the positive changes underway, from public works projects to the re-engagement of key international donors, to a new initiative on maternal mortality. But even her most ardent supporters acknowledge that real change will take time. Their optimism is being sorely tested by Malawi’s tough economic and social and realities, including a legacy of corruption, autocracy and mismanagement.
Yet President Banda made clear to us that she will “stay the course.” As she explained: “while I’m trying to bring the country back on track, I’m also very mindful of my mission – to make sure that I continue to empower women… So for me, that is what being a leader is all about.”
Sep 20th, 2012 7:09 PM UTC
By Katherine Lay
“We need to ensure that the energy, skills, strength, values and wisdom of women become an integral part of the remodeled economic infrastructures now being developed by global leaders. Empowering and investing in women is part of a global solution for us all, now and in the future.”
Graça Machel, African Elder and Activist
Former First Lady of Mozambique and South Africa
Women are a formidable economic force across emerging markets in Africa, yet their role in economic production remains largely unrecognized. Their continued inability to access and control economic and social capital assets and resources has been a central factor in perpetuating Africa’s poverty trap and in keeping the economic performance of many African states below their potential.
Creating a climate of success for women in Africa is not simply smart economics, it is integral to the continent’s development effectiveness, referenced by a direct correlation between women’s empowerment, national GDP growth, private sector growth, environmental sustainability and improved health outcomes. The implications for human development are vast, but remain unharnessed. Instead, marginalization of women as economic actors is compromising a continent poised for a massive economic boom.
Women’s disempowerment is particularly glaring in Africa’s agricultural sector. Women are Africa’s principal food producers: according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, they make up 70 percent of the agricultural labor force and are responsible for 80 percent of food production and 60 to 90 percent of marketing, in addition to grueling household responsibilities. Any genuine effort to eradicate poverty and hunger in Africa must therefore confront the fact that more than half of the producers of the agricultural sector – a sector that can have twice the impact on poverty reduction as growth in other sectors – are operating from a distinct disadvantage. Women are contending with policies and practices that severely restrain their agricultural production potential and are facing widespread restrictions on their ability to buy, sell or inherit land, utilize banking services, or access rudimentary resources and markets.
In Uganda, for example, women receive only 9 per cent of agricultural credit, while in Malawi only 7 per cent of female-headed households receive extension support, compared to 13 per cent for male-headed households. In Kenya, women produce 80 percent of the country’s food and manage more than one-third of smallholder farms, yet receive less than 10 percent of credit provided for smallholders and own less than 10 percent of the land. As a result, women cannot maximize profits, reinvest them or secure capital to expand their investments.
It is clear that ongoing failure to invest in women farmers is handicapping the continent’s quest for more productive and sustainable agriculture systems and more food secure and prosperous societies. Success will lie in the removal of restrictive laws and in agriculture policies and budgets that are responsive to the needs of local women farmers, empowering them to produce more food for local markets as a solid foundation for global food security.
Investing in women’s economic empowerment is a high-yield investment, with multiplier effects on productivity, efficiency and inclusive growth for the continent. This context presents a key opportunity for governments and business leaders to recognize and encourage women to be participants, beneficiaries and enablers of Africa’s growth. Even where supportive policies are established, implementation and practice will only succeed if all leaders send clear messages that the economic participation of women is fundamental to Africa’s future success.
Sep 10th, 2012 6:27 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
This post by Kadiatu Blango was kindly provided by Restless Development
My name is Kadiatu, I am 20 and have two daughters. I had my second child when I was 18. Like every mother, I want the very best for my children and do everything I can for them, but I worry that it will be difficult for them, just like it was for me. My father died when I was very young and I was only able to go to school up until the age of six. I left my mother’s home to go and live with my uncle, but he was hardly ever around. His wife, my aunt, did not care for me as she did her own children and we did not get on. I was forced to carry out domestic chores while her children were able to attend school.
Kadiatu and her two daughters in their community
As the war became more intense, we moved to Freetown. Upon my return to the village my mother forced me to be initiated into the bondo society, a group that practices female genital cutting. I did not want to. I wanted to go to school.
My mother told me that she couldn’t afford to pay my school fees and yet she could afford to spend a lot of money on the initiation process. Once initiated, I was forced into marriage at the age of twelve and became pregnant the same year. The baby’s father left when I was six months’ pregnant. I haven’t seen him since. I suffered a lot to raise the baby with no support from my mother or any other relative. Selling wood, potato and cassava leaves were the main sources of income for myself and my child.
There was no way I could continue with schooling without parental support. Later I met another guy who fooled me around and made me believe he could handle my problems. He started well, but then he got me pregnant and ran away to Liberia. I got my second child at the age of eighteen. Life is very hard and quite challenging for us coming from a very poor family but we all do our best.
It need have been like this for me and it should not be like that for my two daughters. I want them to be free to get an education, to not be worried about marrying too young or experiencing violence. I want them to grow up to be strong young women who can make their own choices, go to school, own land and control their own lives.
What challenges do women face in your community?
The main challenges faced by women are numerous to name but a few are:
How does your family make a living?
What opportunities would you like to see for your kids?
What would you like to see leaders promise to do to help communities like yours?
What would you like world leaders to focus on that would have impact on your life?
Underlying this are high rates of teenage pregnancy – 34% of women aged 15-19 have either already had a baby or are pregnant. This also often leads to interrupted education, reduced earning potential, poor marital outcomes and reduced health outcomes for surviving children.
Furthermore, youth unemployment is a major problem in Sierra Leone, with an estimated one third of urban and one sixth of rural 20-24 year-olds out of work and over 17% of the urban populations aged 15-35 years unemployed. Work opportunities are rare (around 9% of the workforce are formally employed), which means that stories like Hawa’s are mainly the norm rather than the exception.
Featuring contributions from African citizens who are living in communities affected by extreme poverty, ONE’s African Voices series will follow their progress to give a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges they face and also to track changes that occur over time. Find out more at one.org/africanvoices.
Restless Development is an agency that places young people at the forefront of change and development. It works in Africa and Asia to empower young people to take their lives into their own hand and trains, educates and inspires young people to be part of the solution. Find out more at www.restlessdevelopment.org
Mar 8th, 2012 12:38 PM UTC
By Peter Taylor
Guest blog by Léontine Ayawovi Gbadégbégnon, Secretary-General of Togo’s Groupe de réflexion et d’action Femme, Démocratie and Développement (GF2D) – winners of the ONE Africa award 2011 GF2D helps women in exercising their right to participate in decision making processes of their country.
International Women’s Day was founded to highlight the situation of women of all classes around the world. Billions of ordinary women – along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – are promoting their cause, and the women of the West African nation of Togo are making good progress.
Women have always played a vital role in our society. The “Nana Benz” (Benz Girls), named after their choice of car, left their mark on the economy when they got rich through the ingenious designs on the wax dresses they made exclusively in the 1950s. They were key supporters of the country’s independence movement.
Equal involvement of women in decision-making bodies was still far off when the GF2D organisation was founded in 1992 by a group of 30 women from many professions. The country was under one-party rule that made social and political life very difficult. But the courage and determination of GF2D’s founders, who wanted to ensure Togolese women had a special place when democracy emerged, produced countless remarkable achievements that bettered their legal and political status.
GF2D works to empower women by expanding their access to legislation. Paralegals (legal experts) are trained to make use of laws on the books that can help women, notably the Law on the Family and Individuals (CPF) and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The paralegals are energetic women (and also men) who are devoted to their communities and aware of the lack of social equality between men and women. More than 700 have been trained throughout the country since 1994 and from six legal assistance centres, they mediate and settle problems of violence linked to gender, inheritance, marriage and divorce. They also speak on Radio Nana, a station run by and for women (and named after the Nana Benz) which broadcasts their advice nationwide.
Most of the paralegals are ordinary women — farmers, merchants, seamstresses, artisans, mothers, teachers and women elders — who are trained and then promote women’s rights and encourage gender equality in democratic governance.
Mawussi Toublou, a Lomé seamstress, is a GF2D paralegal. She makes brightly-coloured clothes with a manual sewing-machine in her small workshop, earning enough to live on and to buy petrol to drive around the capital and its suburbs to work as a paralegal. This energetic woman is also a trade-union organiser and trains people (men as well as women) to know their civil rights and duties.
Ama Kemeh, from a polygamous family, lived in a village where women were in an inferior position. Her experience growing up amid the discrimination, bullying and humiliation endured by women made her very bitter, resentful and rebellious and gave her a burning desire to change things. But she did not know how.
She gained confidence and hope after GF2D trained her as a paralegal in 1994, opening her eyes, and she resumed her studies with courage and determination. Less than seven years later she was a senior Togolese civil servant and for the past four has been a United Nations official in Togo.
The two women are not the only ones to have overcome discrimination and bullying to take their place as full citizens in their families and communities. Other women paralegals and women helped by them have become leaders in the communities too.
Paralegal Djomba Somtoua is fighting violence against women in the district she now administers, notably husbands chasing their wives out of the home. Other women paralegals advise their sisters about financial, economic and social issues to help them expand their access to microcredit.
Some have also started their own associations to achieve their goals more effectively, such as Anne Kpedji, who founded a women’s literacy group. Akuavi Odah, a paralegal in Atakpame, set up and now runs a savings and credit co-op with thousands of members.
As well as the paralegals, 190 rural women have been trained as community leaders and help run development committees in villages and neighbourhoods.
GF2D also provides civic and political education for women who want to go into local or national politics. About 100 of them contested the last parliamentary elections and more are preparing to stand in this year’s local and legislative elections.
More trained women have joined the country’s decision-making bodies thanks to GF2D’s efforts and Togo now has nine MPs (up from four) and seven government ministers (up from five).
GF2D continues trying to get even more women interested in social and political life. A woman, Kafui Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, stood for president in 2010, a historic event in a still-complex social and political situation and such a male-dominated country. She stands as a model for all African women.
We hope 8 March, with its theme of “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty,” will be an occasion for all communities, villages, governments and people around the world to recognise and honour these women.
Oct 24th, 2011 11:05 AM UTC
By Edith Jibunoh
The 2011 ONE Africa Award process is halfway through and when the call for applications closed on 16 September we had received over 150 applications! ONE staff have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing the amazing applications that came in and I am pleased to announce that we have identified our top 5 finalists!
I have already embarked on a tour around the continent, to visit the finalists, in no particular order, and over the coming weeks I’ll be unveiling the candidates, one at a time, immediately following my visits to them. I am really excited by the quality of the candidates this year and I am certain the selection committee will have a tough time picking a winner!
My visit with the first organization has just concluded and I can reveal that the first of our top candidates is the Togolese organization, Groupe de refelxion et d’action Femme, Democratice et Developpement (GF2D). This amazing organization was founded by a group of mostly women lawyers almost twenty years ago and uses Togolese constitutional laws to promote the rights of women and encourage their equal participation in democratic governance.
Founders and staff of GF2D outside their office
One of GF2D’s tools is the use of paralegals who are trained in Togolese laws by GF2D and empowered to communicate messages to communities about women’s rights, engage in mediations related to marriage, inheritance and children, and offer referral assistance for issues that need to be handled in court. Many of their paralegals are everyday women – traders, seamstresses, mothers, whose lives have been changed because of their paralegal training and some of them have gone on to seek local political positions. These women and men have become well-respected members of their societies because of their knowledge of Togolese laws and their ability to convey the rights of women to their peers in simple messages. GF2D has been integral to the increase in the number of female political office holders in Togo today.
Madam Toublou, a seamstress turned paralegal and women’s activist, trained by GF2D.
GF2D has also set up audience centres within popular markets where people can walk in for legal advice and I was fortunate enough to visit one in the biggest market in the Togolese capital, Lome, and see how they work. People came in for advice ranging from questions about how to get birth certificates for children to what to do in the case of a woman not being allowed to access her inheritance by male relatives. The paralegals are also frequently on radio and television programs promoting their work. Not far from the market, I sat in on a national radio program with a station GF2D works with regularly, Nana FM. The station is focused on women’s issues and got its name from a group of Togolese women who were famous in the 1950’s for their wealth acquired from their trade in wax cloth. These women were very influential in the Togolese independence movement and were called “Nana Benz” because of the Mercedes Benz cars they favoured! Radio is still the most powerful medium of communication in Africa and Nana FM, whose staff have been trained by GF2D, includes dynamic programs in their broadcasts that help ensure that that information related to women’s rights, development and democracy is conveyed effectively throughout the country.
GF2D’s amazing work has been recognized by the government of Togo and during my visit, the Minister of Women’s affairs was kind enough to meet with me to endorse the work of GF2D. She explained to me that the government has replicated GF2D’s model and has worked with GF2D to train the government paralegals. GF2D has also been critical to the increase in the number of women holding political office in Togo today.
(left to right) Two GF2D staff, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Togo; ONE’s Edith Jibunoh; staff of GF2D.
GF2D recognizes the importance of the inclusion of both men and women in development and understand that unless men and women can equally participate in decision-making processes that determine their access to opportunities, Togo will not fully develop. To this end, GF2D also includes male paralegals in their outreach and ensures that they equally target men whose understanding of women’s rights is just as important and critical to the success of their mission.
We wish GF2D good luck in the 2011 ONE Africa Award and thank them for their hospitality in Lome!
Stay tuned for the announcement of the second finalist………
Oct 11th, 2011 4:52 PM UTC
In the 110-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, most winners have been men. The first African woman to win was Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, who was recognized in 2004 for her persistence in democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. But last week, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was honoured to three campaigning women: Yemen’s Tawakul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and her compatriot Leymah Gbowee. The women were awarded for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full peace-building work.
Last week’s announcement is another shining indication of the immense contribution from African women. Momentum is building around the investment of girls and women as an essential part in eliminating poverty and establishing global development. Research is proving that investments in women will impact economic growth and improve the well-being of communities.
Productivity will have gains. According to the 2012 World Bank, Gender Equality and Development Report, women now represent 40% of the global labour force. And advances in women’s health and education will create improved outcomes for the next generation. Empowering women to be actors in the social, economic and political arenas will create a varied representation of voices on local and national community levels.
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” stated Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister and head of the Oslo-based Nobel committee.
Yemen’s most lively activist and mother of three, Tawakul Karman is advocating for freedom of expression and protest not only for women’s opportunities but also for the youth of Yemen. Winner of the Blue Ribbon Peace and Profiles in Courage awards, Leymah Gbowee serves as the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Accra, Ghana, and her peace-building initiatives have spanned numerous parts of Liberia. The efforts of Gbowee greatly assisted in the 2005 election of fellow citizen President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The Harvard graduate, incarcerated activist and exile from Liberia, has tirelessly fought for years against social inequalities in her country.
ONE congratulates these women on their individual and revolutionary marches for the leadership of women and their role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. This momentous occasion demonstrates the importance of women’s voices in creating purposeful political leadership and social change.
May 24th, 2011 6:39 PM UTC
By Edith Jibunoh
This post was first published on 23 May on the Mail and Guardian’s Thought Leaders blog
I woke up to horrible news this morning and I’m angry. John has worked for my family for years. I’ve known him since I was a little girl when he used to take me to school every morning. This is an African story. The one big happy extended family that blends employees with relatives, where birthdays and holidays are celebrated together.
This morning John’s wife died during childbirth. Now she’s just another statistic you hear from Nigeria, a country that produces two million barrels of oil a day but where one in 18 women, or 144 women a day, die during childbirth because there aren’t enough doctors, nurses or equipped hospitals. What number is John’s wife in that list of 144?
My family has an electricity generator that provides us with light when there’s no power from the national authority (this is most days). We drilled down miles to create our own water borehole to provide us with consistent water because the water authority has not provided water in years. My sister and my brothers’ wives all fly to the UK or US when they are about two to three months away from giving birth so they can be attended to by capable medical staff, in an environment that almost guarantees the safety of mothers and their babies.
Nigeria is unlikely to experience the birth that comes after the rage against injustice, similar to what is being experienced by our brothers and sisters up north. We too have bottled up our frustrations for decades. Our survival instincts have made us self-centred and led to apathy in our expectations from governments and institutions. We have created our own little havens of sanity, insulated ourselves from this harsh world and the failures of our government. Meanwhile corruption continues to thrive, health systems have collapsed and education decays. It’s in this decay that we find the minds of most of our population. Where no-one demands services any more because they don’t know that they can. Without education how can my people know to demand electricity, health, water or roads. My people are more likely to believe a hex was put on John’s wife by an evil neighbour than blame the government for this tragedy. Churches have replaced community centres and with limited access to the internet, organising capacity is extremely low. So, a North African style revolution is not coming to Nigeria. That’s not our story.
Instead, our story will resemble a quieter change that will only come about when we start thinking beyond ourselves. When we recognise that these walls we cocoon ourselves in are actually made of glass, and when those that can, start doing more for communities, our extended family, for John. Solutions for countries like Nigeria lie in our hands. And this story doesn’t have to be about building another hospital or other such daunting projects that you and I are unlikely to take on. It can just be about distributing mosquito nets to pregnant women in your community to tackle malaria, Africa’s biggest killer. Or it could be exercising the strength of your voice by advocating for women to take advantage of prenatal care in their communities. Our quiet revolution will only follow the demand for and real address of the poverty that has chained people’s minds. Our quiet revolution will mean rejecting corruption in all forms because we cannot fight poverty if we are corrupt ourselves. If we stay silent we are just as complicit.
We have all heard this story.
I am angry and I refuse to be silent. Can you really stay silent? It’s a long road to change but we must begin the journey to create our new African story.
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