Africa Rising….Woman Rising.
The role of women in the African society has improved significantly. However, more still needs to be done to achieve gender parity. Research shows that the more women enter the workforce, the better the economic health of the country. In addition, educated women are less likely to give birth to more children than they can afford to raise, which in turn ensures all children, especially the females, are properly taken care of and educated.
Consider these facts: Women make up 70% of the world’s poorest, but those who earn wages invest 90% of it into their households as opposed to the 30 – 40% invested by men. What does this portend? Women, if given the opportunity to work, are the key to eradicating world poverty and hunger. Poverty levels decline when girls and women are allowed to be productive members of society.
For society to fully harness the potential of women and girls, the problem of early marriage and young pregnancy has to be seriously addressed. A girl who gets married at an early age is more likely to drop out of school and get pregnant. Usually, young pregnancies take a toll on the bodies of girls and often lead to maternal deaths or vaginal fistula. In addition, there is the danger of girls suffering from depression and low self-esteem as a result of being physically or emotionally abused.
Malala, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, was shot at point-blank range by a Talib in Pakistan for campaigning for girls’ education. In Northern Nigeria, over 200 school girls were kidnapped from their secondary school, while in Afghanistan, school girls have had acid thrown in their faces and wells in their school poisoned for seeking an education. All three examples demonstrate the extreme lengths men would go to deprive females from having an education, but why is that? Why are some men frightened by an educated girl or woman?
While I do not have an answer, it is striking that most of these men have themselves been deprived of an education. Therefore, educating girls is only half the solution. Boys and men have to be educated on the importance of gender equality in a bid to change deep-rooted notions of the role of women and girls in the world.
In Nigeria, as in most developing countries, domestic violence is a crime that is treated with levity. If an abused woman reports to the police, hardly anything is done. Instead, she is asked what she did to provoke her partner into beating her, then she is flippantly dismissed because the police feel it is beyond their jurisdiction to interfere in a ‘private matter’. This cavalier attitude has to stop as there is nothing private in the physical abuse of another human being. Every woman should have the same rights as any man regardless of age, status or finances. If half the population of a country is marginalized and constantly under the threat of abuse, there is no way that country can be 100% productive.
Society, in general, is prejudiced against the potential of women in leadership positions, which probably is the reason there are so few women Presidents or women heading Fortune 500 companies. Furthermore, mentorship programs specifically geared towards women in private and public institutions are few and far between, so women do not benefit from leadership training.
In 2004, the Norwegian government mandated that at least 40% of board members of public limited companies be women to ensure they made it to the C-suite. This policy has considerably improved gender disparity and encouraged many more European countries to institute similar quotas. Hopefully, the rest of the world will take note and follow suit.
More needs to be done to tackle gender inequality and pay parity between the sexes. It is evident that poverty levels can decrease substantially when girls and women are educated and allowed to actively partake in the development of their country. For women to rise and truly take their place in a world of men, more needs to be done now to ensure women have access to healthcare, employment opportunities and that violence against women is punishable by the law. In addition, early marriage should be banned where it is practiced, so girls can maximize their potential as human beings by not dropping out of school.
Women are just as capable as men in leadership roles. Just take a look at Hilary Clinton, the US former Secretary of State and a potential presidential candidate, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and Ursula Burns of Xerox. These are all competent women in their own right, heading positions of authority and are proof that society can benefit from educated women if they let them thrive. Women will thrive if given equal opportunities. This fact can never be over flogged.