Can there be sustainable development in Africa without gender equality?
This article was published on “Foresight for Development”: http://www.foresightfordevelopment.org/featured/gender-equality
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from discrimination in the world of today. This not only disrupts a most basic human right, but has serious social and economic consequences. Discrimination suppresses opportunities, and thereby economic progress, and emphasizes social pressures, inequalities and problems.
The situation of women has never been easy, especially in Africa, yet it has witnessed some changes over the last years, though discrimination remains a serious issue in the region.
One of the most urgent matters is the high levels of violence against women. South Africa, for example, has one of the highest incidents of rape in the world. It is estimated that one in three married women faces domestic violence. According to Amnesty International, girls and women are still raped in war-torn countries like Chad, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. In addition, women situated in these countries are affected by institutional discrimination which reveals significant socioeconomic and cultural barriers.
In the area of work, women are still suffering from male dominance. According to South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality, a white, middle-aged male is 5,000 times more likely to be in an executive position than a black woman. Getting a job is another challenge for women in South Africa. Besides the competition with their male colleagues, the number of women in formal employment has been declining compared to the past few years.
The truth is that African women often face a wage gap between their income and those of men. With jobs mostly requiring the same work, this gap can only be ascribed to gender discrimination. In most sectors, women also face challenges to start up their own businesses.
As for their education, in sub-Saharan countries the number of boys enrolled at primary school is higher than girls. Although many governments are devoted to deliver equal education for girls, in real life, girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys. The reason for lower enrolment of girls in schools, is due to the attitude of families to spend money on the education of boys instead of females, because males are perceived to be the future main source of income. They expect their daughters to carry out domestic and housework, and that’s why they put pressure on girls to marry young, as they are seen as an economic encumbrance on their families. Sometimes families don’t let their daughters attend school because of the lack of separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools.
African women have fought to achieve equal rights in many parts of Africa. They refused to live in a society that treats women as objects. Those women all did their best to confront the social injustice, to ensure their daughters live a normal life with basic human rights.
In 2011, Rwanda was the only country where women outnumbered men, with a high number of women in Rwanda’s parliament. This has enabled the passing of certain laws, such as inflicting stricter punishments for those committing violence against women.
Now African governments are including more female politicians than ever. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the first woman to become president of a modern African nation. In 2012, Joyce Banda became Malawi’s first female president.
In South Africa, Ellen Kuzwayo, a great writer, has written a book entitled Sano minua naiseksi (Call me woman). The book pictures apartheid, and the life and power of South African women. Kuzwayo speaks about her life in prison and about other inspiring powerful women. She tells her society that change is always possible and without ensuring gender equality, Africa will never advance.
These few countries have shown how women have successfully fought for their rights: they fought against the disreputable pass laws to women under apartheid and legal abortions; and have since risen to the ranks of parliament.
This shows societies are shifting. African women are progressively able to choose their own path in life. It is no longer uncommon to find women leading successful businesses in Africa alongside having a family. The enrollment of women in political, social and economic life of their societies is important for the development of Africa.
The health of a nation also advances with providing equal opportunities. I see no sustainable progress in Africa without gender equality.
I say NO discrimination against African women.