Soon, the African woman will no longer wear the face of poverty

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women addressing a conference at a past event.Picture:Courtesy
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women addressing a conference at a past event.Picture:Courtesy

For a long time, issues related to poverty and underdevelopment have been associated with women and more so in Africa, where dominant patriarchal cultures exacerbate women’s inferiority.

African women were left behind and remained at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy, with poor access to land, credit, health and education.  They encountered barriers to their advancement in the workplace, political arena and social space because of discrimination.

However, efforts and mechanisms have been put in place to strengthen the woman with emphasis shifting from quantitative to qualitative participation of women in politics and other decision making processes.

According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women when women lead side by side with men, it is good for equity and democracy.

It is also good for peace and stability and is good for business. When women and men make decisions together, the decisions reflect better and respond to the diverse needs and rights of the entire population.

Even as the world reconsiders development models and techniques which are intended to bring equitable and sustainable development to communities and particularly women, it is sad to note that there has been an understatement and total blindness of how majority of the world’s population women are agents of this process and not first-hand partakers of the same.

Millions of African women and girls could accomplish a lot if their full capacity was unleashed and barriers to education, health rights, decision making and full participation removed. This would then place women at the centre of sustainable development.

When women are empowered they can produce positive changes with benefits that go beyond simple economic growth.

It is equally important to note that to enable women escape poverty, development policies should place more emphasis on their contributions to the economy.

This means even the things they do like housework should be considered an economic activity.

According to Rose Atieno, a Credit Officer with a local micro-finance organisation: “Compared with the yester years, women these days are not afraid to take loans or approach money lending organizations for finances.”

She says women believe that having one’s own finances boosts self-confidence, enables them make economic decisions and saves them from abusive marriages since they will be financially independent.

In Kenya the Women Enterprise Fund, Uwezo Fund and Youth Fund have helped women, including those in the rural areas access funds that would enable them improve their businesses or start up one.

Agriculture is another vital sector that women have successfully ventured into for both social and economic empowerment.  They are many who are now buying land and having title deeds written to their names.

Even as this happens, women remain the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labour force and 80 percent of agriculture production come from small farmers who are mostly women.

With the free primary education, and in some cases free day secondary education, more girls are having opportunities to compete schooling. This then empowers them to be in positions where they can get or negotiate for good paying jobs.

The completion of primary and secondary education means they get married when they are able to make informed and independent decisions, which reduces their over reliant on men including determining the number of children they can have.

With national and international laws as well as development frameworks determining gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, more women have continued to seek highly visible positions in which their expertise is measured according to quantifiable results instead of gender and sexual attributes.

With empowerment, the saying that the African woman holds the face of poverty will soon be eliminated.

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