Why we must invest in African Girls and Women

12 November 2012

By Lola Aladesanmi

It's been a long drawn out and still ongoing debate that I now wholeheartedly lend my voice to. Investment in African Girls and Women (especially in their reproductive health and rights) is crucial for sustainable development in Africa or even any further development at all. I am an African woman and today I speak on our behalf; we are a two sided coin, one side referred to as vulnerable and the other side a vibrant force field of change agents. For the continent to advance the latter side of the coin must be empowered. The story hasn’t changed so much; from the day she is born, instead of a reaction of joy, her father’s head is downcast; nutrition and education for her are not a priority compared to her brothers. She is relegated to the background to rise early with her mother to farm, carry out household chores, cook, clean and serve, right from her childhood. Barely before adolescence she is married off to the highest bidder; her father’s view of his investments in her. She re-lives the misery she grew up watching her mother survive, from this point on it’s a steep downward spiral with unplanned child bearing, sexually transmitted infections, and various forms of abuse. In most cases she is also the bread winner and yet has no voice as her meagre resources are often squandered by the men in her life.

"Abundant evidence shows that support to women can lead to improved health status and income levels in both households and communities" World Health Organization. This is probably truer on the African continent than anywhere else with cultures and traditional practices that reject the female from the start and "put her in her place" supposedly beneath men all her life. She is however a most innovative and industrious member of society, no one can make the best use of scare resources like her, ensuring her family is taken care of the best she can. I know this story has been told a million times and when it's told some still imagine a deserted village somewhere in the deep tropical forests where civilisation is yet unimagined and communities live in abject poverty. From my personal experience I can tell you it's not only in the most remote underdeveloped areas, it’s in the more developed metropolitan cities on the continent, right now in the 21st century. The simple truth is that despite all of these injustices the African Woman is an insurmountable pillar in her family and community and plays the central role in almost every development endeavour and initiative. If only her voice was empowered the possibilities would be multiplied.

A lot has been done with so many international policies, plans of action, strategies and commitments including the ICPD, CEDAW and the continental initiatives such as the Continental Policy Framework for SRHR and its Maputo Plan of Action and now the CARMMA. I especially like these words from the President of the United States during his most recent campaign, "I've got two daughters and I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities that anybody's sons have." This is a message for all leaders on the continent. The World Bank 2012 World Development Report presents some positive statistics, "girls’ enrolment rates outnumbering boys’, particularly in secondary school with more girls staying in school" , also "There are more women decision makers in every region; the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women has increased everywhere. In Sub-Saharan Africa Rwanda leads the way, making history in 2008 when it elected a parliament composed 56 percent of women. The Middle East and North Africa lags far behind".

A lot is being achieved globally but Africa still has the poorest indicators and when you view the sub-Saharan Africa indicators these positive statistics are almost nonexistent, it is imperative to build on all the commitments and declaration over the past 2 decades and thus my appreciation of the CARMMA initiative as it aims to advocate for actualization of previous commitments and plans which our leaders have agreed to. Everyone has a role to play; our men, families, communities, local governments, the private sector, civil society, religious institutions, government institutions, bilateral and multilateral organizations and international development partners. If we will see Africa develop we must invest in our Girls and Women as a core focus of our policies, plans and interventions. Where there is no inclusion of a gender focus our policies and strategies will be adversely impeded by the current status of about 50% of the continent (girls and women).

 

**Lola Aladesanmi is a Public Health Professional. She is passionate about International Health and Social Development.