For the world to be a place where all people can thrive, one of many important actions needs to take place: the eradication of gender inequality through empowering women.
According to a report by the UN, empowering women in the spheres of economics, education, human rights, and politics has significant advantages. For example, faster economic growth occurs when more women enter into the labour force and earn as much as men. When women contribute to household income and spending changes, it has many benefits for the children. Families are able to sustainably lift themselves from poverty and contribute meaningfully to their families and the economy.
By increasing women’s and girls’ education, contributions are made to higher economic growth and personal development. Studies in Sub-Saharan Africa have shown that, on average, women with secondary education have three fewer children than those with no education at all.
As a result of these benefits, as well as the importance of ensuring that the rights of women are upheld, the UN has made women empowerment an important part of sustainable development goals.
When bringing women empowerment to Africa, here are 5 innovative ways that are already being recognized as restoring dignity and creating educational and economic opportunities for women.
Eradicating Child Marriages
According to statistics by the World Bank, approximately 15 million girls worldwide are married off before the age of 18. This not only causes negative personal development, but economic issues for the lives of women as well.
One impact is human rights violations- young girls are disempowered and often abused. Because many drop out of school and are unable to find employment, lack of education and poverty are other impacts. Lastly, there is also a high risk of health dangers from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, as well as high risks to contracting HIV/AIDS. Child marriage henders both the personal development and economic empowerment of women, which is why eradicating this practice is included as part of the UN’s sustainable development goals to uphold the human rights of women and girls by 2030.
Progress in Africa to eradicate child marriages has gained momentum, as seen by the work done by Malawian chief Theresa Kachindamoto. According to UNICEF, by 2016, Chief Kachindamoto had annulled over 800 child marriages over a 3-year period in the Malawian Dedza district near Lake Malawi. Her goal was to ensure that children go back to school to get educated, as well as minimize abuse and health risks associated with early child marriage. By doing so, children are ensured to have a better chance of living a healthy life. This required her to enforce the law, much to the apprehension of traditionalists, and to lobby with the Malawian government to change the marriageable age from 18 to 21.
Measures that Kachindamoto has put in place to ensure the cultural and economic empowerment of children, especially girls, includes paying their school fees or finding sponsors for them, and ensuring that children stay in school through a network of appointed mentors.
Advocating for Women’s Rights
Many cultural customs and traditions infringe on rights of women and children by subjecting them to abuse, as well as political and economic exclusion. Eradicating such customs in order to give girls a better future has been the work of Malawian gender rights activist Memory Banda, who has been working with the Girls Empowerment Network to stop the prevalence of child marriage and a custom known as “kusasa fumbi”. This custom is considered to be sexual initiation by older men on girls to initiate the girls into adulthood. The practice poses many risks for girls, including contracting HIV/AIDS, falling pregnant and being forced to drop out of school, and developing health complications associated with early pregnancy.
The advocacy work of Banda and the Girls Empowerment Network led to an alliance with community leaders in the Chiradzulu district of southern Malawi to develop bylaws that penalise men who engage in the practices of kusasa fumbi and child marriage. The advocacy also led traditional authorities to increase the legal marriage age from 18 to 21.
Empowering Women Through Social Media
Social media has evolved from merely being a space for friends to share their lives with each other, to being a space for advocacy and inclusion. Even though external environments are slow to change in the views on equal rights for women, social media communities can provide much needed support as women band together to talk about their issues and institute change in their lives at the grassroots level. This is the purpose of the popular secret Facebook group, Female in Nigeria (FIN), which was started by Lola Omolola.
“It’s a safe place for a woman who has something to say” is how Omotola described the group in an interview with BBC. Omolola started the group after the kidnapping of more than 200 girls from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2015. “When you grow up in a place where a woman’s voice is not even valid, everything reinforces the idea that we’re not good enough,” she claimed as the reason of motivation for starting the group.
The group is a nonjudgmental safe space for women to share their life experiences and seek advice from each other where they feel necessary. Issues such as marriage, gender discrimination, and domestic abuse are just some of the experiences shared by women in the group.
Even though the real world environment, which most Nigerian women find themselves in, is slow to change its view on women’s rights and gender discrimination, FIN provides an outlet and a voice to women who have been silenced by cultural customs and societal expectations.
Empowering Women Through Small Businesses
Small businesses can go a long way in empowering not only women, but all members of the community through providing jobs and opportunities for franchises. The bee farming sector in Africa has been one of many prime examples on how small businesses can empower women.
In Ethiopia, bee farming is still largely traditional; however, modernizing the sector has had a positive influence in attracting women to the area. Women have also been encouraged to join the sector through assistance in accessing funding and land for their business ventures. Their main source of income has come from selling products, like honey, locally at markets, which accounts for approximately 90% of all sales.
In Kenya, the bee farming sector has attracted approximately 50% of women. This can be attributed to a high demand of bee products from the East African nation and affordable access into the sector- farmers don’t need large capital or land to enter into bee farming.
Poultry farming is also a big sector that’s providing opportunities for empowerment through job creation for women. One of the prime businesses making strides in poultry farming is AKM Glitter Company, formed by businesswoman and head of African Women in Agribusiness chapter in Tanzania, a Graça Machel Trust initiative, Elizabeth Swai.
AKM Glitter Company specializes in poultry farming and has a number of hatcheries that provide day-old chicks and fresh eggs to market. Through her business, Swai has created a network of more than 100 farmer groups. In these groups, she provides training and support so that farmers are equipped to start rearing their own chickens. In return, she buys eggs from these farmers and sells them at markets. Many businesses have grown as a result of this collaboration, empowering business owners to sell their own produce.
Explaining the motivation behind her work, Swai says in an interview with Mail & Guardian that “This is my passion and a huge part of my life. I wanted to develop a model that could have a positive effect on Africa, and to empower our youth”.
Making a sustainable difference in the lives of rural communities has been one of her biggest motivators. “Their household health and their education is improved through our work, and some of the profits are being used to help develop rural areas so children have clean water, classrooms, toilets, and access to basic facilities,” she added.
Empowering Women Through Technology and Energy
With American rapper Akon powering over 14 countries across the continent with affordable solar power and Morocco leading the way in solar power with the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, innovations in technology and energy are gaining momentum across Africa.
Close to 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa living without electricity, so opportunities are vast for improving the lives of people in the areas of health, well-being, and infrastructure. The sector is open to women entrepreneurs who are empowered through business and being able to access affordable energy and technology.
Eunice Ntobedzi is a business owner of EmPowered FinTech API/Service, as well as a director of Sandico (Pty) Botswana, an energy service company developing decentralised off-grid community scale Solar PV Energy Hubs in the SADC region. Ntobedzi has not only been an innovator in the energy sector, but has also employed women electrical engineers to support the development of projects in Botswana. She supported the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) movement in the country as well.
Through this, communities that are often unreachable now have reliable and affordable access to power, while increasing the sharing of renewable energy in the Southern African Development Community. With many women being directly impacted by energy, because they mostly carry out household duties, Eunice also believes that having access to clean energy will have significant health improvements. Additionally, by focusing on educating women in the STEM field, which is sought after both on the continent and across the world, women will have better access to educational and economic opportunities. Access to these opportunities will help women lift themselves sustainably out of poverty.