If Africa is the cradle of civilization, the African woman is its bolts, its strong, sturdy foundation keeping the cradle together.
Throughout the continent, history shows that the African woman gives meaning and purpose to her home, community, and country. She is the heartbeat, pumping vital blood into the family system by setting the spirit and tone of the home. In most cases, it is her — our African mother, wife, sister, and daughter who provides all that is required to put body and soul together within her community. She plays such incredible roles and soul-saving functions, mostly indiscreetly. For instance, when children are hungry and the men lose their sources of livelihoods, everyone turns to her, and relies on her for support. In times of poverty, wars, and natural disasters, she has to be almost frighteningly strong in order for the family to survive, for she is the one who is left with the children to raise, who has to make it somehow or other. And mind you, there are still so many of us living that history.
Currently across Africa, the overall situation for women is still very bleak, and although, they are the backbone of the continent, they have less access than men. For instance, Africa falls behind in closing the gender gap within education. Three-quarters of all Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 who are HIV-positive are women. In most African countries, adult women are still legally minors, and therefore unable to own or inherit land and other property. Violence is still affecting millions of African women and girls, and it goes beyond beatings. This includes forced marriage, dowry-related violence, marital rape, common cultural practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting; sexual harassment, intimidation at work and in educational institutions; forced pregnancy, forced prostitution, and the list goes on.
The need for urgency is obviously clear. Despite the fact that they are the support of the continent’s economy–through the production of 80% of its food production– Women make up the majority of Africans who live in poverty. The African woman has less access than her male counterpart to productive means, and she is struggling for basic services that most Western feminists, or American women, take for granted.
Living in the Diaspora we here can take real measures to lift her out of this cycle of poverty by establishing our own aid organizations across the continent. Within these organizations, lands can be bought where women employees can be hired to work and earn a suitable income. This in turn will not only give them access to finance, but it will also empower them to buy their own land, open a business, build houses, pay school fees, and feed their families.
If you are living in the Diaspora, you can also initiate other wonderful programs that will assist the women living within your own community. For instance, a saving club can be opened where the women fund their economy together in a collective saving pot. Each member’s deposits are collected on a daily, weekly, and/or monthly time. Now who gets to take the money home, can be determined through a lottery draw or mutual agreement. This program can definitely assist fellow members who are new to the country, new to the communities; in time of sickness or death, as well as, weddings and other family celebrations.
Education is another urgent component for it is the link between empowering women and strengthening the continent’s economy. Every single year a girl stays in school, her earning potential increases by 10-20% (World Bank). Research also shows that when women earn income, they will reinvest approximately 90% of it back into their communities (World Bank). In other words, the building of schools, the establishment of community-based education programs, and weekly adult vocational classes especially in rural communities, are extremely vital for each can be used to teach girls as well as their parents how to read and how to write.
It is also very crucial we ensure that every girl and woman in Africa has access to adequate health. Monthly salaries can be given to former FGM cutters and midwives for putting down their knives and becoming health care workers. They can be trained in various aspects of female health, and go from village to village educating women and girls about the harmful effects of female circumcision, hygiene, the importance of proper nutrition during pregnancy, how to protect from sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, and proper usages of condoms, among other health topics.
Personally, I envision a future where more women and young girls across Africa are equipped to become leaders who partner with their male counterparts, to reduce poverty and transform their communities from the inside out. These women, these young girls would obtain the best education, along with a terrific career, and they will rise very high in their chosen path due largely to hard work, persistence, and determination. They will break barriers and challenge stereotypes, making very real changes; campaigning for gender equality, and dedicating their time to improve the lives of others, and to make a better Africa; earning the right to be called trailblazers. And You too can follow their example starting right now.
There is an elderly woman in your community whose family is far away. An hour of your time or a kind message written to her for no special reason would mean the world to her. Some little girl or teen in your community has no older sister or no mother to take them to the movies, shopping, or volleyball games. Maybe you can. They can’t pay you back. They can’t even afford the popcorn or sodas. But they’ll smile like a watermelon slice at your kindness.
Or how about this one? Down the hall from your apartment is a family who shares your linkage, your history. Shock them with kindness. Assist their child with homework done with no complaints. Or do something outlandish, invite them over for dinner after they had a long day of work.
Africa is vast! There are a lot of positive things taking place in the continent but they are not portrayed enough in the media, and access to technology globally has opened up new worlds and allowed us to transcend the limitations of our existences. This is to say, we can use technology as another mean to help our girls and our women to share their own stories through the use of broadcast media, social media, video, film, and other educational materials to reach the public inside and outside of the continent.
My point is this, whatever you, however you do it, whether you are at the forefront of campaigns or behind the scenes, just commit yourself to giving and doing a deed daily which you cannot be repaid, just because it is important that we as Africans living in the Diaspora, as Africans living in the continent, work together to create a better Africa. Together we can empower the next generation to reach their potential as leaders committed to the growth and development of our countries.