The dreams of past generations saw the need to emancipate their nations from the conditions colonial powers subjected Africans to. The dream of voting, participating in the economy as a decision maker or engaging in national development processes as the voice of a community. This dream was realised nation by nation, from Uganda to Botswana and South Africa. This is the evolution Africans have seen for themselves. Now in 2015, Independence celebrations are abundant, a sign of the journeys African nations have taken amidst the violence, oppression and lack of support they experienced. The strengths of a nation have been proved through national investment arms, rolling out of decade-long development plans and state-driven institutions to drive policy implementation. As a result of this, Africa now has three middle-income countries: South Africa, Botswana and Kenya. The same nations enjoy the benefits of having the only Stock Exchanges with electronic transacting capabilities. Promising are other nations such as Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania and Nigeria. This is the emerging Africa I have seen as a young man; where I can learn from the leaders who have shifted the paradigm of challenge to one of opportunity.
In further retrospect, the drivers of opportunity have been built off of working systems. Having established national bodies, the consciousness of African nations evolved to that of regional effort. The regional bodies such as the East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been complemented by key economic drivers such as the African Development Bank and Southern African Customs Union arrangements. The increase in opportunities for any African has never been experienced before, where one can change professions within a lifetime, build a new life in a neighbouring country or influence change for fellow Africans through technology. All these continent-wide achievements have been the pillar of hope to do better, as African diaspora and future leaders; more and more young people are fighting for the new Africa we want. This however is not possible without the consideration of a vital component of any livelihood or future; the inclusion, engagement and empowerment of women.
The journey of development in any society has often forgone the aspect of women as a key driver for change. Largely undocumented, the contributions of women have often been seen as a supporting role in driving development. Factors that have contributed to the negligence accorded to women include; cultural ideology, discrimination and social practice. Progress has been made through strategic instruments such as the SADC Gender Protocol, the African Union Commission (AUC)’s Maputo Plan of Action, where regional efforts are made to keep nations accountable to the change they promise to make for the betterment of their people. In addition, parliaments and board rooms have seen the rise in diversity by including women in decision making, this has resulted in nations such as Liberia and Malawi having the first female presidents Africa has seen. Despite this, many women across the continent are yet to engage in the economy, civil society and state activity. Leaving a largely untapped resource for economic and national development for all African nations; Anglophone, Francophone, Islamic and Sub-Saharan alike.
As history repeats itself for women, there is a difference to the circumstances in which they are subject to. That it is no longer the colonial power that rules or determines their level of success or engagement, but it is their fellow fathers and brothers whom have been enabled or even suppress the kinds of successes abovementioned. It is still a common tale for a young girl to be denied education as a result of poverty or the need for someone to care for an orphaned family. It is still a common tale for a young girl to be subject to arranged marriage, sexual abuse or denied formal employment. It is this Africa that the youth of today face; where the limited potential is largely denied to women as a result of the circumstances in which they are subject to. The global effort towards empowering women continues to gain momentum and development institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and United Nations (UN) have consciously driven female-friendly programmes in African nations to better facilitate the change of national policies and instruments to favour women. As effective as it has been, the current context of gender based violence and decision making statistics in any sector (Business, Government, Civil Society) has proved that more needs to be done to both include and encourage women in these sectors to prosper.
Power is often defined by the office, budget or number of people in which an individual can exert influence on. On the basis of this framework, it is seen in the everyday lives of ordinary women. Be it in a household in Luanda, Angola where a mother manages all affairs to facilitate the realisation of her children’s potential, or the business woman in Dakar, Senegal that understands the metrics of leadership as a virtue of her nurturing capabilities, or the young girl in Accra, Ghana that has seen the strength of studying all she has learned in class with her peers. The opportunities Africa sees today are triggered and embedded in young women. Of all the skills, natural resources and education abundant, a woman’s efforts are needed for the success of future generations; be it in their household, the classroom and/or platforms for dialogue.
The increasing participation of youth, a population that accounts for 60% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population, in policy making shall guarantee the sustainability of the continent at large. Initiatives such as the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), European Union collaborative Public Private Partnership initiatives with national governments, regional agreements and multiple preferential trade agreements with developed nations, provide a learning experience for professionals and policy makers alike. It is in these instruments that young women can be integrated. Women have been placed strategically as a barometer for determining success. This is the role women have played in liberation struggles, board room changes and touching the lives of society. The results of the active engagement of women in policy making, changing society are unimaginable. This is the hope in which the youth of today experience on a day to day basis. Highlighted below are three specific, achievable and measurable provisions in which policy makers could build a framework for women empowerment. The efforts of both regional bodies and national governments would be required.
The following measures are proposed as strategic building points for policy development:
- Primary school life-skills curricula based on gender equality/mainstreaming, lessons from gender based violence and affirmative encouragement of dialogue between girls and boys on principles (respect, honesty, courtesy and social good).
- State-driven teen leadership camps for high performing girls. These can occur during high school holidays with integrated provisions for peer-to-peer exchange, female-led mentoring and skills building for young girls.
- Industry demand driven scholarships and regional post-graduate fellowships for women. This can be aimed at maritime (biological sciences), infrastructure (engineering), ICT (IT) and development (humanitarian, disaster management) needs to fulfill the demands for Agenda 2063.
The aforementioned measures would not only complement the national, regional and continental policy instruments developed to address the multidimensional challenges youth and women face, but also encourage a new culture of thinking. Education as a tool for change, has been used for scientific breakthroughs, the arts and informing policy makers. It is the starting point of linking a woman’s heart, purpose of life and knowledge towards the consciousness of possibilities. The investment in women is encouraged from an early age, for both boys and girls. Furthermore, the years to follow integrate the up skill of emotional intelligence, leadership and decision-making to compliment the vital stage of youth development. This would lead to building expertise that is based on the needs of the continent. As embedded in the African Youth Charter, the rapid development of foreign direct investment, technology and migration open the African child to unknown opportunities. The above three measures are a commitment to repositioning women in the scope of development. The girl child would be empowered from an early age through knowledge sharing with peers, learning from achieved women leaders and established relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. This new generation would understand what it means to be equal in opportunity, learning and contributing to society. The robust investment in a young girl’s life would have immense influence for generations to come; transcending through future decision making, mentoring and nurturing of younger people who would contribute beyond 2063.