Monrovia- Today’s world is inundated with campaigns of girls’ rights, women’s empowerment, and equal opportunities for women, etc. Some groups are calling for allotted percentages of political representation for women. The hash tag ‘Africa4her’ was recently launched by the Young African leaders Initiative (YALI) to rally people to personalize and articulate various causes affecting women, from gender based violence, mentoring young girls/women, girls education, etc.
But, ultimate issues affecting women go beyond politics and cosmetic approaches that have characterized most of the campaigns about girls’ and women’s rights. Women, however, have been marginalized by many societies due to cultural, social and economic biases. Culturally, in some societies, women are naturally seconded to men and have no real voice on issues that affect them and their societies. Women born into such cultures are taught from the cradle not to raise their voices in the presence of men, speak their minds or communicate. Feelings are repressed and only visible in tears, anger or silence. These women bear the brunt of age old scars that get buried with time. They pass on their experiences to their girl children and the cycle continues. Others are required to remain at home, bear children and engage only in tending to the farms, childrearing and home keeping. Because of the lack of challenges posed by these women, they grow up accepting societal definition of themselves and engage in low-level economic activities and rank amongst the poorest of the poor in many societies.
This relegation of women has affected the morale and psyche of thousands of women in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world. The informal economy is a major source of employment throughout the developing world. In Sub Sahara Africa, the sector hosts the vast majority of the non agricultural labor force. Women are overly represented in the informal economy, selling anything from consumable goods, cash crops, etc. The income from these ventures is unable to sustain these women thus placing them in a vicious cycle of poverty and lack. The cultural indignation of women has created a scar that is taking years to heal.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development the assumption of greater vulnerability of ‘Female Headed Households ( FHH) is based on evaluation findings and studies that show that FHHs:
• have a higher dependency ratio in spite of the smaller average size of the household;
• have fewer assets and less access to resources; and
• tend to have a greater history of disruption.’
‘There seems to be little dispute over the fact that FHHs are usually disadvantaged in terms of access to land, livestock, other assets, credit, education, health care and extension services. For instance, in Zimbabwe, female-headed households have 30-50% smaller landholdings than male-headed households. There are similar findings on Malawi and Namibia. But there is disagreement as to whether or not they are poorer than male-headed households in terms of income poverty. On the one hand, the fact FHHs are usually smaller in size means that they should be less poor, since the poor tend to be concentrated in larger households. On the other hand, the fact that they have a higher number of dependents relative to the number of income earners, which is also correlated with poverty, would argue the reverse.’
Amid these, there are emotional traumas that women undergo everyday from sexual and gender based violence, sex slavery, etc. According to UN Women, ‘It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. More than 20 years now, 1 in 3 women still experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner.’
According to UNICEF, despite progress in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. ‘An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.’
One crucial lesson for the rest of the World is that women are inherently powerful beings when given the basic opportunities and rights as their male counterparts. Women are able to compete equally, fiercely and independently. Individual successful women must take personal responsibilities to raise a girl child, mentor a young woman, teach a girl how to read, and take on the journey on a micro level thereby empowering every available girl child. As the World celebrates the International Women’s Day, everyday issues affecting women and girls go beyond political representation, parades and symposium. They must begin to work with girls in the trenches whose voices may never get heard, raise their voices to greater platforms and make their dreams a reality. The journey to empowering women begins with a girl child. Let’s start.
About the Author
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Liberian poet, writer, blogger and Author of ‘Yearnings of a traveler’ a collection of poetry. He has authored several articles including ‘The Girl Child in 2030’. He is the founder of Africa’s Life-a non-profit dedicated to mentoring youths through motivational speaking. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.