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By: Maya Watanabe
Women’s empowerment in Africa plays an integral role in the region’s efforts to reduce poverty. Women’s empowerment is defined as a woman’s opportunity to make important life choices, whether economic, familial, personal or social. Empowering women not only benefits the women but their families and communities as well. These empowered women can help produce more economic output for their communities and act as driving forces behind the legislative change.
A Woman’s Role in the Family
As it is with many poverty-stricken countries, the movement toward women’s empowerment in Africa is just beginning. Many communities still abide by the traditional family roles of women with three out of four households run by men. In this family structure, it is usually the responsibility of the women to care for the family and provide all necessities, such as food, shelter and clothing. An empowered woman would be able to meet the needs of her family more efficiently and effectively. With access to education, a woman might help maintain the family finances or work while caring for the family.
According to the Keeping Girls in School Act, introduced in the Senate in 2017, educated girls are more likely to earn an income later in life. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 8 percent of girls finish secondary school out of the 75 percent of girls were enrolled in primary education. Even fewer women will go on to higher education. This is due, in large part, to early marriage. Nearly 40 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before they reach 18, often prompting them to drop out of school. Several African countries reported that 10 to 30 percent of girls were dropping out of school because of early marriage.
Education for Women and Girls
Despite the gender gap, there are promising signs for women’s empowerment in Africa. Non-governmental organizations, like the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), are helping promote girls’ access to education as well as support girls’ enrollment retention rates. While traditional expectations for women and girls are still upheld in many places, African leaders are making advances toward increasing the inclusion of more girls in schools. In 2014, CIFF supported the first Keeping Girls in School conference where African traditional and religious leaders convened to find solutions to support girls’ education.
In 2018, the African Union Commission (AUC), U.N. Women Ethiopia and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) introduced the African Girls Can CODE Initiative (AGCCI), a four-year program designed to teach young girls about digital literacy, coding and personal development as well as provide comprehensive information and communication technology (ICT) training. The initiative, whose first camp was held in Ethiopia in August 2018, hopes to empower girls through increased access to education and to prepare them to enter the workforce. Scheduled to run from 2018-2022, the AGCCI expects to have an impact on the lives of more than 2,000 girls throughout its 18 Coding Camps.
African Women in the Workforce
A significant disparity exists between the number of women working and owning Africa’s land. Only 15 percent of all landholders in sub-Saharan Africa are women, but 80 percent of the food produced in Africa is grown by women. Women also make up 74 percent of all workers in sub-Saharan Africa’s informal economy. These women work as street vendors and seasonal agricultural workers, but they do not receive protection from government regulations such as labor laws, health insurance or fair wages. Only one-third of African women are active in the formal economy.
As the percentage of educated women rises, so does the percentage of women in the workforce. At 27 percent, the world’s highest number of women entrepreneurs is in sub-Saharan Africa. Botswana had 34.6 percent, and Uganda had 34.8 percent. This should only increase in the future as funding for female business leaders becomes more prominent. Organizations like the Africa Technology Business Network (ATBN) and Africare seek to promote access to resources, increase women’s income and increase women’s participation in Africa’s economy.
The ATBN founded #HerFutureAfrica, a project that provides digital and business skills targeted at empowering young African female innovators. The project also provides important networking support that exposes them to more empowered women locally and internationally. In 2008, Africare implemented the Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs Project (IEEWEP) intending to increase women’s income and inclusion in Southern Chad’s local economy. Through this project, more than 1,000 women increased their annual income by around 70 percent.
Looking to the future
As the fight to end poverty continues, women’s empowerment in Africa becomes an increasingly paramount issue. Many government, foreign and private organizations are working to promote awareness, create equal access to resources and support women who are stepping out of their traditional roles. With promising initiatives that support women in business and technology fields, Africa is beginning its long journey toward women’s empowerment.