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I don’t know about you but it felt inauthentic thinking about celebrating women on International Women’s Day this past Tuesday – especially in this current climate of the Russian Ukraine conflict, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, gender-based violence, women’s voices and rights being snubbed by lawmakers in various African states and lack of access to political leadership, influence and economic empowerment. But I had to check myself because as much as all these things are true, in the words of the late great poet Maya Angelou, “Still we rise” and as the Head of the Senegal Office of the Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) aptly put it, “this is a moment of celebration, a reminder of the usual challenges when trying to achieve gender equality and equity.” 

Any day, week or month that is set aside to celebrate us as women is an opportunity for us to amplify our resilience as women but particularly as African women. We have remained resolute in our pursuit of gender and economic equity in spite of our personal and collective struggles, wars, and a global pandemic! 

As the idiom goes, “we can walk and chew gum at the same time.” and yes, I am aware that the late 36th President of America Lyndon Johnson who is originally credited with saying this said he cannot “walk and chew gum at the same time” however, ladies we are a different breed! Alas, I digress…

Today’s #Womenomics blog is not about a tongue in cheek “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus” conversation. Today we are addressing the reality that for Africa to become the independent economic superpower that we can become, African women’s voices need to be heard and valued. Women need to hold key political leadership positions and be economically empowered. 

As UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed put it.”It is only with women and girls at the centre of our efforts that we have our best chance to succeed in addressing our current, and pressing, global challenges – from the climate emergency to political divisions, to a sustainable recovery from this global pandemic.”

On Monday 7th of March AllAfrica.com hosted a webinar focusing on the UN’s theme of “Equality today for a sustainable future”. Panellists from key financial institutions reiterated the same sentiments: “The time has come to translate the discourse on the promotion of women’s rights into concrete actions”. For this to be realised women need to have access to decision-making bodies and also need to have representation at the table where issues that affect and impact them are negotiated. The panellists also stated that opportunities offered by innovative tools such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACTFA) which, is a key vector towards the achievement of the 50/50 gender equality agenda for 2030 and 2063.

Research indicates that focusing on improving women’s economic participation, ownership and empowering them to be in control of productive assets will not only exponentially benefit Africa’s development it’ll speed it up and help communities overcome poverty, reduce inequalities and improve children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance. 

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men.” However, for this to translate into sustainable development we need unbiased access to the full range of credit, banking and financial services and facilities to also be able to develop our businesses and other assets such as land. 

For Africa and the world to achieve the 2030 and 2036 gender equality and equity agenda we need to move beyond it being a “nice idea” to tangible systems and access to:  

  • Public financial management systems that actually work and value women 
  • Confront and overcome the cultural and social norms that undermine women and girls
  • Men need to stop meddling in and making laws that limit our reproductive autonomy 
  • Sex-disaggregated data needs to be collected and implemented  
  • Coverage of aid set aside for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment needs to be adequately proportioned and accurately tracked

In conclusion, women are natural agents of change and not only directly influence their families but communities and countries as well. Increasing our voice and participation in politics is imperative in advancing issues of importance to women on national agendas. Ironically championing women’s issues also hugely benefits men.

International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to factually track and report where we are in achieving gender equity and equality so that we can renew commitment to achieve our goals armed with information that will move the needle forward beyond empty promises. It also provides us an opportunity to celebrate women who are done with the empty lip service, and as Olwethu stated in her editors note at the beginning of the month, are about the business of doing the work and are ‘Beyond the Talk’ – women such as Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Nolitha Fakude, Yolanda Miya and the Carol Bouwer’s of our world.