News / Africa

New Opportunities Give Sub-Saharan Women Room for Change

Part of an ongoing series about women and challenges they face across the world.

A Kenyan woman prepares ribbons ahead of World Aids Day at Beacon of Hope center, a non-government organization that addresses women's problem of HIV/AIDS in Nairobi
A Kenyan woman prepares ribbons ahead of World Aids Day at Beacon of Hope center, a non-government organization that addresses women's problem of HIV/AIDS in Nairobi

Sub-Saharan Africa often evokes images of conflict, famine, and disease. In many cases, women bear the brunt of the region's misfortunes. But new opportunities and constitutions advancing gender parity have opened up the political space for women.

In Rwanda, Chad and other countries, women are allocated up to 30 percent of parliamentary seats. In fact, Rwanda is now the world’s first country where women Members of parliament (MPs) outnumber men.

“These kinds of changes need to be encouraged because without women fully engaged in both civil society as well as formal political office, it will be as if trying to carry forward with only half the sky," said Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus and Associate at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

Gender data in Sub-Saharan Africa. Graphic by VOA's T. Benson

According to a recent United Nations report, Rwandan women legislators have led reform on women's property and inheritance rights and protection against gender violence. These are problems endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, for example, Raphael Ogar Oko says his country has failed to provide women with equal opportunities.

Your Say

"The situation of women has improved ... Women are promoted as ministers, managers, and given a quota of 30% at the national Parliament." - Mahamat Tahir Brahim, Chad

"No way women have same opportunities as men in Nigeria." - Ifidon Osadiaye Igbavboa, Nigeria

"In most parts of Africa female children are not given the recognition accorded to male children." - Chinny Ogbonna, Nigeria

"Women's roles are changing into a more proactive one. But this faces ... ingrained traditional beliefs ... In one place women are treated with respect, in another like slaves." - Eleghasim Greenbel, Nigeria

"The status of the Nigerian women has greatly improved ... Wife beating or battering has also reduced to some extent." - Sandra Ayo Onuora, Nigeria

"We have more women going to higher institutions of leaning and contributing positively to the economy." - Joseph Bwalya of Zambia

He says women face discrimination at almost every level. “Women … are regarded as second class citizens who are denied every opportunity and discriminated against ... At the family level discriminatory practices involve no rights to inheritance of their parents’ assets and no full member of spouse's family.”

These practices often lead to other complications. In Ethiopia, feminist, blogger and poet Billene Seyoum says women, who have been left out of male-dominated sectors like finance and banking, both as decision-makers and beneficiaries of credit and bank services, face obstacles ranging “from sexist loan officers who deem women credit un-worthy to the bottlenecks created by banking solutions that do not put into consideration the needs of women, i.e. difficulty in putting up collateral against a loan since property is often under the male head of household.”

In order to fill the vacuum, Seyoum has been working with the founders of a bank focused on women, the first all-woman group of its kind in Ethiopia. “And it is the only bank in Ethiopia which has a 64 percent female shareholder profile from 7,000 shareholders, indicating what will hopefully be a growing trend for women’s full participation in a sector that has not tapped into our potential to be active contributors and beneficiaries,” said Seyoum.

Gender HIV/AIDS data. Graphic by VOA's T. Benson

Mary Ellsberg, Vice President of research and programs at Washington's International Center for Research on Women says gender discrimination is often due to "women's powerlessness and their status in society." This is particularly true in communities hit by HIV/AIDS, where widows are typically the most vulnerable to losing their land and property. Ellsberg says women's rights movements are pushing hard to address the land grab taking place around HIV.

That is important because Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS. Ellsberg says endemic gender violence and sexual violence used as a weapon of war contribute to HIV transmission as well as prevent many women from disclosing that they have HIV for fear of persecution.

A woman looks after her two babies after being abandoned by her husband for being raped, in Goma (File)
A woman looks after her two babies after being abandoned by her husband for being raped, in Goma (File)

According to feminist researcher and activist Françoise Mukuku, up to 50 women are raped every day in the DRC. Mukuku says the “rate of HIV has gone high since the conflict because women are raped and, in fear of stigma, they don't denounce, don't tell it to their sexual partner and don't go to hospital whether because it is far or because they don't have money for treatment or because they don't want to be stigmatized. Those men in return continue to have [multiple] sexual partners,” said Mukuku.

"Older men who might be HIV infected already are particularly interested in young women because they perceive them to be ... less likely to be infected," Ellsberg said.Young women are the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and the group where the epidemic is rapidly growing. Ellsberg says forced child marriage contribute to the spread of the disease because married women typically do not have the ability to protect themselves.

Population Council researcher Karen Austrian is developing ways for adolescent girls to gain financial literacy and save money, in cooperation with Kenyan and Ugandan financial institutions and girls' programs
Population Council researcher Karen Austrian is developing ways for adolescent girls to gain financial literacy and save money, in cooperation with Kenyan and Ugandan financial institutions and girls' programs

Karen Austrian, a Population Council Associate in Nairobi says the disease poses a big challenge for adolescent girls in the 15-24 age range, who incur long-term, irreversible damage, including loss of schooling and livelihood, and the risk of passing on HIV to their children. Kenyan girls, age 15-19, for example, are four times more likely than boys to contract HIV/AIDS, says Austrian. As a result, she says girls, who typically drop out of school at higher rates than boys and are often excluded from health education, have no relationships of trust, no mentors, or a safe social space to turn to.

But women have been scrambling to find solutions. Emira Woods says women probably paid the heaviest price for HIV/AIDS. “Women are caregivers. When health infrastructures are poor or weak or non-existent, it’s women who have stepped in to provide for the needs of family members to give that care, often uncompensated,” said Woods.

AIDS activist Vuyiseka Dubula sits beneath t-shirts in the offices of the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township May 31, 2011
AIDS activist Vuyiseka Dubula sits beneath t-shirts in the offices of the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township May 31, 2011

In southern Africa, where HIV/AIDS has reached dramatic proportions, women within infected communities have been fighting for affordable medicines to combat the disease.

"It is a testament to the strength and resilience of women that you see organizations like Truth in Action Campaign - founded in South Africa, founded by those who were impacted by the disease themselves, who refused to be objects of history - that they took their own destiny in their own hands and began to really fight for access to treatment for all people, particularly in poor and marginalized communities," said Woods.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid