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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora