Women are a better hope for Africa
Greatness they say depends on where one is coming from and for Africa it is redundant to overstate its potency in terms of what is has and what it can offer the world. Its huge natural resources like Gold, Diamond, oil et al are enviable. The continent is also bequeathed with beautiful, hard working women who work their lives to improve their societies.
However, these women have over time been gripped by an inability to facilitate themselves in the right path to making Africa the heaven it should be.
In September 2011 Africans lost one of the continent’s most prolific women in the fight for democracy, human rights, gender equality, peace and environmental conservation; Professor Wangaari Marthai .
I was fortunate to meet this noble woman in 2006 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Cop 12 held in Kenya where she joined other women from the greenbelt movement in the planting of over 100 trees in Nairobi, Kenya a ceremony which co-incided with the signing of the Emission Reductions Purchasing Agreement (ERPA), which aimed at reforesting 2,000 hectares in the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya Region in 2007 and 2008. At this ceremony she spoke profoundly of her desire to enhance a positive change in the way we handle our environment.
Africa will forever miss Marthai for she was endowed with voluminous virtues especially her desire to make her world a better place. African women still suffer immensely for their livelihood, majority of whom; are bread winners to their families but yet have limited access to opportunities such as education that could enhance their bread winner capabilities. Women played high ranking roles in the home as mothers and nurturers but on the other hand receive very little for their toiling. They are denied most of the economic rights and liberties accorded women in other parts of the world, forced marriage and forced female circumcision are still prevalent in the continent. Prostitution for their livelihoods seems pervasive because of their low economic power. An estimated 70 % of economic activities in Africa come from women but yet they get a very negligible return; an estimated 2 % of land in Africa is owned by women.
Apparently, Professor Marthai’s efforts to change the image of African women which is generally marred by cultivated demureness and elusive sense of belonging will be remembered through her green belt movement. Her wit and endurance to rise to the challenge of tree planting and conservation is worthy of emulation but most importantly her encouragement to women in rural areas to plant trees in order to improve their livelihoods through better access to clean water, firewood for cooking and other resources. However, her campaign is highly manipulated in other parts of the continent such as West Africa, were deforestation and the use of timber as firewood and charcoal as fuel is rife. Environmental hazards are the main issues of the 21st century. Today there is famine in east Africa, flooding and soil erosion in West Africa while our forests are highly being deforested by human activities. If only Madam Marthai’s campaign had been embraced wholeheartedly, it is certain that the effects of our activities to our environment would have been minimized and a good quality of life for Africans.
Conversely, while Africa will miss professor Marthai greatly for her enviable contribution to African women’s empowerment and environmental protection campaign, it was with great joy that the news of the two African women recipients of the Nobel peace prize was received by many Africans.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee; a women’s rights activist co-won the 2011 Nobel peace prize. In the midst of celebration, critiques have questioned the eligibility of Madam Sirleaf winning parts of the prize. Popularly known as the iron lady of Africa, she was on a 30 years ban from holding public office by her Country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for her support for the former Liberian war lord Charles Taylor, when she was elected to power in 2005. For this reason, many believe she has not done enough to deserve the honorable prize. But why will people think such of a woman who emerged as the first democratically elected woman in a highly patriarchal society like Africa?
Since coming to power, which came about just at the end of her country’s over a decade old war, lots have changed for the ordinary Liberian woman, though there is still a long way to go, women in Liberia feel more comfortable today to talk about their issues than they did before the 72 years old was elected to power. Liberian women feel a part of their country once again, they have a say in the issues that affect them and their children. The number of women going for public offices and other position of trust increased significantly after Sirleaf’s election. In other parts of the continent she is perceived as an embodiment of hope for African women.
She is the first African female president; a significant strides that brought pride to not only Liberian women but women of Africa as a whole. In her, we see a future for women; we see the revival of a lost hope. In a society plagued by marginalization of women, her success signifies a new dawn in the lives of African women. President Sirleaf, professor Marthai and Madam Gbowee have in their diverse ways work assiduously for change in the status of African women. Their achievements have embolden women in every nook and cranny of Africa to step forward; voiceless and faceless women view these great mentors as eye openers and an inspiration.
It is sad to realize that while Africans shame, hate, critique and manipulate the policies and hard work of our female icons, they are revered by the world at large. Madam Sirleaf is viewed as the sweet heart of the west. She is adored by them, highly placed and revered by them as she signifies a new era in the lives of the poor, deprived, marginalized and vulnerable African women and girls. Her success was graciously followed by that of Mrs. Joyce Banda who in 2012 became Malawi’s first female President and Africa’s second.
Professor Marthai’s campaign will save the world an early end, if only she was listened to. Her beliefs will revive Africa and make it the future of human development. Madam Gbowee’s ideology will save lives. If only Africans have practiced her peaceful means of solving problems, the carnage brought about by recent political debacles in Ivory Coast, Libya, Egypt et al would have been prevented. Africa will be a safe haven for Africans and friends of Africa. In these women and the many unnamed others fighting for justice and peace for all women in Africa, we see light at the end of the tunnel.