By: Nancy Lazaro
Many young women face a number of challenges including violence, discrimination, early pregnancy, child marriage and sexual violence and dropping out of school. In many communities young women have inadequate access to quality education, health services and little access and control over land. Bad cultural practices widen the inequality gap amongst young women and men.
The beauty, strength and wealth of each country can only be seen through the women it raises. Women have full potential and capacity to build countries and break the circle of poverty of which many of African families and communities are exposed to. When women are empowered, it is an assurance to families, communities and nations that development and growth are on the rise.
Africa needs to break the circle of poverty that has been transforming from one generation to the other, and this can only be possible through empowering young women, economically, politically and socially. The first step is through enhancing young women’s participation in decision making relating to matters that affects their lives directly or indirectly. Empowering young women and girls through education and economic activities influence their decision making at a household level up to the national level in all matters that affects women. Also, countries can only progress if both women and men are equally represented in parliaments, and they are being great leaders spearheading the growing economy of the countries. Involving women in decision making process can only lead to political stability, accountability and transparency. There should be nothing about women without women involvement.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Many young women drop out of school because of child marriage, school fees, sexual violence, lack of sanitary facilities and early pregnancies. Their lack in proper and quality education only widens the gap for gender equality and accelerated poverty in families and communities. Educating a girl will eventually lead to breaking the circle of poverty as they will be able to marry later rather than earlier, raise health families, be part of decision making in issues that affect them, avoid early pregnancy amongst others. Our (Tanzania) First Lady, Mama Salma Kikwete always says, “If you educate a girl, you have educated the whole society.”
Culture is good, it gives us identity and shows others who we really are, our roots. Nevertheless, cultural practices that undermine women and girls and enlarge the inequality gap should be abolished. Young women across countries are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, female genital mutilation, forced early marriage and all these expose them to the risk of contracting and spreading different diseases including the pandemic HIV/AIDS. Women rights are human rights, and when women’s rights are protected and promoted then a young woman can participate fully in the development of the society.
It is time to move beyond our bad cultural practices, and do things differently so we can get different positive results. That can lead to sustainable development in our countries. The future we want for Africa is to see positive socioeconomic transformation. It is time to re-write the history of Africa and raise a continent where young women are seen as equal to young men, young women are free from discrimination, have access to quality education, are involved in decision making of matters that affect their lives directly or indirectly and they are free from oppression, exploitation and violence. Thus, young women will be able to lead a healthy life, make healthy decisions and choices, accelerate growth and development in their families and communities hence building prosperous societies.
With youth unemployment rate on the rise, if not empowered, young women will still be embodied in wage gaps, economic insecurity, inadequate social protection, occupational segregation and over representation in the informal sector which have negative effect on Africa’s development and growth.
Governments, civil societies, public and private sector should ensure there is non-discrimination in schools and offices and gender is mainstreamed in in countries strategic plans from the district to the national level. Realizing that the future of Africa’s economy lies in the young women’s empowerment. Laws and policies that are in place and geared into promoting, protecting and upholding the rights of young women should be implemented.
As we envision a future where resources are optimized for the benefit all Africans, gender equality remains to be on top of the agenda. To realize gender equality as a reality in Africa, young women, who are prone to be poor and illiterate, must be empowered. There is a need to have increased access to quality education; non-discrimination; access to adequate health services; economic empowerment though supporting women to start and grow their businesses; and access and control over land and productive assets. There should be capacity building for young women in enhancing their leadership skills and widening their knowledge.
Young women are key to Africa’s development and growth. Together, women and men, can build the future we want for Africa.