Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people living in poverty dropped in all developing regions except Africa, where it increased by more than 82 million. Women make up the majority of the poor, as much as 70 per cent in some countries. More often than not, men are more likely to find a job and enterprises run by men have easier access to support from institutions such as banks.
A UN Food and Agricultural Organization study on Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe shows that women rarely own land. When they do, their holdings tend to be smaller and less fertile than those of men. Studies also show that if women farmers had the same access to inputs and training as males, overall yields could be raised by between 10 and 20 per cent.
For many African women, poverty seems to have overshadowed their dreams, perhaps taking the female shape. However Dr. Monica Emmanuel , Research fellow in Nigeria and ECOWAS says the challenge can be mitigated through education of more women in the continent.
Speaking to African Quarters in Nairobi on July 22 during the UNCTAD conference, Dr. Emmanuel shared her communities experience filled with despair but she says personal commitment and determination have placed many women like her in adorable positions.
“I am from the Northern part of Nigeria where they believe that women should not even go beyond secondary school level but I thank my parents even though they are not literate and especially my father. He believed in education which could bring the change they never experience in their own lifetime and so he educated me and he now sees the benefits.’’ An exhilarated Dr. Monica explained.
Dr. Monica has also studied in Geneva with a PHD in International Relations and Diplomacy which she says it was a platform to compete favourably with the developed world despite having faced a myriad of challenges.
“I believe that anybody can achieve anything anywhere. Our black colour is not a hindrance to success and a diminishing factor for an African woman anywhere in the world. What we need is an enabling environment to prove the abilities we have got.’’
As a relationship advisor in the energy sector between African nations, Europe and developing countries, Dr. Monica is pleased with African women who have taken the bull by its horns to venture in zones perceived to be male’s dominance. She has over ten African women in the energy charter. The women especially from Nigeria continue to inspire other African women to compete favourably with their male counterparts.
Though the women have made it to global status, they still encounter some male chauvinism, cultural hindrances among other challenges.
“The place of an African woman is not in the kitchen. You have to go beyond the normal expectations to become what you want. In addition to my father’s support I had to stay focused on my goals and resist cultural temptations from the external forces. If I could not have done this I will still be languishing in poverty.’’ She explained to AfricanQuarters.
Some 70 per cent of Nigerians live on less than US$1.25 a day according to IFAD reports.
Poverty is especially severe in rural areas, where up to 80 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Women play a major role in the production, processing and marketing of food crops. Yet women and households headed solely by women are often the most chronically poor members of rural communities.
Dr. Monica says women should not wait to be given positions at any level of leadership and work harder to fight the glaring poverty.
Compounding the situation are setbacks such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is destroying the health of more women than men in Africa, eroding some of the development gains women had attained. As a result, poverty in Africa continues to wear a woman’s face to others.
Providing women with greater access to credit and other sources of financing can help reduce economic disparities.
Almost all SADC countries have a national government body that deals with gender issues.
However, women in some countries in Southern Africa have moved into positions of political influence. In South Africa and Mozambique, for example, women hold over 30 per cent of the seats in parliament. In February 2004, Mozambique became the first country in the region to appoint a woman as Prime Minister, Ms. Luisa Diogo. In Rwanda, women lead the world in representation in national parliaments. There, 49 per cent of parliamentarians are female, far more than the 30 per cent target specified in Beijing. The world average is just 15 per cent.
In 14 of 23 recent elections in African countries, women increased their parliamentary representation. Still, the situation is far from ideal.
In some countries, the presence of women in parliament has made a difference in the adoption of gender-sensitive policies. Because of pressure from women, some countries now have affirmative action policies, such as quotas, to increase the number of women in decision-making positions.
Though great initiatives on women’s economic empowerment in Africa have been recorded in the past years a lot more is still expected as women are still the worst affected by poverty with some statistics putting the figure at 70percent.