The social importance of empowering young girls in Africa is an issue that needs a lot of focus. In general, there are many issues with gender equality in the world today, especially Africa. Women are much more likely to be poor and illiterate compared to men. There are many opportunities that women cannot receive the benefits of, like owning their own property, credit, training and employment. In order to achieve gender equality, we need to look at the opportunities, education, power and influence and financial independence that are granted to men, and emphasize those same rights for women. Empowering women will benefit the overall feeling of worth, the women’s families and will continue to affect the future generations once favorable changes are made.
Key issues that are addressed when dealing with the empowerment of women:
- Reproductive health
- Allowing women to plan their families and fertility will lead to success. Women that don’t have the option of controlling their reproductive health is an issue that can and will hinder the opportunities available in order to reach gender equality.
- Complications during pregnancy or childbirth is the number two killer of women of reproductive age.
- Economic empowerment
- Six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women.
- Educational empowerment
- 2/3rds of the worlds illiterate adults are women
- Higher education for women leads to infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as better outcomes for their children.
- Political empowerment
- Men occupy the majority of positions in legal and political authority
- Only 22% of women make up the parliamentary positions
- Most laws against domestic violence are not enforced on the behalf of women
ActionAid USA is one of the many organizations that is working towards empowering women as a global movement. ActionAid has been working in Africa for over 40 years. Key themes in the work they accomplish include:
- HIV/AIDS prevention
- Care and treatment
- Peace building
- Famine relief and food rights
A current issue that ActionAid is dealing with is the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Many of the caretakers in the community are women, which makes them the most vulnerable to catching the virus. Because the literacy rate is so poor in this area, ActionAid is taking the next step with an awareness campaign so women know more about the disease and what to do when they come in contact with the virus. Educating these women is an important part of the campaign due to the educational challenges that are common throughout the entire population in Sierra Leone. Only 25% of women are literate, and 37% of the entire population is literate. Most of the strategies for the protection and empowerment of young women are done by non-for-profits. ActionAid is working with community leaders and partners knocking on everybody’s doors in two districts Bo and Kono, where ActionAid sponsored children live in order to spread the word and educate the community. They are also spreading the message on the radio through discussion groups and playing jingles. Here is an example of a jingle they have been using: Our jingle says: “don’t eat bush meat, wash your hands constantly with chlorine, and avoid direct contact with body fluids like blood, saliva, vomit, stool, semen, vaginal fluids and urine”
I think this campaign is effectively spreading the word about the dangers and threats of the Ebola virus. The ActionAid community is overcoming the literacy challenges in creative ways and I believe that progress will be made in educating and empowering the women of Sierra Leone.
Eastern and Southern Africa continues to have the highest number of young HIV-infected people between the ages of 15 and 24 out of all regions. The total number of infected girls and young women that age is more than twice as high as among their male counterparts – 1.9 million compared to 780,000.
UNICEF works in partnership with the UN Population Fund, UNESCO and the World Health Organization to empower adolescent girls and boys to take informed decision about their sexuality. These interventions offer young people gender-specific, age-appropriate information on HIV and the steps they can take to prevent infection including:
- delayed sexual debut
- correct and consistent condom use
- mutual faithfulness
- the reduction in age difference between partners as well as in the number of partners
- the use of testing and counseling services for HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses
UNICEF has been developing a program to educate young women from the ages of 15-17 called Sister to Sister. This intensive 3-day risk reduction education is organized in schools in Malawi, Tanzania, Lesotho and Namibia. The girls will be learning this new material outside of their normal school schedule.
The issues in Nigeria are caused by the Boko Haram in Chibok, who have kidnapped 276 school girls that were preparing for their final exams last April. More than 200 have remained missing. There have been multiple false alarms about getting the girls safely home to their families. The current leader of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has made no progress on the issue. The Boko Haram just made a public statement saying they have converted the girls to Islam and have been married off. There has been reported sightings of the girls, but none have been found.