Why we must empower women

“We, the women of South Africa, wives, mothers, working women and housewives, Africans, Indians, European and Coloured, hereby declare our aim of striving for the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against us as women and that deprive us in any way, of our inherent right to the advantages, responsibilities and opportunities that society offers to any one section of the population.” — one of the resolutions adopted at the Founding Conference of the Federation of South African Women, Johannesburg.

South Africa celebrates the month of August as Women’s Month. Recognising and endorsing and celebrating the efforts and achievements of these women, we mark the month alongside them.So you’ve read all the news reports about women being an underutilised resource; you’ve heard the noise of women clamouring for better (equal) opportunities in the workplace; for the removal of gender disparity; for their rights to be protected in the new constitution and no doubt much more. But what does it all really mean for you? What does it translate to on the ground in practical terms?
Well, let’s start with the place where it really matters — your precious girl child. Whether you are a man or a woman, if you have a daughter, or are responsible for a girl child, you should be at the front of the queue when it comes to advocating for women’s rights. Here’s why:
To begin with, every generation has a duty to provide the next generation with a life that is equal to or better than the life they have enjoyed. The liberties and rights that you enjoy today are a product of a previous generation’s struggles to make this possible for you. You owe those that follow you the same level of commitment and sacrifice.

Speaking at the Second African Women’s Economic Summit in Lagos last month, Ms Akintomide, who represented the African Development Bank president Dr Donald Kaberuka said: “I don’t want my daughters to be in the same kind of summit in the coming years discussing the same issues.” Businesswomen including chief executives, bankers, industrialists and entrepreneurs, together with gender activists, challenged policymakers, corporate organisations and political leaders to step up measures to promote women empowerment and remove barriers impeding their development, (www.newtimes.co.rw)

Additionally, because they sit at the lower end of the power scales, women and girls are affected more than others by most catastrophes, particularly in Africa. Without increasing their voice, their power and their ability to protect themselves, we will ensure that women and girls retain the position of victim when it comes to economy, society, politics and even climate and environment which seem outside our control. When you are not empowered and disaster hits, you suffer more than those who have some power.

Former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique, Graca Machel said: “. . . Women and girls are disproportionately affected by this current economic crisis. We need to ensure that the energy, skills, strength, values and wisdom of women become an integral part of the remodelled economic infrastructures now being developed by global leaders. Empowering and investing in young women and girls is part of a global economic solution for us all, now and in the future.”

Another reason why you should care about women’s economic empowerment is because you want your kids (both male and female) to have a better lifestyle, to build better communities, and to see prosperity coming to all. When women are empowered this becomes possible. Research shows that benefits that accrue to a community when women are empowered are substantial. Former United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said: “So often, it takes only one woman to make a difference. If you empower that woman with information, and training, or a microloan, she can lift up her entire family and contribute to the success of her community.
Multiply that one woman’s impact by a hundred or a thousand, and perhaps a million lives can change.”

In Africa, the contribution of women to economic activities is considerable; however, much of it is informal. It is estimated that African women constitute 70% of the informal economy.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, women in Africa are responsible for 70% of crop production, 50% of animal husbandry and 60% of marketing. Women undertake nearly 100% of food processing activities, in addition to childcare and other responsibilities in households.
As active participants in this economy, you and I therefore have the critical mandate of creating opportunities for women to participate in that economy. It will improve their earning potential, assisting families to move out of poverty and contribute to the overall economy.

It is argued that women are the biggest emerging economy in the world. Yes, that means bigger than China, bigger than India, and bigger than the two of them combined!

Pepsico’s chief executive officer Indra Nooyi. She is quoted on www.firstpost.com saying: “Across the globe, women are the biggest emerging market in the history of the planet more than twice the size of India and China combined. . .,” she said.

Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/local-drummer

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