Africa is one of the most diverse continents in the world.
The media paints a picture of Africa as a continent in stagnation, filled only with violence and suffering – but this is not true. This interpretation gives rise to many misconceptions about issues revolving around women’s rights in Africa. Although the situation is of course difficult, it does not quite match our European perceptions. Our educational projects for women in Senegal and Burkina Faso prove that women in Africa are ambitious and enterprising.
Read the article to find out what challenges women in Africa are faced with and how you can help.
Misconceptions about the role of women in Africa
Economic history researcher Ester Boserup, in her 1970 publication “Women’s Role in Economic Development”, proves that women play a much greater role in African society than was commonly believed at the time the work was published.
There are many misconceptions about the lives of women in Africa, such as:
- A common belief that African women are not self-sufficient or that they are dependent on their husbands and numerous children to support them;
- The notion that women cannot work outside the home or start their own businesses;
- The idea that women in Africa are lazy and not interested in education;
- The perception that all women in Africa are victims of sexual attacks and, at the same time, do not care about access to contraception – an image strongly popularised by the media;
- The tragic view that the situation of women in Africa will never improve.
Women are the backbone of many African households. They play a vital role in sustaining society, not only by performing essential tasks, but also by caring for children and elderly members of their community.
Ester Boserup tried to show how much potential women have for economic development, especially in African countries. In her research, she found that women own land, increasingly become business owners and make important decisions on behalf of entire households.
Women in Africa have helped to improve many agricultural processes, such as weeding, preparing the soil for planting cropsand tendinglivestock. Women have also been making clothes and furniture for centuries, key items that constitute the families’ assets.
How the situation of women’s rights in Africa is changing
Urban development has contributed to the migration of women from rural to more urban areas, as is evident, for example, in Senegal.
The traditional division of responsibilities in Senegal saw the role of women as homemakers. In recent decades, economic changes have led to the migration of people to cities such as Dakar, enabling women to take up jobs in such areas as trade or crafts. We run a vocational school in Dakar that enables young women to develop their sewing skills. A certificate from the Dakar school is the ticket to getting a job and a chance at financial stability.
Difficulties faced by women in Africa
Women in Africa and violence
The United Nations estimates that worldwide, one in three women is subjected to violence at least once in their lifetime. In Africa, the figure is much higher – up to 70% of African women are victims of violence. This leads to a range of health and social consequences – including mental health problems and social exclusion.
Violence against women in Africa is most often perpetrated by someone known to the victim – their partner or a family member. A UN report has shown that in Africa as many as 69% of all victims of violence against women know the offender.
One of the reasons for the high rates of violence against African women is due to their fewer opportunities for economic independence. Despite the many laws that have been passed to promote equality of women’s rights in Africa, they are still often marginalised and denied equal access to resources that they themselves work to produce. The situation of many women in sub-Saharan countries is not much different from slavery.
Women in Africa vs. health care and family planning
In 2015. WHO reported that African countries have the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with an average of one woman dying every two minutes due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. It is also estimated that around 30% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married by the age of 18.
Menstrual hygiene management is a clear problem that directly affects access to education.
Did you know that in some African countries, girls and young women miss as much as 20% of school each year because they cannot afford basic hygiene products? Menstrual hygiene management particularly affects girls in Burkina Faso. As many as 3 in 4 of them cannot afford to buy personal hygiene products such as disposable sanitary pads or wet wipes, and access to clean water is extremely difficult.
For them, the lack of hygiene products is not only a limitation on their access to education – it is above all a potential health risk, when they are forced to make regular use of scraps of old cloth, leaves or wads of paper.
The problem of African women’s access to education
Lack of education is a major problem for women in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are some initiatives that aim to improve the situation permanently. The Good Factory Foundation has been running projects for years to develop literacy in young women and to teach a profession that will provide women with stable work and independence.
The main barrier to girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa is not only poverty, which does not allow them to pay school fees, but also the underlying attitudes of their own families. Girls are often expected to stay at home and engage in farm work or family duties instead of going to school. Communities also believe that women’s education and independence will decrease their chances of marriage, which is still a coveted milestone in the lives of many young women in Africa.
How you can help women in Africa
There are many ways to ensure equality of opportunities and women’s rights in Africa, thus helping them to develop their skills. You can support women through action in four areas:
Your path stone is the first step towards a huge social change in African countries and often the only chance for a secure future for dozens of women. Join us in producing Good!