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Do we value women’s rights?

By Donasius Pathera - posted Thursday, 4 February 2016

The African Union (AU) has declared 2016 the year of Human Rights in Africa with a focus on the rights of women. Though the African Union has tried to raise a flag of hope for women, the female side is still facing a lot of challenges. There have been so many ways women have been theoretically supported by different regional organs but all in theory.

With the meeting scheduled for 27th January, 2016 in Addis Ababa, the AU has given another a new look to promote the rights of women.

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 in 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.

But perhaps the most inhibiting factor is that women in Africa continue to be denied education; often the only ticket out of poverty. Disparities between girls and boys start in primary school and the differences widen up through the entire educational system. In total enrolment in primary education, Africa registered the highest relative increase among regions during the last decade. But given the low proportion of girls being enrolled, the continent is still far from the goal of attaining intake parity by the end of this year. By 2000, sub-Saharan Africa was the region with the most girls out of school; 23 million- up from 20 million a decade earlier.

The total number of children out of school has declined during the last decade. Between 1990 and 2000, worldwide enrolment in primary education increased from 596 million to 648 million, with the highest increase occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, which recorded a 38 per cent rise.

Policies specifically targeting girls were responsible for considerable improvements in countries such as Benin, Botswana, Gambia, Guinea, Lesotho, Mauritania and Namibia. In Benin, for instance, the gender gap narrowed from 32 to 22 per cent, thanks to policies such as sensitizing parents through the media and reducing school fees for girls in public primary schools in rural areas.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that girls' enrolment rises relative to boys as the proportion of female teachers increases. Therefore an effective method of ensuring gender parity is to equalize the gender balance among teachers, a strategy Mauritania used to narrow the gender gap in primary schools from 13 to 4 per cent between 1990 and 2000.

Guinea employed a broader approach, making girls' education a national priority during the early 1990s. After assessing the challenges faced by girls in schools, the government embarked on programmes to build latrines, assist pregnant students, distribute free textbooks and increase the number of female teachers. By 2000, the country had more than doubled the number of girls in school and increased boys' attendance by 80 per cent. But in general, Africa has the lowest proportion of female teachers of any region.


Numerous other hurdles continue to hamper the expansion of education in Africa. Austerity programmes introduced in many countries during the 1980s constrained educational spending. Governments had little money to maintain existing schools or build new ones. At the family level, households that became poorer often faced the stark choice of deciding who to send to school – and often it was the girl who stayed home. Costs of tuition, the requirement to wear uniforms, long distances between home and school, inadequate water and sanitation, all contribute to restricting girls' access to education.

By the time children go through high school and reach college, the gender gap has become even wider. "At the tertiary and university levels the low participation for women continues," declared African government ministers gathered in Addis Ababa to take stock of the continent's progress since the Beijing Conference that worked on promoting the rights of women. "Gender gaps are particularly pronounced in science, mathematics and computer sciences."

As with a range of other historically male-dominated subjects, an International Labour Organization (ILO) survey shows that women are starkly underrepresented in technical programmes in African colleges. The share of women enrolled in polytechnic courses ranges from 40 per cent in Gambia to just 2 per cent in Zambia, the ILO reports. In Ghana, even though 30 per cent of all those attending polytechnics are women, only 1 per cent of the total taking technical courses are women.

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About the Author

Donasius Pathera is a Malawian young writer and he contributes to Malawi’s premier newspaper, The Daily Times. He works for the Malawi Revenue Authority in the Corporate Affairs Division.

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