Accelerating GENDER EQUALITY in Africa

Every time I look at my two little girls, I get over protective and anyway what would any responsible father do? Watching them grow every day, makes me wish for them nothing less than gold, in all its forms. Gold in this case would stand for the right to participate in decision-making in the home, economy and society, right to inherit property/assets, right to empowerment, right to education and the right to anything their male counterparts has. Well, this will not just be wishful thinking for me; I have the key to accelerating gender equality right from my homestead and my community.

According to the Africa Human Development Report 2016, gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, 6% of the region’s GDP, thus jeopardizing the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth.

Taking it about 69 years ago when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, to 20 years ago of the Millennium development goals and the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, global attention has been focused on promoting human rights and eliminating discrimination.  However, despite the relentless efforts in respecting women’s rights by some countries and some governments, inequalities persist. There are still political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement especially when it comes to the unequitable treatment and access to resources and opportunities for women and men.

Removing inequalities for women has not kept pace for a number of reasons to include:

  • The spectrum of violence in all forms; domestic violence, intimate partner violence, rape, female genital mutilation, intimidation, and additional threats to women´s personal security in periods of war and conflict
  • Islamic Sharia law often plays a large role in the governance of personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslim populations to include stipulations that womencannot pass citizenship to their children, spousal rape is not illegal, two women are equal to one man in court and women cannot divorce their husbands.
  • Existing legal and social norms, and the ways they interact have a major effect on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Very few African countries have non-discriminatory gender laws.
  • With respect to education, it is remarkable that near gender parity has been achieved in primary school enrolment. However, gender discrimination is still significant in secondary and tertiary education.

These are reasons that have been adopted form different countries and across cultures in Africa but even we are to look at our communities, the situation isn’t any better. Girls are forced to trek long distances to fetch water, it’s the girls that are forced to do all the chores at home, it’s the girls whose education is sacrificed once the family’s income drop, it’s the girls that are forced in to early marriages to boost the family’s financial status.  Well, we have to choose approaches that can help African countries to more forcefully confront the challenge and accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Let us start by keeping our girls in schools. As we work hard to sustain the boys in school, the girls have a right to the quality education too. We should stop hiding behind the notion that women will not belong to their family but to the family of their husbands, so what? She stays your pretty little girl, whether she goes to the husband’s side or not.

Boys and girls should do the same chores at home. What would happen to a boy if he washed utensils or mopped the house or even cooked? Teach a boy that he is equal to his sister and he will never deviate from that teaching, he will never have the audacity to raise his hand to beat his wife, charity starts at home.

Although there are political initiates to drive women empowerment, accelerating gender parity right from our homes will be the only strategy that will yield sustainable results for our continent.

picture: Credit 123rf.com

Women are not your Property, they are your partners to live with and respect

Fostering gender parity in the socio-economic and political arena in Rwanda has been a successful endeavor, however, some reports still hint at a gloomier picture in the success stories of women empowerment in the country. As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the international women’s day, we have to recognize that the government of Rwanda has relentlessly strived to promote women’s economic empowerment in a number of ways. All the ways have been aimed at fighting all forms of injustice including gender based violence, ensure women economic empowerment and break the barriers that hinder women to reach their full potential in adding their contribution to national development.

Due to government’s unwavering efforts, in 2015, the Inter-Parliamentary Union updated its database to reveal that Rwanda had more women than men in parliament at 63.8%. Still in 2015, the Global Gender Gap Report named Rwanda as the best place to be a woman in Africa, also the sixth in closing gender gaps world-wide. All these achievements indicate a strong commitment for advancing and sustaining gender equality and empowerment.

However, we can’t blindly ignore the few cases that still impede the development of women. The Rwanda National Police in one its periodic reports indicated a decline in rape, defilement and physical abuse cases, but even the few victims of GBV are inexcusable. The ordeals narrated by the women who fall prey of the shameless men in the society reveal a permanent damage on the victims. Studies have indicated that some women in our lives are either sexual-assault victims or survivors of domestic abuse and these life experiences leave life-time pain and trauma. Some women sustain permanent physical injuries, others live miserable lives while others lose their lives.

Scanning through the regional or global scene, women are still trafficked and sold as sex slaves. Women and girls are ensnared in sex trafficking in a variety of ways: some are lured with offers of legitimate work as shop assistants or waitresses in developed countries, while others are promised marriage, educational opportunities or even a better life. Worse still, many are sold into trafficking by boyfriends, friends, neighbors or even parents. When the protector becomes the betrayer, just for an extra coin! The victims are physically and psychologically tortured, deprived of food and sleep and forced to start a new and degrading life.

One thing that I have always asked myself but failed to get an answer is, “they are our mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters, friends, spouses, nieces and cousins, but why do we hurt or abuse them to an extent of even killing them, why beat them up simply because we want to feel more powerful, why plot deviously against them for a few minutes pleasure?” Well, this still boggles my mind, but maybe I am not alone. Either way, I believe that the best way to eliminate violence against women is not only speaking out but having the men’s voice strongly backing them. #BeBoldForChange, stand up and fight injustices against women!

THE AFRICAN PUZZLE; AN ENDOWED CONTINENT BLEMISHED BY DEFICIENCY IN THE CORE AREAS OF NEED

It has been said that to whom much is given, much is expected. This seems to be a paradox in the African continent where a lot of resources abound but the continent does not seem to be reaping the benefits in the wholesome manner that it should.

Africa is classified as the richest continent in terms of natural resources ranging from a large percent of the world’s mineral deposits, vast land reserves, wildlife and most of all it is enormously rich in terms of human capital. These components alone are a testament to the capability within Africa and the potential that lies therein. Why then, one might ask, is Africa and by extension majority of Africans not living up to its/their potential instead languishing in a state of poverty? This poverty is not only financial but also in terms of knowledge, opportunities and facilities. Why haven’t the leaders who have been tasked with the responsibility of managing this great continent been able to guide it to the ‘promised land’?

A leader is someone who is able to determine the needs of those he/she leads and envision a way in which he/she can provide for those needs. So the pertinent questions are: what are the needs of the African people and what are the leaders doing to cater to those needs? Let us begin by the simple, most basic needs. Food (including water), Shelter, Clothing. Can all Africans say that these three basic needs are within their reach? Taking it a step further, we look at access to medical care, education and sanitation. Are they feasible? The answer to all the above is a resounding NO! Even those that are able to access all of the above, more often than not, have to outsource what they need from other countries; including the leaders!

Coming from a solutions-based point of view, it is important to determine what the gaps are and then find ways and means to resolve them. It goes without saying that the resources, without effective mechanisms to utilize them, are of little to no use. Farming tools and a fertile piece of land are useless without the farmer who is both capable and willing to till the land so as to enable crops to grow on it. Since we have established, based on the farming analogy, that the “land and tools” are present in Africa; the point of focus now becomes the “farmer” who represents the leaders both in the private and public sectors.

Africa needs visionary leaders who are forward thinking and development oriented in their decision making and in the programs that they implement for those that they govern. We must begin to think of a future where we will be self-reliant as a continent and in our own individual national capacities using our own home grown policies. We must invest in sustainable farming/food production (actual farming not the metaphor) methods, water conservation, suitable and safe housing, indigenous and affordable clothing, well equipped healthcare facilities and policies, quality education that is accessible to all and proper sanitation.

Putting all these systems in place will ensure that we, Africans, have all we need right in the comforts of our own countries and we do not have to take long journeys to look for what is right under our noses. This will also facilitate self-actualization where citizens who have all they need at the basic level are able to look beyond that and grow their skills and knowledge so as to reach their full potential and by extension bring Africa as a continent up where it belongs.

By Joseph Nkurunziza

Poor public service delivery slowing development in Africa

The consequences of corruption in Africa are evident in the poor standards of living and slow rate of development. Rwanda has come a long way in terms of development since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that led to the loss of more than one million lives and dilapidated public institutions and structures. A lot has been achieved so far to rebuild the nation. However, more needs to be done to position Rwanda as a center of excellence on various fronts in Africa in line with the vision of the country.

The public service sector is a key driver for growth in any country. Substantial public funds and foreign investments are channeled through public institutions and some development programs are implemented in collaboration with these institutions highlighting the pivotal role of the sector. For Rwanda to achieve sustainable development it is paramount that corruption is stemmed out of public institutions.

While corruption leads to poor service delivery for citizens, the converse is also true. Poor public service delivery leads to frustration among the service beneficiaries many a times leaving them with little choice but to engage in corrupt practices to access services that they are in the first place entitled to. Corruption in the public sector has led many African states to experience stagnated growth.

Africa is not poor but poorly managed. The main reason Africa has lagged behind in development is not because of a lack of resources but rather mismanagement of resources. Many African states have rich natural resources in terms of minerals deposits such as gold and oil which should by now have contributed to advanced development. Mismanagement of resources leading to corruption is the greatest cause for underdevelopment. Developed countries with little or no natural resources have been able to overtake Africa in development simply because they have managed their resources and even managed our own resources to benefit themselves.

It is high time that Africa awakened to the fact that corruption can never be effectively dealt with if states do not invest in proper management systems and processes for effective public service delivery. Frustrations due to poor service delivery drives corruption when citizens do not get what they are entitled to.

A common frustration that many face with the public sector is delayed payments by public institutions for services rendered or goods sold. There are no systems in place to hold public institutions accountable for delayed payments. This has created a loop hole in the sector where public servants manipulate citizens to bribe them in order for their payments to be processed faster. In this case frustrated citizens are coerced to bribe so that they can beat the system that has refused to change to foster development. In the end, the service provider has not got the full worth of his work and has encouraged corruption within the sector so the next service provider will also be forced to part with his or her earnings. This cycle continues and has been repeating itself for many years. Such loop holes have fostered a culture of corruption that has infiltrated many areas in the public sector.

Public servants have also exploited the public tendering process where management systems are weak. Citizens and public servants in institutions collude to obtain inside information on how to win tenders. Such widespread corruption hurts the integrity of public institutions limiting their effectiveness in contributing towards development.

Certainly both citizens and governments are to blame for corruption. On the one hand governments for failing to put in place proper systems that do not frustrate citizens forcing them to engage in corruption and on the other hand citizens for not speaking up and demanding for action for these systems to be put in place.

Fighting corruption requires the joint effort of both citizens and the government whereby each effectively performs their duties.

By Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza

Poverty, corruption and climate change must be addressed to harness the fourth industrial revolution

By Joseph Nkurunziza

We are inevitably on the brink of a technological revolution; the fourth industrial revolution. This is an important and powerful global shift that recognizes the need to realign business processes as well as government policies to technological advances in order to effectively meet goals. Technology is exponentially influencing our lives on a daily basis and in future it is not expected to relent but will in fact alter some of the more sophisticated human tasks such as driving a car by offering self-driven vehicles. It is also expected to make positive impacts on important sectors such as health, infrastructure and environment to improve service delivery.

The fourth industrial revolution is an opportune time for African states to catch up with their European, American and Asian counterparts. Technological advances based on digital networks have somehow leveled the playing field for Africans to be able to develop important solutions tailored to the African context. At the just ended World Economic Forum, delegates emphasized the need to adopt the revolution to transform economies and improve the lives of citizens in Africa. Indeed the revolution if well adopted, I believe stands the chance to achieve better standards of living for Africans while providing employment to the growing youthful population – many of whom are educated but lack employment opportunities.

While previous industrial revolutions largely by passed the African continent because African states were unable to effectively harness their potential, Africa should this time around prepare adequately to make the most of the fourth industrial revolution. There is hence a need to ask ourselves one fundamental question: what will it take to sustainably adopt the fourth industrial revolution to improve lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Africa?

To answer this, we must recognize that the revolution will not function in a vacuum. There are many factors that will influence the uptake of the latest digital technologies in Africa. Poverty, governance issues including corruption and climate change are paramount to address if Africa is going to make the most out of the revolution.

Poverty is a barrier for African economies to effectively harness the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. Poverty and its corollaries – hunger, diseases and lack of proper education – have a negative impact on the ability of people to exploit available opportunities. It presents people with difficult day to day choices where having enough food to put on the table is the foremost priority. A large population of Africans is living below the poverty line and they happen to be the ones who can benefit most from advances in technology.

A unique trait of the revolution is the ability of people to not just use technology but create it to solve problems and improve quality of lives. Governments hence need to invest heavily in poverty alleviation programmes and institute policies that will give the poor an opportunity to take advantage of technological advances. As people are lifted out of poverty and empowered to use technology to solve problems, the ripple effect will be enormous on the economy. We will have more people solving age-old problems, creating wealth and ultimately contributing to poverty reduction.

Corruption is a cancer that has characterized many African governments for far too long and contributed to limited development. It is also one of the reasons why the continent did not benefit fully from previous industrial revolutions. Good governance is vital in addressing the issue of corruption. It calls for the participation of citizens in ensuring that leaders are accountable and governments as well as the civil society have role in educating citizens on the benefits of an inclusive government. Whatever advances can be achieved through technology need to be protected  from regressing through corruption.

Climate change although a relatively novel issue in the development world, is having widespread effects that cannot be ignored even when we are debating matters of technology. The African continent contributes least to climate change compared to developed countries but stands to suffer most from its effects. As weather patterns become more erratic due to climate change, Africa’s poor population whose mainstay is agriculture is drawn farther into poverty. Poverty, as previously explained will limit adoption of the fourth industrial revolution.

Poverty, corruption and climate change need to be addressed to enable Africans to harness the immense benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. It is an uphill task but unless we recognize the importance of addressing these issues and investing in appropriate measures and systems, we risk – yet again – being by passed by the revolution.

Joseph@neveragainrwanda.org  Twitter: @ryarasa

The African Culture Contributes to Gender Based Violence

women in africa. source  (http://www.wunrn.com/)

women in africa. source(http://www.wunrn.com/)


 

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and spend some time with our community. It is always nice to get out of our comfort zones and find out the hardships of others; especially those who aren’t as fortunate as we are. So, as I went, we shared some stories and I have to admit that I was heartbroken by what still happens in our communities. As I mentioned in my previous blog, a single story can open our eyes to larger and more dangerous issues in our society. Here is a shocking facts that I was reminded of this past weekend. A man coerced and impregnated a young sixteen year old  girl in his village. After the horrendous act, he had the nerve and audacity to go and apologize to the young girl’s family. As if the story could not get any worse, unfortunately it does get worse, the young girl’s family simply asked for two cows as a ransom. Let that sink in for a minute. Which is sadder? That the man walked back home free and only short of two cows or that THE SOCIETY THINKS THAT OUR YOUNG GIRL HERE IS WORTH TWO COWS! Please notice the danger and the agony here. How many more girls have gone through this horror? And how many more WILL go through the same in the future? This is what inspired me to raise the issue today; as long as the African society thinks its women’s dignity and honour are worth two or even ten cows, Gender Based Violence will NEVER be history.

Gender Based Violence is making the headlines of several media channels and is also the subject of many campaigns. But there is an issue; we could be as efficient as possible in our campaign and publicity but as long as the cultural beliefs are not changed, GBV will forever be alive in the society. The African Cultures, although a bit diverse, all come together in agreement that the woman has less value than a man; the man has the authority and the woman is merely a servant. Therefore, there is a pressing need to educate the people about the negative impacts of some aspects of culture. The people need to get out of the boundaries of culture; learn its failures and correct them. I am not saying that culture is not good; culture is the heritage of a country from centuries and generations of the past. Culture carries the riches, qualities and uniqueness of a country. Culture is important. However, as the world evolves and changes, culture must also find its relevant place in the society. Therefore, the African population must be educated about the boundaries and wrongs of the culture and the way it treats women; the humiliation and violations they endure.

As a medical doctor, I thought about the young girl mentioned above and the complication she might face with the pregnancy be it now or in the future. I decided that abortion could be a suitable option for her. She might not be financially, physically or even emotionally ready to have the child. Is it her right to carry on with such a controversial act on African soil? You could be the judge of that. But I would like to say that I would support this young lady if she made the decision. One of the descriptions of Gender Based Violence is “An act that could result in the deprivation of freedom and negative consequences”. Basing on this definition, wouldn’t this young lady have the right to regain her freedom through abortion? If yes, shouldn’t she carry on with it? If this was your own daughter, what would be your reaction?

Women, just as men, are entitled to their dignity mainly because they are human beings! There are some many other horrendous cases all around Africa that show the extent of GBV. Female Genital Mutilation is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa. According to some cultures, this is an important rite to passage. It has been part of their cultural identity for several years and the people have come to accept it. Let me tell you some of the dangers of FGM and how it is violence against women. According to EndFGM (http://www.endfgm.eu/en/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-fgm/effects-of-fgm/), the practice has several consequences such as severe bleeding which can lead to death, neurogenic shock as a result of pain, infertility, and painful sexual intercourse. FGM inflicts such suffering on young women in Africa that it is high time for leaders to come together and fight this issue! Many who practice this mutilation on young women argue that women are not supposed to have sexual pleasure. They are only supposed to please their husbands. They also argue that FGM lessens the woman’s sexual desire which is pivotal for her faithfulness. There are so many reasons, may I call them sad excuses, given to exercise FGM. The truth of the matter remains; women are considered as mere objects by our cultures and societies and this needs to stop! If you have a daughter, like I do, the emotional pain I carry for these young ladies will be yours as well.

Our cultures will only change if our leaders begin to intensively educate the people against treating women as object. There is a priceless value that a woman carries and it must be honoured. Why not ask women if they want to have such practices done on them? Why not take the time to educate the women on dangers they might face if they proceed. Sometimes, the society takes advantage of the ignorance of people to harm them! It is the duty of all leaders to educate and protect these women. We need to realize that for a brighter future, the women’s role is as important and necessary as the men’s