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15 Feb 2016

Women have fought to achieve equal rights in many parts of Africa.

Women have fought to achieve equal rights in many parts of Africa. But as in other regions of the globe, a woman’s status varies by country and region.

Equality needs time

It took 703 years for the UK to progress from the Magna Carta (1215) to the first votes for women (1918). A further 57 years elapsed before the sexual discrimination act (1975). Since few African countries have been independent for more than 60 years, it is unsurprising women's legal and cultural status lags behind countries like the UK.

In some countries, women are still not equal in law. Even where they are legally equal to men, it is common for decisions to be taken by male heads of households or male local chiefs and leaders.

It is often the case that traditionally women have fewer, if any, rights of inheritance. This leads to difficulties accessing land or finance. But there are exceptions, such as in northern regions of Mozambique, where certain groups are matrilineal

Traditional responsibilities

Where women undertake paid work, there is often a wage gap between their earnings and those of men. With jobs mostly entailing the same work, this gap can only be attributed to gender discrimination. In certain sectors, women also face barriers to joining trade unions or doing business as self-employed individuals.

In some places, women are regarded as being the equals of men, but their roles are nevertheless different. So, women traditionally look after the homestead, while men find jobs outside the home.

Women frequently have a high amount of work, such as gathering firewood or tending family fields. Household chores can be a huge burden, limiting a woman’s ability to take on paid employment.

The care of children, the sick or the elderly is generally viewed as the responsibility of women. With poor access to childcare facilities or health and support services in many regions, caring for family members can take up a lot of a woman’s time.

Educating girls

Girls' school attendance

In sub-Saharan Africa, 81% of boys were enrolled at primary school during 2005-2009, compared to only 77% of girls (UNESCO Institute for Statistics – UIS).

Though many governments are committed to providing equal education for girls, in practice girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys.

The reasons for girls’ lower enrolment in primary and secondary schooling include:

  • the tendency of poor families to spend available money (needed for school fees or the costs of books and uniforms) on the education of boys, because males are viewed as the future breadwinners
  • the expectation that girls will carry out domestic and household work
  • the pressure in some cultures for girls to marry young, particularly where they are seen as an economic burden on families
  • the lack of separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools.

But providing girls with a good education is vital for a country’s development. When women are equipped with learning and share decisions about families and livelihoods, the productivity of a society rises.

The health of a nation also improves with the education of girls. When women are aware about good nutrition and diet, the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of hygiene, the risks of disease and illness in families is much lower.

Last modified on Monday, 15 February 2016 07:19
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