March 15 is also International Women’s Rights Day.
Every March 8, the media, social networks, politicians, everyone agrees to “celebrate” International Women’s Rights Day. But let’s press pause for a moment, and take a step back. What is the meaning behind this day? Why is it important to keep talking about it, and more importantly, what resonance does it have on the African continent?
First of all, this day reminds us that women’s rights are not a given, far from it. Many advances still need to be made, in all fields and on all territories. There are dozens of examples, but if I had to mention only one, I would focus on salary inequalities: for equal skills, women still have a lot of trouble getting the same pay as their male counterparts.
According to a note from the International Labour Office (ILO), the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization (the UN agency in charge of employment issues), men’s monthly income is more than twice that of women in Africa. In Senegal alone, the average monthly salary for men is 290,740 CFA francs (about 440 euros) compared to 127,130 CFA francs (about 190 euros) for women. This is a gap of more than 50%.
However, this day is also an opportunity to look back and realize how far we have come, thanks to our predecessors, these “Turbulents” as Géraldine Faladé so affectionately calls them. “These determined, courageous pioneers, incredibly ahead of the society of their time”, these women who dared, some of them unfortunately less well known by the younger generations, who did not hesitate to take up the cause of Women’s Rights, to defend their ideals and their community. Like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who brought the right to vote to Nigerian women, these women activists have passed the baton to us, and it is up to us to take it up today.
This is why it is always so important to dedicate a day, symbolically, to the struggle for women’s rights: because there is still a long way to go.
Women represent more than half of the world’s population, they are undeniably part of the solution. It is essential, in particular, that women have much more access to fields that are still considered the “preserve” of men, such as aviation. Women airline pilots are still the exception, as are women scientists, firefighters, engineers… while these role models are helping to revolutionize their professions. This day is also an invitation to value these talented women, and it is one of the roles of communication to highlight these experts. We will have succeeded in our mission when seeing a woman pilot is no longer exceptional.
An inequality that is perhaps not talked about enough, and yet is one of the most persistent, is the inequality that exists between women themselves. Indeed, those living in rural areas are those who have the least access to education, training, and a favorable economic and social framework. This reminds me of the organization Shine to Lead, led by Nayé Anna Bathily, to whom I address a special thought. Many bright young girls find themselves having to abandon their studies due to a lack of financial means within their families. Thanks to this organization, these girls, often from isolated or remote villages, have the opportunity to be mentored, accompanied and have access to scholarships to continue their education. Shine to Lead has carried, and continues to carry, magnificent initiatives during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing these young girls to continue to have access to education despite the closure of schools: meetings with professionals with extremely varied profiles, that these young beneficiaries are not used to meet, which are as many chances for them to identify themselves and not to deny themselves anything. We had the chance to be part of one of these meetings, and we will always remember the involvement, the interest, the curiosity and the thirst to learn of these young girls.
In Africa, the issue of women’s rights has always existed and the continent is even an example in this regard, compared to some Western societies. Our societies are eminently matriarchal, in which women have an extremely important place, especially within the family. They work, they are in charge of a home but also guarantee the education of their children… They are on all fronts, at the same time: mother, wife, woman.
Another example: some African countries are much more advanced on the issue of representation in politics. Rwanda is the best student in the world, with 61.3% of women MPs in the lower house, alongside six other African countries in the top 20 countries with the most women in parliament: Namibia (7th), South Africa (10th), Senegal (11th) and Mozambique (17th). In politics as elsewhere, the continent is a forerunner.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has further highlighted the inequalities between men and women, particularly in the economic sphere: today, 90% of African women work in the informal economy, without social protection. However, I cannot repeat it enough, Africa is an incredible breeding ground for resilience, innovation and creativity, and let’s not forget that African women are particularly ingenious. Look at the Tontines, associations of clan members, family members, or even neighbors, who decide to pool their assets to serve all. These women have imagined systems on their smartphones to help each other, despite the prohibitions to gather…
This International Women’s Rights Day is not so much a day of “celebration”, but a day to take stock. Where are we today? What progress has been made? What are the issues on which we must not give up?
Let’s not wait until March 8 to organize and move the slider in a meaningful way. Let’s be aware of our privileges. Let’s use our platforms to talk about it, to encourage each other. The messages, the values, the struggles proudly carried on March 8th must continue throughout the year, because this reality is something women experience every day, 365 days a year.
“There will be no equal pay in Africa if other discriminations are not solved” – France Info
Turbulentes, Editions Présence Africaine, 2020
Infographic Jeune Afrique – 2019