Women’s Empowerment and Development in Africa

Published on 12th June 2018

Women’s rights as an AU theme was launched twice in succession of each summit. Furthermore, the AU prioritised public health by launching the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a public health agency to respond to public health emergencies on the continent.

All this reflects a dedication by Africa to her women and public health. Women’s issues unite Africa, but also divide Africa.  They are so important on paper, and yet get delayed and left behind when it comes to implementation of interventions to emancipate women.

We are a continent with high rate of gender based violence, rape, female genital mutilation, deaths from avoidable illegal abortions, and the increasing rate of HIV/AIDS infections. We are a continent that is a hub for human trafficking of their children for the underworld. We promote child marriages where our girls are sold to mostly older men in the name of marriage.  Africa is a continent where widows are left eating crumbs whilst men being seen as heads of household, get the inheritance meant for her and her family, due to cultural and traditional issues.

Africa is a continent where the LGBTIQ+ community get killed for choosing different family and sexual orientation.   This is the continent where more than 200 girls were abducted from school in broad daylight, and were made slaves by community leaders and men who are as old as their fathers.

Africa, a continent that kills her own children for muthi because of lack of melamin in their skin (albinism). It is in my continent where political leaders often become permanent country leaders and fight to remain in power for life, so they can continue to steal and enrich themselves with state money meant for the poor. South Africa is not exempted from the state corruption. The inequality gap is getting wider and the face of poverty is a black African woman.

Africa does have the tools, wealth and means to curb the above mentioned. We produce over 60% of the world’s cocoa. We have mineral resources, and natural resources, among others. All we lack is a political will. Our flaw is corruption and theft of state assets and resources.

Let me qualify this with examples, with specific reference to health and rights for the vulnerable population. We have policies and human rights instruments, yet these don’t translate into effective better outcomes for women. 

1. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) adopted in October 1986; resulted into Africa Human rights day on 21st October.  A human rights approach aims to protect individuals from abuse of state power, thus obligating the state to provide the conditions necessary for prosperity and well-being. ACHPR compels Africa member states to take the necessary measures to protect the health of their countries ensuring that people receive medical attention. To what extent are we responding to that call? 

2. The Special rapporteur on Rights of Women which was established in 1998 has strong tools to use in the name of legal instruments. Marking the celebration of international womens day in March 2018, under the theme of “PressforProgress,” the Special Rapporteur commended itself for the tremendous progress has been made with a long list of policies with very little progress that has been made.

Year 2018 is the end of African women’s decade.  The continent will sign again another piece of paper to declare their dying commitment to emancipate women for the next 10 or 20 years from 2019. Commitment doesn’t translate to compliance, nor to political commitment. We need women empowerment programmes now.

Research shows that the majority of poor women on the continent assign a high value to motherhood and reproduction, irrespective of socio economic circumstances and conditions. Access to economy and reducing the gap of economic inclusion of women by the state, are among of interventions required for women to make informed decisions about their own lives.

On access to health services, Africa’s human rights instruments and SADC protocol are clear on access to quality services and the right to health. Just to explain what we mean by right to health. The right to health is not to be understood as a right to be healthy. The right to health contains both freedoms and entitlements.

However, Africa health care is far disadvantaged compared to the rest of the globe. Sub-Sahara Africa has over 25% of the world’s burden of disease but only has 3 % of the world’s health care professionals. One of contributory causes is brain drain due to catastrophic World Trade agreements signed by our own state leaders.  To overcome the burden of disease, Africa is known for its innovative ways of delivering health services through Patient empowerment by training patients and communities to be carers to sustain the ailing health system. Community activism, patient education and social marketing are some examples of strengthening the health systems in some parts of Africa including South Africa.  African innovation seeks to harness community resources.  It’s about doing with less, for more because there is nothing more.

1. The 3rd tool I want to brag about is SA constitution which is regarded as the most progressive in the world. The Constitution bridges the gap between the past and the future. We must celebrate this flagship for Africa. As the Member of the Executive that presides over health in this province, I am most intrigued by section 27 of our Constitution which provides the right of access to health care services.  The Constitution gives this government an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of citizens to access quality health care. 

The continent boasts itself on Ubuntu values which purport unity, communitarianism and a whole of society approach to help one another. The ubuntu is explained through proverbs such as “a thumb working on its own is useless. It has to work collectively with other fingers to get strength and to be able to achieve anything."

To what extent do we espouse these values especially on how we treat our vulnerable population?

If indeed we purport the continent as the place of ubuntu, where people are united and show respect and compassion for each other, here in this legislature and in our governments, as honourable as we are, we should mirror such values. If indeed ubuntu matters, we should be having a corrupt free state, a state that doesn’t steal from the poor. We should provide public services that show respect and dignity as is required in the African culture. 

The Constitution, Africa human rights charters, treatises and other legal instruments, are living documents which seek to hold us, duty bearers to account to the people.

To the public out there, you have the tools to make government and politicians to account. Hire the government you want. Fire the government you don't want especially when a political will to commit and comply lacks.

By Dr Nomafrench Mbombo

Western Cape Health MEC, Republic of South Africa.

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