By Rhulani Thembi Siweya
March 8 was International Women’s Day, which has been celebrated throughout the world since 1911. This day is marked by various events from one country to another with young and old women at the forefront of these celebrations. This year the women’s day was celebrated under the theme “make it happen”. A very direct and decisive call for all people of the world to implement policies directed at empowering women. This is also a call to encourage other countries to advance the rights of women. No society can realise its full potential unless its women and children are liberated.
These celebrations are dented by the kidnapping of the Nigerian Chibok girls and many other women through the continent used as weapons of war through rape and other forms of human-rights violations.
Throughout the African continent various women organisations exist to assist and advance the struggle for women’s emancipation ranging from non-government organisations to government institutions. Despite these many efforts and continuous celebrations, the African girl child is still disadvantaged and nowhere near attaining her full potential. This is despite the fact that more and more women are occupying positions of power with more women becoming presidents in many various parts of the world.
What then are the challenges of African women of the 21st century? The empowerment of women in many African countries is advanced on specific platforms for the purpose of meeting quotas, which in itself is an artificial empowerment. In Africa today, religion is still one component that is being used to oppress women. In countries like Sudan, women still have to fight for their reproductive rights. We are faced with enforced arranged marriages paraded as culture and tradition in countries like Tunisia. A milestone in the Southern African Development Community, where we recently celebrated the first female president, has not discouraged male chauvinists in Malawi from undermining women every chance they get.
The woman of Africa must prove beyond human understanding that they are able. Their history is informed by their struggle, which does not place them at an advantage.
Still ravaged by wars on the continent, women in Africa need and deserve support in order for the status quo to be overturned and reversed for the benefit of the whole continent.
Professional African women must know that it is not well until fellow women are liberated. They must know that there are women who still cannot access a classroom, receive an education, sanitation and the right to self-determination.
African leaders must be reminded that as we celebrate these achievements there is a rural woman in Nigeria who is facing death for sleeping with a married man.
Professional women must take to account the fact that their achievements are not complete as long as there are still many exploited female farm workers, peasants and miners who are far from economic liberation.
As we celebrate this day and the month broadly, we have a moral responsibility to remember that women are still being raped, butchered by their husbands and their voice remains gaged.
We must do everything in our power to assist and empower African women. We must do so because her gains are a gain for all of us. It can never be a complete celebration until we “make it happen” for other women and the African girl child.
Rhulani Thembi Siweya is a pan-Africanist and writes for africaunmasked.co.za