Women make up the backbone of society. Nowhere is this more true than in rural Africa, where the so-called “lesser sex” takes on the bulk of the childrearing, housekeeping and income earning. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women make up 70 percent of Africa’s agricultural workforce and grow 90 percent of the food.
Yet despite their significant contributions to their households, their communities and the economy, women’s voices are noticeably absent from discussions on Africa’s development. It is time for us to step up and make our voices heard.
Women need to be active in guiding the continent’s development, because we stand to gain—or lose—the most from it. As the UN’s “The World’s Women 2010” report points out: “Poor infrastructure and housing conditions … disproportionately affect women from the less developed regions in terms of unpaid work, health and survival.” Where communities lack infrastructure, women and girls are relegated to fetching water rather than going to school. They end up inhaling harmful smoke from cooking over fuelwood rather than clean energy sources. And they must travel long distances to get their wares to market—time that could be spent on other endeavors.
At the same time, unplanned development in areas rich in natural resources will harm Africa’s rural women first, for they are the ones who rely most on these resources in their daily lives. But they are also the ones best positioned to contribute valuable insight on the urbanization transforming the continent.
This is why AWF has made a point of incorporating women into our conservation projects and training efforts. In places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, AWF has trained several hundred women in community-based natural resources management over the past few years. In Tanzania, we have taught sustainable agricultural techniques to female farmers like Hawa Ibrahim Chora—who have subsequently shown their neighbors the successes that can arise from conservation. And in Kenya, AWF has introduced women to eco-friendly cookstoves that use less wood in the cooking process.
Our continent will be left behind if half of our population is not given equal opportunities to further their education, earn an income in the formal sector and participate fully in society. Let us all urge Africa’s wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to raise their voices—not only for themselves but for the sake of Africa’s future.
In honor of International Women’s Day 2017, AWF is running a blog series on the leadership roles that women should—and do—take in conservation matters across Africa. The above post is the first of the series.