WHILE many women’s rights advocates do not believe in celebrating Women’s Day or Women’s Month – maintaining that women’s rights should be top of mind 365 days of the year – I appreciate the opportunity the commemoration of these women-focused events give us.
It gives us a time of reflection on how far we as women have come, and how far we still need to go. It is during the month of August when I attended and spoke as guest speaker at more than one event, that I realised we should leverage these women’s events for much more than just a social gathering. And indeed, many of these events are much more than that.
It offers us an opportunity to empower each other. I am a passionate development disruptor and it dawned on me that we as women – even in our most trusted inner-circles – shy away from those ‘difficult conversations’. It may be OK to talk about fashion and children, but what if we started talking about our rights as women – our financial independence and aspirations to become board members. How much more meaning would women’s events have to us?
These real issues – our rights as women and what we teach our daughters and mentees – should be a small irritating thorn in our sides like the Acacia tree, it represents life as we as women experience it. Like the Acacia’s branches, life is not always straightforward. The Acacia’s thorns are daily reminders that we should look to the future but must never forget where we come from, and the lessons learnt.
As a woman who was told to “know my place” on more than one occasion, I used to consider my personal goals as an increase in salary, promotion at work and a decrease in my bond. My viewpoint has changed radically over the years.
Because this can never be enough – not when 61% of Africa’s working women are underpaid and undervalued and are mostly active in only the informal sector. Women have made significant progress in business and as business owners, but there is still a major disparity between men and women in the workplace – particularly when it comes to salaries, education and business barriers.
Social norms are a clear obstacle to African women’s progress, limiting the time women can spend in education and paid work, as well as women’s access to economic and financial assets. UNDP Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye believes closing the gender gap would not only set Africa on a double-digit economic growth track, but would also significantly contribute to meeting its development goals.
But it is not just Africa’s women who are marginalised. While 30% of registered SMEs globally have been created by women, women-owned SMEs are turned down for credit in excess of US$ 260-320 billion per year by financial institutions. Yet, women entrepreneurs continue to change the landscape of the global economy by creating sustainable jobs and growth.
For us to be part of the solution, I believe we need to engage in meaningful conversations and create a dissatisfaction with inequity and the status quo.
Do we care enough for each other to have the difficult conversations?