African women have been in the news a lot lately, whether it be women succeeding in various fields or a call for better education and protections for women. It seems only fitting to focus on these various stories for this week’s article. More details after the jump.
If you’ve been following these news updates from Africa, you may have noticed a trend in that 2012 was a major year for African women. Highlights for the year include: Africa’s second female Nobel Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee (Liberia), a record number of Ghanaian women in legislature, Ghana’s former first lady Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings ran for president, and Alice Nkom (Cameroon’s first female lawyer in 1969) risked imprisonment for defense of jailed LGBTQ clients. Women across Africa were recognized for their clout in the economy as well as their humanitarian efforts in the face of natural disaster. And in Mali, women argued that since they have been the most victimized by the current conflict, they ought to have a place at the negotiations table along with the government and rebels.
Notable African women from 2012 (mentioned in the article above):
- President Joyce Banda (of Malawi) has made sweeping reforms in the country since ascending to the presidency. She has been vocal for the need for women’s and homosexual rights, and she even threatened to arrest President Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) for war crimes if he were to attend a meeting of the African Union that was to be held in Lilongwe, Malawi. The meeting was relocated.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister and former Secretary of State, made a bid for presidency of the World Bank, having been a Managing Director from 2007 to 2011. Harvard-educated, everyone thought she would be chosen, but she lost out and returned to Nigeria where she has been outspoken about Nigeria’s counterterrorist efforts against the Boko Haram.
- Fatou Bensouda (Gambia) became a top leader in the International Criminal Court. Bensouda has been determinedly pursuing Africa’s worst offenders, promsing that President al-Bashir will be arrested. (That makes two powerful African woman who want him removed from power.) She seeks to expand investigative power within the ICC, has improved relations between the ICC and the African Union, and has increased the focus on gender crimes.
- Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became the first woman to chair the African Union in July 2012. In it’s nearly 50 years of existence, she is the first woman to hold the top position in the AU, and she is doing a phenomenal job. Dlamini-Zuma has held multiple high-level positions within the South African government. And when she walked into the 21st bi-annual Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) last Tuesday, the women present welcomed her with song.
Unfortunately, not everything has been bright for African women. Recently, it came to light that Israeli health organizations “coaxed” Ethiopian immigrant women into receiving contraceptive shots. I say “coaxed” because other sources have stated that these women were intimidated and even threatened into receiving Depo-Provera shots. Appalling if they were.
Related: the Gates Foundation is widely pushing the Depo-Provera shot throughout Africa as a solution to unplanned pregnancies. Also related, the African Union states that family planning is central to African women’s well-being. (Well duh.) On the one hand, there is speculation about the safety of Depo-Provera (see first article link in this paragraph), but on the other hand, 452 women in sub-Saharan Africa die every day from complications from childbirth. That’s 18 an hour. If Africans can work towards lowering those numbers — and they are! — then there is hope for a better future.
This story has been a long time coming, but Somali women are returning to Mogadishu in search of a brighter future. Somalia has been a country in conflict for as long as I can remember, and even though we can cheer for Somali women like Dr. Hawa Abdi, it hasn’t changed the fact that Somalia is a dangerous place. However, with Somalia’s UN-backed government slowly regaining control of the country, the possibility of making a new life in this country is alluring.
I’ll end this post with a brief profile of Grace Amey-Obeng, the Ghanaian businesswoman who is also one of the most successful businesswoman in West Africa. Twenty-five years ago, Amey-Obeng started her business with $100 and sold beauty products out of a bag, going door to door. Today, her annual turnover is between $8 and $10 million. She still sells beauty products, and they are meant to celebrate and emphasize the beauty of black skin in a marketplace flood with skin-bleaching products. Amey-Obeng saw the destructive nature of skin-bleaching products, which can leave irreparable damage, and knew there needed to be an alternative. I think her decision has paid off!