Women are the Future of Africa!

March 7, 2011

Queen, a beneficiary of Africare-Nigeria's Women’s Initiative for Sex Education and Economic Empowerment (WISE) project

Today Africare celebrates the anniversary of International Women’s Day, and rightly so, because in Africa it is women who are the backbone of food production and who provide the basic necessities for families and social capital of communities.

But the harsh reality is that women bear a disproportionate burden of Africa’s poverty -- a staggering 70 percent! They produce roughly 80% of Africa's agricultural output, but earn only 10 percent of income and own only one percent of property. More than two-thirds of Africa’s illiterate are women and the chance of an African woman dying because of pregnancy and childbirth is more than 20 times greater than in the United States. Furthermore, 75% of all HIV-positive women in the world are African.

Despite these grim statistics, African women and girls represent a tremendous opportunity for breaking the cycle of poverty in Africa. Africare’s experience shows that there are successful strategies that can move African women--and through them, entire families--out of absolute poverty and even enable them to participate in the global marketplace.

Successful strategies reduce women’s invisibility and isolation by mobilizing them into community-based organizations that provide women-centered skills development, give them access to inputs and markets and provide women leadership opportunities.

They also include financial services, ranging from village savings and loans to micro insurance programs that are designed for women. Furthermore, these strategies improve their access to information and community-managed storage facilities so they can sell at the best possible price and appropriate technology and processing facilities so they can add value to what they grow and get higher incomes.

Successful strategies for women focus not only on the current generation of women but also on the next. Therefore, they include approaches that: (a) promote girls’ access to all levels of education including for tertiary education to increase the numbers of female extension workers; (b) reduce the opportunity cost of sending young girls to school--for example, by providing clean water in communities so that young girls don’t have to spend time fetching water from distant sources or by promoting community gardens in schools that teach agricultural skills while generating income that can off-set the income loss associated with the girl being in school; and (c) eliminate other barriers to young girls attending school, such as providing access to girl-friendly toilet facilities.

Africare has developed innovative, integrative programs that prioritize the needs, interests and leadership of women farmers and include all of the above elements.

Farmer beneficiaries of Africare-Zimbabwe's Soybean Market Linkages Project (SMLP)

In Zimbabwe we recently helped farmers implement a soybean project that substantially increased food and income security for thousands of smallholders, predominantly women, resulting in better nutrition for the whole family and cash for education and health of children. The project has now been scaled up to four other districts, improving the lives of thousands more women and their families. (Learn More)

In Chad we have improved women farmers’ incomes through higher production and processing of honey, beeswax and shea butter. This project has great potential for exports to international fair trade markets. (Learn More)

In Nigeria we helped a former commercial sex worker, Queen, and thousands of women like her to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, get off the streets and go into business for themselves. It’s an incredibly successful community-based and female-driven program that has enabled women to leave the sex trade. It’s yet another program, with proven results and a practical, operational model that is ready to be taken to scale. (Learn More)

Africare sees investing in women and girls as the key to economic and social development of the continent. As President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says, “Women are the future of Africa”. (View Video)

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