Women are Powerful Agents of Change: An African Perspective

‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.’ – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s really hard to be a woman in Africa albeit all over the world. There are multiple challenges to our existence. From tradition, culture, social norms, religion and patriarchy …. society generally connives to keep us quiet,  suppressed and oppressed. However, there has been a renewed awakening for women’s voices to be heard.  In the last decade, women in hitherto developing countries are finding their voices and are drawing attention to themselves, their challenges, successes and their achievements.

After years of subjugation, women now challenge the status quo, they are asking questions and forcing people to listen, to notice and acknowledge their existence. There are multiple reasons for this new awakening but I would like to thank the “Me Too” movement and the “Black Lives Matter” movement for their contributions.  The “Me Too” movement made us, African women know that we are not alone and our voices are equally important and we can also draw attention to years of taboo topics and denials around sexual violence, rape, assault, domestic violence. It also encouraged women from conservative backgrounds to mount advocacy against female genital mutilation, forced and early marriages and all other violence against women. Women’s rights are no longer being fought in isolation, it’s now a global movement!

For years, society told us that women are to be ‘seen’ and not ‘heard.’ Society told us that a woman’s place is confined to the kitchen and the “Oza” room (bedroom) to take care of the house and to produce children. However, thanks to some wonderful women who came before us, on whose glorious shoulders we stand, we now know that we can be more than and should aspire to be more than ‘cooks and baby making machines. We now know that we can take our rightful place at the table and make decisions that will impact our families and the society at large. It’s not been an easy ride and we have not yet reached the promised land. But we are getting there… breaking glass ceilings and shattering them gradually and deliberately in small ways and big ways, individually and collectively.

Women worldwide are changing the narrative that you either have to choose between a career and motherhood. For years, it’s been a delicate balancing act where women have to work extra hard to prove that they can be mothers and still have a career.  Women have had to postpone their careers once they have children with those that balance the two, made to feel guilty or inadequate. But then, boom! 2020 came with coronavirus and lockdown. We thank God for Covid 19 and the opportunities. We have witnessed working moms forced to work from home and balance home schooling their children with working from home and domestic house work. The world has been forced to see what we have been shouting out loud previously – we can do it! We can work from home and still take care of our children! All we need is consideration and flexibility. Now, working from home is gradually becoming the new normal and we love it!

There is a very old saying that I grew up hearing and which I quote often ‘It is said that when you educate a man, you educate an individual but when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.’ – James E. K. Aggrey

I enjoin all women around the world to be better, do better by consciously striving to break down barriers that tend to hold us back. There is a new generation of women looking up to us to guide and lead the way. The recent election of Kamala Harris as the 1st ever female Vice President of the United States as well as being the 1st ever woman of colour (Black and Asian) is a classic example of women being powerful agents of change and helping to change the narrative. In her powerful acceptance speech, she inspired young girls everywhere with a simple statement which we can interpret to be a call to action ‘I may be the first but I won’t be the last!’

In conservative societies, patriarchy is fighting back and naming this new awakening ‘feminism’ and calling it the ‘ills of western education.’ Whatever you want to call it, there’s no stopping us now. “See us, hear us and love us”.

Written by Ramatu Umar Bako.

Ramatu Umar-Bako is an alumnus of the UK Chevening leadership and UK Common Purpose Executive programmes. She has an LLB (Hons) in Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja and an MSc Global Conflict and Peace Processes from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. Ramatu also has numerous qualifications including a PGD Certificate in War, Conflict and Development from the UK Open University, Certificate in Gender Equality from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa among others. She is currently the Head of Influencing, Advocacy and Public Engagement at Oxfam in Nigeria leading on the campaigns, advocacy, strategic partnerships and communications in country.

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