Tendai Rupapa in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
WOMEN across Africa stand to reap immense benefits from the meeting of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development(OAFLAD) underway here to find ways of improving their health, status and contribution to the economies of their nations.
The 2020 theme for OAFLAD is, “Gender Equality and Women Empowerment: A Pathway to the Africa We Want”, and it speaks to the need to unlock potential for African women.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is the vice president of OAFLAD, a post she got in recognition of her unwavering efforts in improving the health and welfare of women.
The meeting of the First Ladies is taking place on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) summit. An invitation extended by Amai Mnangagwa to other African First Ladies to visit Zimbabwe for a two-day conference on bilharzia has since been accepted.
Yesterday, the OAFLAD members held a closed-door meeting to brainstorm on recommendations presented to them by the technical advisory team.
They are expected to convene again today for their 24th Ordinary General Assembly where they will deliberate on key issues and agree on a roadmap that will guarantee gender equality.
According to experts, an increase in awareness for women’s liberation, changes in practices and media advocacy with respect to their representation, have as yet failed to yield the desired results in Africa mainly because of the resistance to change that is firmly entrenched in patriarchal ideologies.
Feminists argue that oppression of women is rooted in class structure, unpaid labour, sex and reproduction. Women in Africa have always been noted for activities such as procreation, child care and household chores.
The roles of women have been limited to the home while economic and cultural issues are at the mercy of men.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development.
UNDP says girls and women have made major strides, but they have not yet gained gender equity.
The organisation further highlighted that disadvantages facing women and girls were a major source of inequality adding that women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation and labour market with negative consequences.
In a banner on display here, Amai Mnangagwa has captured the imagination of various guests through her message: “We should stand against intimidation of women for their choice to control their health and fertility.”
The statement is loaded and addresses the treatment of women across Africa.
Driven by a passion to economically empower women in Zimbabwe, Amai Mnangagwa has, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, offered educational scholarships to girls so that they can realise their dreams.
She has also helped women across the country to start income-generating projects.
The First Lady has also gone out of her way to involve experts and hold counselling sessions to infertile couples, a challenge which society ascribes to women.
She encourages women to take up leadership positions even at workplaces so that their voices are heard.
Amai Mnangagwa also roped in experts and lawyers to address communities on the issue of inheritance as a way of empowering mostly women.
Most families have been left wallowing in poverty following the death of the breadwinners whereupon relatives grab property from the families.
Widows and orphans have had houses, vehicles and other valuables snatched from them by greedy relatives who also often chase them away from their matrimonial homes.
As a way of empowering women, business-wise, the First Lady has taken women businesspersons to various summits to expose them to various trends like the women in tourism whom she recently took on a trip to Ghana.
She also took women in business to China where they met and shared notes with their counterparts on how best they could contribute meaningfully to the country’s economic development.
OAFLAD plays a critical role in advocating the empowerment of women and fundraising for various causes like health, HIV/Aids and natural disasters.
The organisation also helps in the attainment of Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) and it pledged to redouble its efforts to help ensure a safe and healthy future for women, children and young people.