UNESCO's International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa last week organized a week long sensitization programme for African women in the areas of leadership, gender mainstreaming, tackling HIV/AIDS, and poverty.
The workshop, the first to be held in Ghana after Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia, was aimed at providing women in leadership positions with an opportunity to examine their leadership skills and experiences, enable the women to relate leadership to gender, HIV/AIDS, poverty and also peace and conflict resolution.
Despite their continues effort for recognition, majority of African women continue to live in situations interlocked with illiteracy, poverty, high rate of HIV/AIDS infection and spousal abuse.
According to available statistics, of the 35 million people infected with the AIDS virus worldwide, two-thirds are found in Africa. Almost half of them are women.
Again, the prevalent rate among teenage girls is equally higher than boys. For example statistics indicate that teenage girls on the continent are likely to be infected with the aids virus five to six times more than their male counterparts.
It is this situation that compelled the UN Commission on the Status of Women to call on African governments to take measures to empower women, including economically, to better protect themselves.
Women are, for biological reasons, more vulnerable than men to sexually transmitted diseases and other opportunistic infections like HIV. This is especially marked in girls whose genital tracts are still not fully mature, according to medical reports.
Again, the issue of poverty continues to contribute to the spate of the infection among women. Studies in rural African communities indicate that majority of young women cannot protect themselves against AIDS due to their reliance on their male partners who normally may decide whether or not to use condom or not during sexual intercourse.
The issue of poverty has compelled most women and teenage girls to solicit for gifts and other material benefits from men in exchange for sex. Coupled with that is also the issue of early marriage among young girls.
These girls unfortunately fall into the hands of elderly and unfaithful husbands with multiple girlfriends therefore exposing them to the risk of AIDS infection.
Underpinned to this very situation is also the fact that the number of women in leadership positions on the continent is very small. And the women groups are not happy about that. In Ghana for example, out of the two hundred and thirty (230) seats in parliament, a paltry 10%+ are occupied by women.
Speaking to the dailyEXPRESS at the Accra meeting, Programme Coordinator Rita Onwu said women have not been given the needed recognition when it comes to decision making within society, noting that there is a need for them to come together and turn around things in their favour.
She said women have been marginalized in every sector of their lives and the time for them to take action is now.
“We need to be in strategic positions in order to make sure that the needed change happens and does so quickly,” she added.
According to Madam Onwu, women are not necessarily talking about power but the need to be in key sectors of society to bring the needed influence that could impact positively on both sexes. She stressed that their quest for leadership position is not inherent in the idea of just making up the numbers, but bringing leadership skills and quality to bear on the entire society.
Rita Onwu also denied the accusation normally leveled against some women groups that they seek only the interest of the educated few at the expense of the majority who are normally uneducated, and leave in rural communities with low supporting income. She said the educated ones go to the rural areas where they run sensitization programmes for their rural folks about their rights and responsibilities.
“You need education in order to prevent the abuse of your rights. Without education you'll not be able to defend your own rights,” the ever polite and smiling Rita told the paper.
Rita Onwu believes that the participants have been equipped enough to carry the message to their respective constituencies in order to effect the needed change.
The workshop also addressed the issue of gender violence mostly perpetuated against women both domestically as well as in conflict areas.
A gender activist from Ethiopia, Emebert Mulugeta said gender disparity in the society calls for a much more proactive force from government in order to address it.
Participants at the workshop were drawn from both the northern and southern sectors of the country. UNESCO-IICBA hopes to continue the campaign for greater affirmative action in countries like Angola, Madagascar and Malawi for this particular.
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