Women the rock of Africa

(pic courtesy Sowetan)

On International Women's Day many events are held in centres across the world to celebrate the achievements of women through the ages.

This is a day to inspire women, especially those who are still advocating for development, equality and justice for women and girls, particularly here on our beloved African continent.

In the early 1900s, a time when great expansion and industrialisation took place in the Western world, there was increased debate among women that critiqued issues of oppression and inequality which women were experiencing - especially in the workplace.

Today we celebrate the progress and strides in the economic, social and political development that women themselves have advocated and struggled for.

But we are also aware that while the lives of many women, including those in developing countries, have improved, especially towards the year 2000, poverty in Africa increased by 82million people during this very same period. 70percent would have been women and young people.

We are pleased that in 2010 the African Union launched the decade for African women.

This is a period for women in Africa to celebrate achievement and mobilise for the future.

This decade, however, will mean little if governments fail to ratify and implement the protocol to the African charter on human and people's rights on the rights of women.

In my capacity as president of the African Monitor, which is a continent-wide body primarily focused on enhancing social and economic development in Africa through advocacy and promoting the voice of Africans at decision-making platforms, I am very grateful to be able to respond to what International Women's Day means for the African continent.

African Monitor welcomes the opportunity to once again cast the spotlight on the fate of the women of Africa; to make sure that their developmental issues become a priority within their respective governments, and that the quality of life of the African girl child continues to improve.

Every year, more than half a million women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

Almost all of them would still be alive if they had access to a skilled midwife or doctor in childbirth and effective emergency care for women who have complications.

This is a reality for African women, which is unacceptable in a world where medical technology is so advanced that doctors can perform operations without actually being in the operating room.

We live in a world where women have become astronauts, business giants, presidents of countries and saints. We cannot accept that the same world can allow such struggle for women in Africa, who should instead be enjoying the miracle of life.

African women are guardians of their children's welfare and have explicit responsibility to provide for them materially.

They are the household managers, providing food, nutrition, water, health, education, and family planning to an extent greater than elsewhere in the developing world.

This places heavy burdens on them, despite developments such as improved agricultural technology, availability of contraception, and changes in women's socioeconomic status, which one might think would have made their lives easier. In fact, it would be fair to say that their workload has increased with the changing economic and social situation in Africa.

Women's economic capabilities, and in particular their ability to manage family welfare, are being threatened.

"Modernisation" has shifted the balance of advantage against women. The legal framework and the modern social sector and producer services developed by the independent African countries have not served women well.

Most African women, in common with women all over the world, face a variety of legal, economic and social constraints. Indeed some laws still treat them as minors.

Women are known to grow over 80percent of food produced in Africa and yet few are allowed to own the land they work.

Today, and for many generations, negative images of Africa have dominated the news. The Africa of HIV-Aids. The Africa of malaria. The Africa of poverty. The Africa of hunger and the Africa of disaster.

This is the Africa we hear all the time in the news but there is one Africa people do not hear too often. This is the Africa of opportunities.

This is the changing Africa where people want to take their destinies in their own hands. This is the Africa where people want to take care of their own future.

Earth-shattering movements for change are taking root across Africa, and women are at the forefront.

*This is an edited version of Archbishop Ndungane's International Women's Day speech yesterday

(This story is courtesy of the Sowetan. Used with permission.)