The female warriors of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje in Marvel’s 2018 film, “Black Panther,” are revered for their strength and beauty. This portrayal of these women has been heralded for its empowering message to little girls, particularly little Black girls.
Based on the recounts of many online, viewers have been emotionally swept by the images of bold, brave, kick-ass women, leaders in their own right. And although this is a powerful experience to have, we mustn’t forget that it isn’t real. Wakanda is a vision of an African nation we want to birth, not an African nation that currently exists.
“The harvest is now. We lack nothing. We are here and we are ready to determine our OWN destiny.”
— Sylvia Obell (@SylviaObell) March 1, 2018
It’s true that many African cultures are perceived to be matriarchal, and certainly many follow a matriarchal lineage when it comes to status and ethnic identity. However, the status of women all over the continent is a far cry from those of the fabled Dora Milaje.
In 2018, women in Africa suffer higher rates of poverty, are significantly less educated than their male peers, hold far less political positions than men, and lack access to capital, a vital component for economic empowerment. Violence against women is rampant, including female genital mutilation, and little girls are still married off as child brides in alarming numbers.
Here are some facts, according to the United Nation’s Development Program (UNDP)’s Africa Human Development Report 2016.
Women and girls in Africa are at risk from premature deaths. Between 1990 and 2008, there were an additional 540 million premature deaths for girls and women under 60 – most occurring for women aged between 15 and 49. (The most at-risk women are those of childbearing age.)
In sub-Saharan Africa, the average unadjusted gender pay gap is estimated at 30 percent. Thus, for every $1 earned by men in manufacturing, services, and trade, women earn 70 cents.
Results confirm that Africa is missing its full growth potential because a sizeable portion of its growth reserve – women – is not fully utilized. The estimated total annual economic losses due to gender gaps in labor market average $ 95 billion per year since 2010 in Sub-Saharan Africa and could be as high as US$105 billion (2014), i.e. 6% of GDP
Women leaders are more visible in parliament yet political structures still prescribe their full potential to shape the national and local political and policy agenda as there is only between 5 and 25% representation in senior positions in political parties in 12 countries.
Female and male-led enterprises are equally productive yet the female-led enterprises are still in the minority with only 7-30% African firms led by a woman.
As laid out by the “Changing with the World: UNDP Strategic Plan 2014-2017,” here are the strategic pathways for addressing gender inequality.
- Supporting the adoption of legal reforms, policies, and programs to advance women’s economic empowerment.
- Supporting national capacities to promote and increase the participation and leadership of women in decision-making in the home, the economy, and society.
- Supporting capacity to implement multi-sectoral approaches to mitigate the impacts of discriminatory health and education practice.
- Supporting women to gain access to ownership and management of environmental resources.
The theme for 2018’s International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress.” Those of us who work for women’s empowerment in Africa, regardless of which country we focus on, need to be diligent in making sure we continue to push for the human rights of women to be respected, for their access to education, for them to control their reproductive health, for their economic empowerment, and for their voices to be amplified in government and other areas of leadership. Although women are making great strides across the world, it is vital that we look at the status of women at national and local levels if we are to ensure that none are left behind.