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Africa: Women key in global growth

18 March 2013,

By Warren Nyamugasira


The day of reckoning has come round yet again. On behalf of the world, the United Nations has set up a process for thinking about the next big thing to succeed the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) due to end two years.

When at the turn of the new Millennium, MDGs were adopted by over 189 countries. They were a powerful statement of a world leadership intent on banishing poverty and hunger, putting every child through school, giving women parity with their male counterparts, and stopping unnecessary deaths of our infants and children.

It was a leadership determined to improve the health of mothers so that when giving birth to the next generation they do not have to die in the process.

HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other killer diseases, which were on rampage, were to be stopped in their tracks while the sustainability of our environment was to be assured.

Indeed progress has been made in some of these goals. For example, results in poverty reduction have accelerated over the past decade. Fewer children are dying than was the case at the turn of the Millennium.

However, little change has been registered in many of the other goals, especially those to do with the preventable death of child-bearing women.

My wife, a communications practitioner and a fellow development activist, is convinced that, until women take charge of developing and implementing such goals and make them effective and relevant to the problems that afflict them and the families they take care of, full success will continue to elude us.

I agree with her completely (which by the way is the safest way to keep peace in the home). Women do the heaviest lifting in sustaining humanity, especially in our African societies. They are the mothers, farmers, producers and reproducers. They are at the heart of keeping us well-fed and well-nurtured. In Sub-Saharan Africa, they account for the production of 90% of staple food and contribute 20-30% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So how on earth did anyone expect to meet all those MDGs to do with eliminating poverty, hunger and malnutrition when the very women farmers are restricted to only 8% of land ownership and access to only 10% of available credit?

Now that another opportunity to rectify the mistake is here, our male leaders must not repeat the same mistake of trying to think for the women.

To reflect Africa's priorities and concerns, we must put our best foot forward first by giving full respect to our women and letting them have their say first. I have a feeling that, if in a safe space women were to draw what they think of men, they would most likely draw men with no ears, small eyes, small heart, even smaller brains but big mouths.

Men accuse women of talking a lot. But actually it is men who like to talk and do so expensively. When they draw budgets, they prioritise seminars, workshops and conferences. If need be, men will even talk to themselves. They seem to think that to feed the people all they need to do is talk, make resolutions and return to their offices and homes exactly to do nothing.

The fact is, to feed our people, what needs to be done, first and foremost, is to give women land rights and allocate requisite resources to them to get the job done. But can you find a country in Africa that has addressed this issue head on? No. Can't men see that continuing to ignore land rights for women is an expensive mistake?

By the way, 2010-2020 is the African Women's decade while 2014 has been designated the Year of Agriculture. If anything concrete is to happen, this is the time for women to swing into action so as to set the agenda.

Fortunately, the UN High Panel on the next MDGs is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of the Republic of Liberia. Women must work through her to ensure that the next global development agenda is one that goes to the heart of the world's malaise as understood and experienced by the heavy-lifting women in their lived realities.

Already, women know what did not work because the design of the current MDGs was defective and the implementation incompetent. They see how men under-fund vital sectors such as agriculture, health and education and then in broad day-light, steal the little money meant to feed and educate the children and attend to the sick and dying.

They see how men pledged to allocate 10% of the national budget to agriculture and 15% to health and ended up allocating less than half the amount.

Time for positive energy and corrective action is now. Let women guide us to determine the future direction of our world's development.

The writer is an economist and development activist

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