Author Archives: Nadia

It Begins at Home- Empowering Women in Africa

So it looks like the African Union has declared 2015 as the year of women’s empowerment for, as we celebrate the Beijing Platform’s 20 year anniversary as well. Overall, I assume that we will be expected to assess progress, and chart a vision towards achieving gender equality in employment, access to resources, education and all those other nice things that we think about when we think development. Let’s take this down to the micro-level for a second, for the ordinary woman* – what does empowerment really mean? And is this empowerment associated to gender equality or to making the target “numbers”?

I’ve written before about unpacking gender equality and what it means concretely in terms of one’s role as a woman in the society and the access to opportunities one may have, or not depending on a myriad of factors. As stated in that article, I’m sure while many might attest; most women have to work doubly hard to prove themselves. There is always pressure to succeed not only within the sphere of one’s immediate career but also at home, as a parent and/or wife. Professional women find themselves between a rock and a hard place in having to constantly justify choices, weigh options, and attempt to find balance in a manner that does not hamper their professional or personal lives. Often that means making choices to sacrifice elements of one over the other.

I have been avidly watching the new series Madam Secretary, an American TV Series about a female Secretary of State. Granted this is fictional, but it can definitely happen with all the progress we’ve made in gender equality. Interestingly, in the series, the heroine’s life is expressed as a dichotomy: a strong presence in her role as secretary of state, which comes at the sacrifice of her traditional family role which is taken over by her husband. This says a lot about gender stereotypes and the extent to which male figures can indeed step in to the family sphere when needed. It got me wondering about traditional gender roles in Africa, and how these fit into our vision for women’s empowerment.

I feel that in Africa, gender stereotypes provide an extra layer of challenge to all the women fighting these work vs. family vs. me battles daily. We are all conscious of this; we all see our mothers, aunties, sisters and friends engaged in this way. As much as we may shy away from this and like to pretend that we live in evolved societies where women can go where they want and do as they please, we must force ourselves to accept that this is not generally the case. It may be so in theory, or in our thought processes, but everyone has come across those situations which are an eternal balancing of time and priorities that cut across work, studying further, family and so on. Some take the challenge head on, while others simply choose to sacrifice some elements over others.

As a woman, are you too lazy when you can’t juggle all? Some do it so well. Or do you not have the opportunities to be able to juggle all because you’re constantly expected to fit into this role of “the power female”? What then would empowerment mean in this instance? In Africa in particular, will it be enough to make the numbers in education, in employment, in access to finances and so on? It is all well and good to be able to go to school, have a career, and a family, but when having to juggle all these facets of life will the stereotypes vanish in the name of women’s empowerment and gender equality? I am not so sure
For this decreed year of women’s empowerment, the numbers are good yes, but we should also be targeting the deeper cultural constraints that engrain gender stereotypes. Numbers mean nothing without freedom to act after all.

*No condescension implied in the use of the word ordinary

The Binary Monday April 25th: What school taught me.

The Binary Monday April 25th: What school taught me.

Tweet Monday, April 25th 2000 6am – Clang, Clang, Clang. Darn it, there goes the morning bell. Time to jump out of bed, hurriedly make it up, run outside grab a bucket full of water, hurry to the shower stalls, quickly rush back to get ready and do morning chores. 7am – Clang, Clang, Clang.Continue Reading

Teaching Peace in Schools

Teaching Peace in Schools

Tweet As highlighted by our introductory article on the state of education in Africa, the continent continues to suffer from immense challenges in education. Though literacy is increasing, there are huge gaps in terms of the quality of education received, between primary, secondary and tertiary education. These gaps are further disturbing when looking also atContinue Reading

The Personal is indeed, the political

The Personal is indeed, the political

Tweet I always welcome BLF end of year reflections; they provide an opportunity for me to take stock of my year and seriously ponder about what I have learned or contributed either in BLF conversations or in other spaces I occupy. This, my first year off the BLF editorial team, I have surprisingly realised thatContinue Reading

My Mother and conversations about education

My Mother and conversations about education

Tweet I remember my mother being on the cover of a USAID calendar used for an education for girls awareness campaign. It hangs somewhere in our house and is a constant reminder to follow in her footsteps and her example to us and the community we come from, which has some of the lowest ratesContinue Reading

On the silence of our heroes about women – a complex relationship

On the silence of our heroes about women – a complex relationship

Tweet By: Nadia Ahmadou* The state of the post-colony continues to be the subject of many debates in contemporary African politics and philosophy. We talk incessantly – almost in circles, really – about the negative impact of colonisation and about how the essence of all things African was shaken, interrupted, ruptured and often completely erasedContinue Reading

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele: Fit for a politician’s hat?

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele: Fit for a politician’s hat?

Tweet By: Nadia Ahmadou* Everyone who knows anything about political movements in Africa has, at some point or the other, come across this name: Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She has been involved in South African politics from the early 1970s through the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Dr. Ramphele was part of an instrumental campaign by BCM thatContinue Reading

Growing Seeds

Growing Seeds

Tweet By Nadia Ahmadou* It’s hard to believe it’s been already a year since my last BLF reflection on the passion  required to make it through the final stretch of an MA. The last year has gone by rather quickly, and I find myself transitioning once again. The difference this time, is that I’m transitioningContinue Reading

Innocence of Muslims, Protests and All things anti-Islam

Innocence of Muslims, Protests and All things anti-Islam

Tweet Anyone not living under a rock must have come across news reports, articles and videos about the 14 minute trailer to the film: Innocence of Muslims[1]. News headlines and reports have not only covered the controversy around the film and its release, but have debated on the link between this movie and the sparkContinue Reading

Driving licenses as a case study of African Corruption and opportunity for leadership

Driving licenses as a case study of African Corruption and opportunity for leadership

Tweet Every year in any given bustling city on the African continent, a myriad people stand in endless queues in several ministries, city councils and other government offices to obtain driving licenses, permits of all sorts, certification of documents and so on and so forth. Should one be unable to adequately pass the required testsContinue Reading