As part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set to be achieved by 2030, the nonchalant approach by some African governments in dealing with gender equality is a major stumbling block in achieving this target. However, educating girls and involving women in politics are two key issues that can help Africa achieve gender parity.
With regard to educating girls, African governments need to increase educational opportunities for girls to attain a minimum level of at least Senior High School (SHS) education.
This initiative can unlock a world of opportunities for girls, which will have a positive effect on African economies in the long term. Educating girls can help their families escape inter-generational cycles of poverty, where there is no chance to break the chain of poverty without external intervention.
An example of such a poverty cycle is when a girl is unable to get a well-paying job; when she lacks the wherewithal to understand the essence of family planning; and eventually gives birth to more children than she can cater for. In such a circumstance, she creates a poor and overburdened family which relies on extremely low income, where she cannot provide her children with proper food, shelter, and education.
Consequently, her children are not able to make enough money due to the little or no education they had under her care. These children grow up and start poor households, emulating similar traits of the families they once lived in. This cycle of poverty continues within the family until there is an external intervention.
This is where African governments need to intervene with various policy initiatives to make female education a priority. Since girls have a higher chance of raising their children single-handedly, they need to have the required skills to fend for themselves when jilted by their husbands.
Furthermore, educating girls will help them understand the nuances of population-reduction strategies encouraged by governments, mostly in the form of encouraging birth control methods. This will help them understand the adverse effects of overpopulation. Additionally, educating African girls will help them break away from unprogressive age-old practices such as child marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
To a considerable extent, many African governments have failed to address these gender issues because of the lack of political will. Some of these government even capitalise on the naivety of their citizens for their own personal gains.
In 2018 for example, a news article indicated that while some civil societies and NGO’s in Sierra Leone were making all necessary attempt to ban FGM, some politicians were in support of this outmoded cultural practice because they used it to woo many voters during elections. In their quest for political power, these politicians in Sierra Leone contributed to FGM ceremonies to cater for music, food, and the cutter’s fee; which usually costs about $200.
Unfortunately, while NGO’s were looking for a permanent ban on this practice, the government decided to temporarily ban the practice for the first time from 1st February to 31st March 2018, to stop political candidates from using FGM to sway voters; only to lift the ban the following month.
In such a circumstance, only an educated girl holds the key to her fate. Knowing the harmful effects of this abhorrent practice will dissuade her from consenting just to fulfil a cultural or family tradition. Over time, a bevy of educated African girls can have a single voice to vehemently speak against such practices.
Furthermore, given the appalling male to female ratio at the local, regional and national levels of political leadership in Africa, increasing opportunities for female participation in politics can be the linchpin for gender parity on the continent.
Since most political parties in Africa were founded by males and have been called 'founding fathers' of the party, men usually are at the forefront in the quest to continue the legacy left behind by their male founders. Women are usually given positions such as the Women’s Organiser just to woo female voters, or other less important positions within the party to create an aura of diversity to undecided voters.
Political parties must make amendments to their internal regulations to reserve a substantial number of positions to women, and even encourage women to take up the ultimate position of the presidential candidate of the party. At least they will be able to follow in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's footsteps.
At the national level, in the same way most African governments have constitutional provisions that require heads of state to appoint the majority of government ministers from among the legislative representatives, they should have that same zeal to implement constitutional quotas to reserve a sizeable number of parliamentary seats for women.
When majority of women are involved in the decision-making process, they are more likely to be empathetic towards women’s rights issues such as equal pay, forced marriages, FGM, maternal health, and access to education; and are more likely to prioritise them over their male counterparts.
More educational opportunities for girls, as well as increasing female participation in politics will help Africa achieve gender parity by the year 2030.