Africa is one of the continents with the youngest population in the world majority of whom are young women and girls. For a continent with a large youth population such as this and lots of natural resources, our future should with no trace of doubt go beyond the “Africa Rising” Phenomenon to “Africa Shining”.
If anything investment in the young women of this continent will be one of the key drivers for the accelerated realization of the demographic dividend and the ambitious aspirations set out the in Agenda 2063 including national and international development frameworks. Young women have a critical role to play in the development of this continent and as such investing in young women and girls is not optional.
Even with the little resources available to young women have gone out of their way to transform lives. Many are supporting their families, engaging in social enterprises, informal businesses, creatives and art, risking their lives to cross boarders in search for employment while others are busy working as social agents of change online and offline, pressuring leaders to keep their promises.
Unfortunately the context with in which many young women operate today remains harsh. This was re-affirmed by reports from young women during an interactive session with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the recently concluded 29th GIMAC (Gender is My Agenda Campaign) themed “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in Youth” held in Addis Ababa 22nd to 23rdJanuary 2017. From the different corners of the continent, young women expressed their major challenges citing the lack of and or limited quality education, discrimination in access and use of sexual and reproductive health services, trafficking, sexual gender based violence, cyber bullying, social cultural norms and practices such as FGM and early marriages and raising insecurities born out of failed states, where among the list of issues presented to Mama Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Like any mother would do, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma listened attentively and responded to each question, demonstrating her relentless commitment to support young women and girls. Presiding over her last AU Pre- Gender Summit (24th -25th January 2017) as Chair of the African Union, she urged governments to invest in the youth more so the young women and girls calling for establishment of the youth fund and special envoy for the youth to specially address youth concerns.
Reflecting on the deliberations and theme of the AU Gender Summit on "Gender Inclusive Youth Empowerment and Development for a Peaceful and Prosperous Africa", I am more than convinced that we have to invest in young women to harvest the Africa we want. Unless we commit to invest in the young women then realizing the demographic dividend will remain another theory for continued exploration. At worst we shall only reinforce the same historical gender imbalances and inequalities that we are fighting today.
Harnessing the demographic dividend calls for deliberate actions from each and every one of us that address the unique needs of young women.
“Young people engage the government, build the bridges with those disconnected youth, we need the community to know their rights, and do the right things…This is about individual responsibilities, let us implement the policies in our own little ways. #start something.” Fatima Askira, Executive Director Borno Women Development Initiative at the AU Gender Pre-Summit.
We have to invest in quality and relevant education, create employment opportunities and policy frameworks that protect young women in the labor market. In addition we ought to provide young women access to information on sexual and reproductive health; prohibit all forms of harmful practices including child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and support young women’s organizing for a truly transformative demographic dividend.
I am optimistic that if we invest in young women then we can begin to shift from an “Africa Rising” to “Africa Shining”.
Communications & Advoacy Officer Akina Mama wa Afrika