Hello and a warm welcome to an other edition of the Women's Forum, a weekly column publication that creates the platform for women to tell their stories in relation to their daily struggle, achievement and other issues that help to advance their cause.
In this edition we are looking into women's all encompassing responsibility of meeting basic needs of the family and the obstacles they encounter, as highlighted in a recently concluded girls' leadership conference28. So read on to find out more.
Most women have enormous unexploited potential; they bear almost all responsibility for meeting basic needs of the family, yet some are systematically blocked to access relevant information, make informed choices to fulfill this responsibility due to fear of the consequences of empowerment.
Those were the words of Anna Burang John, the director for Region 1, in remark made on behalf of the minister of Basic and Secondary Education Hon. Fatou Lamin Faye during a three-day high-level international Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Leadership Conference for 30 Gambian and 10 African-American teenage leaders at the conference hall of the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO) in Fajara.
Hosted by the United States-based Women Empowering Nations and its Gambian partner, Side By Side Organisation The Gambia, the conference availed these prospective young leaders the opportunity to explore social change, economic justice, women's empowerment, and leadership. The young ladies had the opportunity to hear from a host of inspiring women leaders and build relationships beyond borders.
The Women Empowering Nations (WEN), founded by Carlisha Williams, is dedicated to the advancement of girls and women through self-esteem development, educational, and leadership outreach programmes. WEN's vision is to be a primary resource for inspiring, supporting and connecting female leaders so that they grow in a capacity to lead and serve.
Strengthening communities by educating and empowering women, the organisation firmly believes in the words spoken by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia that "If you educate a man, you educate a family and a village; educate a woman, you empower a nation".
Women Empowering Nations aims to improve self-esteem of young women while aiding them with resources to accomplish their goals and transform their communities.
Thus, its Gambia leadership conference will enable girls to understand the society they live in, identify and analyse solutions for social development, and build life skills for important choices in their daily lives. Anna Burang John spoke on the topic 'the importance of Education for the Empowerment of women and Girls', she welcomed Ms Kalisa Williams and the Women Empowering Nation team to the smiling coast with wishes of happy stay.
She told the gathering that women and girls are victims of a social system that assign them roles and responsibilities that re-enforces exploitation, abuse and marginalization.
In most societies around the world to differing extent, Burang John added, the combined devastating effects of poverty, discrmination and lack of equal opportunity affect women in multiple ways, from economic standing, to social wellbeing to prospects for better living conditions and ability to secure employment or be self- employed.
According to her, the vast majority of the world's poor are women; two thirds of the world's illiterates are female; out of the millions of school age children not in school majority are girls. She added that today, HIV/AIDS is rapidly becoming a woman's disease.
"Let me share some startling statistics with you that I think explain and shed light on why in 2013 we are still talking about educating women and girls and empowerment. Let's look at the African continent-
- Women own less than 1% of the African continent's landmass.
- Women farmers receive only 1% of the total credit to agriculture, and have fewer economic rights and lower access to economic opportunities, including land and credit facilities.
- An African woman's average workday lasts 50% longer than that of a man and she shoulders the burden of unpaid activities, often linked to access to clean water and energy sources.
- Only 51% of females over age 15 in Africa are able to read and write compared to 67% of males.
- Tree-quarters of all Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 who are HIV-positive are women.
- A pregnant woman in Africa is 180 times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than in Europe.
- Limited education and employment opportunities for women in Africa reduce annual per capita growth by 0.8% Had this growth taken place, Africa's economies would have doubled over past 30 years.
The director for Region 1 went on to say that education of women is linked to the following indicators:
-Girls are likely to marry later and to have smaller and healthier families and give more attention to each child's education attainment irrespective of sex.
-More likely to be in the labor force and being financially independent.
- Know their rights and gain confidence to claim them.
The Region 1 director however recognised that in The Gambia, the political will is there for the education and empowerment of women and girls. "A lot of investment has been made to achieve quality and relevant education. New innovations and multifaceted strategies to address emerging issues are used. The leadership at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education is focused and committed to progress and results especially in the area of girl education. New initiatives are introduced to address access, retention, performance and teaching and learning methods and resources," John affirmed.
In the area of leadership in this country, John noted, more and more women are holding very senior positions such as vice president, deputy speakers, cabinet ministers, permanent sectaries, directors etc. "This is empowerment and given these developments I am optimistic that the worse is over and it can only get better," she said. Finally, she said, studies show that when women are educated they become empowered and all of society benefits. "Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and income increases and communities become more resilient," she added.
John indicated that it is evident therefore that education having far reaching effects on women and girls' empowerment cannot be overemphasized.
Education, she went on, is the key pillar and has great potentials to accelerate the realization of the empowerment vision and mission.
"It creates awareness and equips women with knowledge, skills and self-confidence to participate in community, national and international development processes. It provides unlimited opportunities and better understanding and handling of socio cultural inequalities that re-enforces the status quo and are a stumbling block to empowerment and development," Anna Burang John stated.