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Empowering African Women: Striving for Equality and Economic Advancement

As long as women achievements are concerned within the African continent, this year’s Women History Month was a humbling year.

The reality remains most African women still lag behind in all sector of society, especially in areas of economic advancement where the World Bank estimates, a majority of African women, to the tune of more than 70 Pct remain excluded by financial institutions. This is something African nations are trying to address but the status quo remains.

With that in mind, Akina Mama waAfrika (AMwA), a pan-African movement organization based in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, hosted a timely discussion in Addis Ababa recently with the intent of bringing the issues of women issues to the mainstream.

The gathering heard from a number of delegates how a number of African leaders are embracing a feminist leadership agenda that is having a ripple effect on the ground. The venue was filled with young and veteran activists, students and elected officials echoing each other’s sentiment on how to empower each other’s journey.

Rwanda was hailed for having most women parliamentarians, pegged at 61 Pct. Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed was also noted for promoting women on top of government institutions, including as the head of the Supreme Court, the presidency and on top of one of the most important ministries, including as the nation’s defense minister that was started at the start of his premiership as well as Tanzania, that has a woman head of state in Samia Suluhu Hassan.

However, in areas of economic empowerment, the average African woman is struggling.

22-year-old Marta Gebreselassie started selling onion in a makeshift store on the side of a road in the capital. She struggled until she was offered a small loan from a local bank, taking advantage of a women entrepreneurship program to help disadvantaged women that is supported by the local Swedish embassy. With the loan, she grew into a small store inside a partially finished building.

She was beginning to reap success. Sadly, earlier this year, her store was suddenly gutted. She was given a week’s notice.

“My store was gone and I suddenly had no financial income. As a result, I have not been able to pay my loan and I am in default. I am eating all my savings and I see little future for me around”, she told EBR as she contemplates a future in Saudi Arabia under a government program to work as a maid, or as a “modern day slave”, as activists usually calls them.

Not far from Radisson Blu, in front of the five star hotel frequented by UN officials and other diplomats facing growing skyscrapers of the city that is hiding the struggle of many is where Senait Tewelde stood looking confused and saddened by what has become of her life.

The busy pub where she worked in for the last two years has just been demolished to make way for a mega government project that is focused on the beautification of Addis Ababa, with little regards to such citizens.

“We were given a weeks’ notice to evict and remove our belongings. I have been searching for other employment that can help me pay my rent and support my child but I have not been able to find anything”, she told EBR.

“I have nowhere to go for support, I have little saved in my bank account and it seems everyone is hiring for little pay knowing there are many unemployed women like me in a desperate situation”, she added.

Back at Radisson Blu, where the gathering has the blessing of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Laureate, World Bank executive who was once the president of Liberia, such reality is well known by most of the delegates. Part of the solution to most seems to be to enforce women leadership that needs to be nurtured so that opportunities can be created and such issues addressed by those that understand the issue first hand.

It was some 25 years ago when the then First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton uttered some of the most memorable feminist lines in Beijing on how “Women rights are human rights”. To a vast majority of African women, including Marta and Senait, that remains a lofty dream, th

an reality.

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