International African Women's Day
The first International African Women's Day was held in 1964, on the initiative of Aoua Keïta, a Malian politician and activist. Two years earlier, on 31 July 1962, women from across the African continent had met in Dar Es Salaam to create the Pan-African Women's Organisation.
Despite cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences, the aim was to join forces, to promote the full integration of women into the continent's economic, social and political development, and thus to help improve the living conditions and emancipation of African women.
To mark the International African Women's Day, our seven African colleagues from the LuxDev offices in Cabo Verde, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Rwanda share their thoughts on their role and status in their respective African societies.
Nathaly SANTOS from the Cabo Verde office
We have had a lot of changes through the last years in Cabo Verde, including changes in mindset, laws and conditions for women to actually have access to equal opportunities. Major changes were made regarding access to education. For instance, my grandmother was only able to study until her 4th grade, whereas my mother, as a teenager, already studied until 7th grade. Then, as the next generation, when I was 24 years old, I got the chance to complete my university degree at a younger age. That year, my mother and I graduated from university at the same time, as she resumed studies as an adult. This shows how the system has changed in just a few generations, and now allows women to graduate at any age.
Aïda NDIAYE from the Senegal office
In African societies, whether boy or girl, the eldest is obliged to take on this role and has no right to make mistakes. As a girl, this status is even heavier to bear. What is asked of the first-born is not the same as what is asked of the second or third-born, the latter having every possible freedom. Parents are often more rigorous in their education of the eldest child, who automatically serves as a role model for his or her brothers and sisters, and represents the family in society. A certain authority is attributed to the first-born, who has the right to speak before the others and no decisions are taken without his or her knowledge. As the eldest, I have a duty to set an example. In the old days, having a boy as first-born had a completely different meaning, in that boys were long considered to be braver and more valiant. Nowadays, the perception of girls has changed, especially in urban areas. They are now even seen as more serious and courageous than boys, better at school, more resilient and with a sense of responsibility. These African realities are specific to the continent's societies and are perceived differently in European societies.
Mireille HOUNSA from the Mali office
For me, being an African woman in 2023 means being a fighter, ready to take up challenges, to show those around me that it is possible to hold a position of high responsibility in the same way as men, and to be able to look after children and the home.
Compared with older generations of women, there have been huge changes: the role of the modern African woman is beginning to be more collectively accepted and better understood by more and more people. In my own case, I have strong support from my husband and in-laws to help me climb the ladder, which motivates me to go further, to prove to them that I am still up to the job and deserve their trust. My husband does not hesitate to help with household chores (housekeeping, laundry, cooking and childcare). Knowing that I am not alone and feeling the attachment and support of my husband, due to, his upbringing, among other things, strengthens me and enables me to always strive for excellence.
Fatoumata SAMAKÉ from the Mali office
Back in time, our mums had to give up their professional ambitions to look after the home alone. Later, our fathers fought to keep us girls in school and to allow us to enjoy economic independence in a context that has changed since the independence movements of our young African states and that is favourable to the emergence of women. This openness has enabled women to occupy positions of responsibility and participate in important community decision-making.
For me, the most important thing is to be financially independent. In Malian society today, working and being a married woman is an enviable status in every respect. Faced with a number of common injustices, stemming in particular from the polygamous family model, such as deprivation of rights and/or material goods, and even domestic violence, more and more women are choosing to work in order to gain financial independence, fulfil their potential and put these injustices behind them.
Stéphanie MANCA from the Bukina Faso office
Being an African woman in 2023 means straddling the line between modernity and tradition. It means knowing how to juggle these two notions through our behaviour and our lifestyle. It's essential to know your culture and respect it, while adapting it to a lifestyle that's increasingly modelled on the Western model.
The notion of the African woman strongly reminds me of the notion of "mother", not necessarily in the sense of "mother who gives birth" but rather in the sense of "tutor" at the service of youth and society. Like a tutor who helps tomatoes grow straight, the African woman supports, listens and gives good advice to help the nation move forward on the right path. She occupies an important place in the social fabric of society, acting as a link between generations and playing an essential role in the organisation of community festivals, ceremonies and celebrations.
Rakiatou SEYDOU from the Niger office
The position of women in Niger has undergone a remarkable evolution over the centuries. Once confined to domestic tasks and bringing up their children, they passed from the authority of their fathers to that of their husbands. Today, by contrast, women have won rights and a predominant place in all areas of public and social life. They can choose their path, assert their preferences and opinions in the freest possible way and combine family and professional life, but they can also choose to give up one or the other. Women now have access to contraception and birth control, whereas in the past, giving birth to many children was considered a luxury.
Finding a balance between personal and professional life is sometimes difficult. One of the biggest challenges I face is finding time for myself. I'm so busy taking care of others and working that I often forget to take care of myself. This can lead to burnout and resentment. On a day-to-day basis, it takes a lot of organising to combine being a working woman, being involved in bringing up the children and playing a role in the home.
Florentine KABASINGA from the Rwanda office
Rwandan women are active, they participate in the public sphere, they take decisions and they are present in various sectors such as politics, education, technology, the army, but also in professions traditionally reserved for men, such as bricklaying, site work or road maintenance. In the institutions, the presence of women is very visible: 61% of members of parliament in Rwanda are women, and in the government 14 women currently hold ministerial posts out of a total of 22 ministries. I feel that in Rwanda we are privileged compared to women in other African countries. What has changed the way we look at women is education, and more particularly the education of mentalities.
Despite the progress made, Rwandan women still face challenges on a daily basis. Inequalities persist, particularly in the poorer areas of Kigali. The changing position of women in the public and private spheres can give rise to tensions with some men, who may sometimes find it difficult to accept women's independence and autonomy. However, a campaign highlighting the complementary nature of the sexes has been launched to promote better understanding and constructive communication between men and women.
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