The African women revolution

International Development Consultant Betty Plewes, Swaziland MP Hon Nonhlanhla Dlamini and Program Coordinator for the Girl Child Network Shuvai Mandingo discuss issues facing women and girls in Africa at a Peoples Summit workshop. (Amal Ga'al)

By Amal Ga'al, G20 citizen blogger

Amal Gaal52.jpgAfrica is often stereotyped as a miserable place devoid of hope and abandoned by good fortune. For many people, exposure to this continent consists of NGO commercials featuring orphaned children and news articles of people living in abject poverty. Many African nations are struggling with problems such as poverty and HIV/AIDS, but that doesn't mean that the citizens of these countries are simply passive recipients of these ills.

There are countless individuals devoting themselves to tackling the issues in their societies. Women are playing a significant role in pushing their countries forward despite all the resistance they face due to their gender. When I attended a People's Summit workshop titled "African Women and Girls Demand a Seat at the Table," hosted by Canadian Crossroads International, I had the opportunity to meet two remarkable women from southern Africa and learn about the improvements they have been making in their countries.

Shuvai Mandingo is a Girls' Empowerment Clubs officer for the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe. Girls' Empowerment Clubs are platforms for girls to discuss various issues, learn about their rights and be empowered to stand up for themselves and other girls. I know from my experience as a leader of a girls' club at my high school that a partnership of girls is very powerful. Giving girls a safe space to talk to one another and gain knowledge has proven to be an effective way to reduce some of the problems in Zimbabwe. 

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Girls in Zimbabwe find themselves in a vulnerable position because their societies undervalue them and deny them equal rights. Shuvai shared the stories of a few of the girls she has worked with; HIV/AIDS, sexual and physical abuse and lack of education were common themes in all the stories. Participating in one of the clubs gives girls a support group, which has lead to more girls naming their abusers and filing police reports against them. These girls learn that abuse of any kind is unacceptable, and this is especially important because their abusers may be relatives the girls have been taught to respect. An empowered girl will grow up to be an empowered woman. The Girls' Empowerment Clubs give young girls the support, knowledge and encouragement they need to become leaders in their communities.

The honourable Nonhlanhla Dlamini is a member of parliament in Swaziland. In a country where gender discrimination is widespread, her involvement in politics is no small feat. Nonhlanhla told us about a very young girl who was sexually abused by her father and suffered severe injuries. When the case went to court, the father was dismissed, because the testimony of children is not considered sufficient evidence of a crime. Situations such as that compelled Nonhlanhla to run for parliament so that she could work to change the legal system for the better.

Watch video of Nonhlanhla Dlamini

For such a small country, Swaziland has a lot of issues: one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, staggering levels of income inequality and a lack of health care clinics and clean water. Until recently, women couldn't enter a court or go to the bank and even today, they cannot own property in their own names. Being elected as an MP was definitely an uphill battle for Nonhlanhla, as she had to contend with bribes from male candidates who wanted her to drop out of the race and stereotypes such as "women are too jealous of one another to work together." Now that she is a member of parliament, Nonhlanhla has to work much harder than her male colleagues to get the same recognition, but she is willing to do it because she is determined to make a difference.

Both Shuvai Mandingo and Nonhlanhla Dlamini showcase the strength and innovation women have to offer. It doesn't make sense to exclude women from politics and leadership positions as women have proven time and time again that they are equal to men. If anything, the fact that women face a lot of discrimination has made them more hard-working than many of their male counterparts. So why should we settle for anything less than equal representation of female leaders in the G20?

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