Women’s socioeconomic rights and empowerment: building back better for women’s improved resilience (2022)

Empowered women from Tanzania, Afghanistan, Kenya and South Africa came together for a webinar, ending Women’s Month on an inspiring note with the call to do more to overcome the challenges women face.

The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in partnership with Brand South Africa, BintiAfrika Konnect and the Mail & Guardian hosted a webinar on Covid-19 Women’s Socio-Economic Empowerment and Advancement on 29 August 2022.

The discussion was led by Global Conversation Moderator, Ms Nzinga Qunta. The keynote speaker, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Ms Rhulani Thembi Siweya, was joined by co-founder of the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) and seasoned Tanzanian Journalist, Ms Valerie Ndeneingo-Sia Msoka. Senior Gender Advisor UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan, Ms Mmabatlharo Nono Dihemo, and Media Strengthening Project Officer, Ms Victoria Rowan, completed the panel.

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In her opening remarks, Siweya said women leaders, influencers and thought leaders have a duty to pave the way for others to follow, as many women remain marginalised and have no voice. She commended the women of 1956 who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria and the many others who have taken active steps to empower women.

“As women, we need to use our collective voices and our influence. I know all of us have faced many challenges and that despite our successes we are still burdened in additional ways merely by being women,” Siweya said. “Our struggles have made us resilient and this same resilience can be found in millions of women on the continent.”

There is a need to delve deeper into the challenges that women face and to explore solutions.

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“Our task today is to use our collective wisdom to find innovative ways to empower women while also strengthening gender equality and inclusive growth across all sectors,” Siweya said. Women are known to invest in their children’s health and education which holds enormous benefits in the fight against the triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

“Women who are financially dependent on their husbands, fathers, partners and family members have increased vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse and murder. By empowering women, we give them financial freedom to liberate themselves from abusive relationships,” the minister said.

“The little girl who one day dreams of being a pilot must be encouraged, supported and empowered to achieve that dream. We need to create a reality where the only limit to the potential of women is the extent of their dreams and ambitions.”

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Next up was Msoka, the western editor of BintiAfrika Konnect. She explained that Binti (which means girl) is a pan-African digital newsletter that focuses on issues that daughters from various parts of our diverse continent experience — from achievements and challenges, to celebrating and encouraging each other.

Quoting Malcolm X, Msoka said: “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

She emphasised that the media was an ally and must be used effectively to address misinformation and the marginalisation of certain sectors in society, most notably women in rural areas. Msoka spoke of the importance of women in leadership positions, commenting that while the aim for 30% representation in parliament was not achieved, for the first time, a woman was elected as Deputy Speaker. Tanzania’s president Samia Suluhu Hassan is making great strides in addressing gender-based violence and fostering gender equality in all spheres, she said.

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Women need to be emboldened to speak out and the girl child needs to be protected and nurtured to reach her potential. She used the example of the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN), of which she is the chairperson. The main purposes and objectives of this network are: to increase awareness of the harmful impact of the child marriage at community, national and international levels; to advocate for policy reforms to end child marriage and resource mobilisation to support married girls and girls at risk; and to strengthen learning and coordination between organisations working to end child marriage in Tanzania.

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She ended her presentation with the video on the One Girl One Bike campaign by Msichana Initiative, a member of TECMN. The project provided 90 girls living far from their schools with bicycles to promote independence, save time and reduce the risks associated with public transport and deserted spaces. This is certainly the type of project that would benefit girls living in rural South Africa.

Qunta reiterated the importance of bridging the urban-rural divide using the power of media. The voices of women must be amplified, she said.

On the chat feed, Arifa Fatimi from Afghanistan wrote: “I work with a group of women calling for gender equality in Afghanistan. Women do not have the right to study, work or travel. Afghanistan is hell for women.” She called for support and solidarity.

Another member of the audience, Maliha Noori, wrote: “There is nothing more important than a decent education that can allow girls to build their future and become good citizens. I am an Afghan young female entrepreneur and recently received accreditation to run an online school programme to allow Afghan girls study online and sit for the national exams. I am fighting for this very basic right but still we are struggling to make it possible. How can we help each and every girl with their right for education?”

Dihemo said by 2021, there were fewer jobs for women compared to those of men. “As governments responded, women’s needs were rarely at the centre,” she said. Covid-19 is not merely a health issue as it has negatively impacted the global economy.

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Dihemo said violence against women and girls also intensified during the pandemic. It was detrimental to women’s economic security and exacerbated existing inequalities in unpaid care work.

Citing examples from Hawaii and Canada on support and empowerment of women, Dihemo said there should be more focus on smallholder farming in rural areas as well as policies for childcare work and a circular economy. She asked: how do we ensure that women have a seat at the table of policy-making and top leadership? What can we do to ensure that our responses to crises are women-focussed and improve access across the board?

Rowan, BintiAfrika Eastern/Central Africa Editor, emphasised the plight of the youth and particularly the need to educate African girls to become informed and empowered leaders in their communities. She said various programmes providing educational support for girls and young women living in extreme poverty are essential for socioeconomic sustainability.

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She said that legal protection, sexual health care and access to training and job skills is crucial so that girls can thrive and make a difference in their lives and their communities. We need more programmes that boost self-empowered economic development, particularly for girls but also women of all ages. Quoting Kofi Annan, she said: “You cannot develop people. You must allow people to develop themselves.”

The programme director addressed some of the questions raised by the audience, starting with Nirmala Moodley, who asked what is being done to create equal opportunities? Siweya responded by explaining the great strides that South Africa has made since 1994 towards the cause for women’s equality — such as the Bill of Rights, BEE scoring system, quotas — and acknowledged that there was much to still be done.

“The empowerment of women is an imperative, but it is also the single most purposeful thing that can be done to build a nation,” Siweya said.

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Qunta then turned to a question that was sent anonymously from a woman asking how to start over. She said that she was turned away from jobs because of her criminal record and that her financial situation made her vulnerable to being abused by her relatives. The women on the panel applauded her courage to speak out and emphasised that she has the right to protection. There are NPOs and other organisations that work with previous offenders and she was encouraged to report the abuse at a police station.

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In her closing remarks, GCIS director-general Phumla Williams said there are solutions to some of the many problems that can achieve meaningful change: “The negative socioeconomic effects from the Covid-19 pandemic also threaten to undo the many inroads we have made over the years in advancing women. If we are to stay the course, we must redouble our efforts. We must work towards the complete and equal integration of women into all aspects of our society.”

She said investing in women is one of the most effective development tools to uplift women and children and emphasised the need to end gender-based violence in South Africa and the continent. “Let this not be the last conversation on the empowerment of women,” Williams said, reiterating the valuable GCIS partnership with Binti.

Nirmala Moodley, from the chat feed, reminded the audience of women’s resilience: “Many women have taken it upon themselves to create new avenues to survive and thrive in our flailing economic environment, mostly through collaboration and partnership with other women, creating a support system that ensures we build each other and never give up.”

It was agreed that a united network of women — leaders and farmers, learners and elderly — can build the solidarity needed to support the socioeconomic development of women.

Watch the webinar here:

(Video) Africa’s Webinar on Covid-19 Women’s Socio - Economic Empowerment & Advancement

Videos

1. Women in the Workplace: Team building mid-pandemic: purpose, resilience and diversity
(Milpark Education)
2. 𝗚𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗲𝗻 𝗥𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗲 𝗗𝗠 𝗹𝗮𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝘁𝘀 𝗪𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗻'𝘀 𝗠𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗵 𝗼𝗻 𝗮 𝗵𝗶𝗴𝗵 𝗻𝗼𝘁𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗲𝘀 𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗶𝘁𝘀 𝗮𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗲𝘀
(Garden Route District Municipality)
3. The First South Africa | Singapore Women's Roundtable
(Embassy Direct)
4. D 13 - Investing in Women and Resilient Health Systems
(World Health Summit)
5. Enhancing resilience of women farmers through climate smart agriculture: role of evidence synthesis
(The Campbell Collaboration)
6. Issues facing young women in SA
(Newzroom Afrika)

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