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International Women’s Day in Africa: Achievements, Aspirations, Challenges

Angel Pooe, a South African actress, businesswoman, international speaker, and soccer academy owner, poses for a photo.InternationalIndiaAfricaMuhammad OsmanWriter/EditorAs the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8, Sputnik takes a look at unique experiences of African women, who still face significant challenges. On March 8, which serves as a reminder of the need to continue the fight for women’s empowerment, we asked female African leaders to share their experience.For decades, women in Africa have been fighting for equality, justice, and dignity. From grassroots movements to political leadership, African women have contributed significantly to the development of their communities and the continent at large.In this regard, Sputnik spoke with female African leaders in order to explore and highlight the achievements and aspirations of women in the continent. We also examined the challenges that women still face and the role of governments, NGOs, and individuals in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment on the continent. Angel Pooe, a South African actress, businesswoman, international speaker, and soccer academy owner, was born and raised in Rustenberg, in a rural village called Phokeng. The 35-year-old recalls male brutality as one of the difficulties she faced while growing up in South Africa in the 1990s.Looking back into the past, Pooe says that the situation has changed for the better now, with the government in her country making efforts and “helping women to be more successful.”The entrepreneur founded and runs the Angel Pooe Foundation, through which she aims to play a role in enhancing the skills and education of women in her community. The foundation works in cooperation with Pooe’s company, Eana Services and Detergent Supply, with the company employing single mothers, while the foundation assists them in providing care and education to their children.Some of the children who have an interest in football also have the chance to join a soccer team called Bongoe Sport Academy, which is also owned by Angel Pooe.”But now the foundation was birthed who say to a woman, look, I will keep your children off the streets. While I assist you through my other company, for you to have your own company, your own business,” she narrates.© PhotoMembers of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.1/3Members of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.© Photo

Members of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children's football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.

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Members of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children's football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.

© PhotoChildren get ready to take part in football training at the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation.3/3Children get ready to take part in football training at the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation.1/3Members of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.2/3

Members of the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children's football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation, pose for a group photo during training.

3/3Children get ready to take part in football training at the Bongoe Sport Academy, a children’s football team which is part of the Angel Pooe Foundation.Speaking of the role and the contribution of women in society, the television and theater actress, who was inspired in her early years by her mother as well as by the famous South African actress of Botswana descent Connie Ferguson, assumes life “wouldn’t look as beautiful as it is” without women.

"Women are so important. We are the icing. We are literally the icing on the cake. The cake wouldn't look so nice without the icing. You know, it wouldn't look as beautiful as it is," Pooe says. "That's our contribution to the world as a whole."

Meanwhile, the South African actress believes that women’s empowerment should not undermine the important role of men in the society. She calls on women to not let the “other side forget that they are just as important as well.”

"A male figure is as important as well to the society, to the world," Pooe notes. "I mean, men are kings. I know we are talking more about women's empowerment. But as we're empowering women, we also need to remind them that men are Kings, men are important, and men are birthed not the same as us."

The 35-year-old businesswoman views Nelson Mandela’s wife, Winnie, who was also a member of South Africa’s National Assembly, as an example of a powerful African female figure, who played a key role in the fight against of apartheid in South Africa. She believes Winnie Mandela had influenced many women across the African continent.”We look at a woman as powerful as Nelson Mandela’s wife,” Pooe says. “In her silence, in her very few words, we could see the power that she carried. And that only stems from the husband that she had. I mean, if you – I think a good husband that listens to his wife can only be successful.”In conclusion, Pooe calls on women in African and across the globe to believe in themselves more, saying, “You, as a woman, can be anything that you want to be. Anything. And I mean, and I repeat, anything that you want to be, that you want to achieve, you can do that.”Ntokozo Ngcwabe, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy of South Africa, hails from a small town called Newcastle in South Africa’s province of KwaZulu Natal. One of the officials responsible for the country’s policy for mining and energy, Ngcwabe has been involved in the South African minerals and energy sector for more than 24 years.Having grown up in Newcastle and neighboring areas, which are famous for their coal mining activities, Ngcwabe found her interest leaning to the “male-oriented” world of mining.”Women, particularly in the mining space, regardless of whether they are black, white or colored or Indian, were heavily discriminated against in the mining environment,” she says. “Anything female was not allowed to go underground.”Ntokozo NgcwabeDeputy Director General, Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy of South AfricaNgcwabe argues that although times have changed, women “still have to prove themselves ten times harder” in order to be recognized. The official says she always encourages women in her team at the department to work hard and develop their potentials and empower themselves, because she herself was “a product of being lifted by other women.”

"I always say to my peer female leaders, whether in energy or mining: empower yourself, educate yourself so that you are not in a position because of your gender […], but you are in a position because of your capabilities. You are in a position because of your credentials," she states.

MultimediaFemale Beauty All Around the Globe8 March, 07:00 GMTHowever, she insists some African men still have traditional views about women, even in the field of government policymaking, adding that “it’s going to take a bit of time for people to adjust.” For that process to go faster, Ngcwabe believes people need more education on gender equality, because “times are changing.””Interestingly in our area of work, for example, in the policy space, we regularly have to engage within traditional leaders. Can I tell you, in this day and age, some of them refused outright to be addressed by a woman,” Ngcwabe says. “Some will tolerate you, but they will tell you things like, ‘You cannot address us wearing pants. You must be wearing a skirt or a dress. You must sit down when you talk to us.’ So there’s still quite a lot of that.”In honor of the upcoming International Women’s Day, the official says she wishes “all the women worldwide mental strength”, arguing that gender-based discrimination “can be very taxing on your mental state”, as well as “draining on your physical being.”Ngcwabe emphasizes the importance of transformation as a journey in achieving gender equality. She stresses the need to take male counterparts along on this journey and be “clear and tactical about how I take them with me on this journey.”

"So to all the women out there, I want to say Happy International Women's Day and may you all grow in your fields," she concludes. "Let's continue the struggle for women’s emancipation. Let's continue the struggle for women's presence and women's recognition […] for women do have a lot to offer."

In West Africa, it appears that the gender stereotypes are similar to those seen in other regions of the continent, says Grace Orife, CEO of Adelaar Energy Ltd, a Nigerian full-stream oil and gas consultancy and services company. Born and raised in Cameroon with 90% of energy journey in Nigeria, the energy economist and strategist believes such stereotypes limit how women can establish themselves in various fields.

"For instance, in my formative years, the stereotypes were present in our curriculum, textbooks, and learning practices; most of the choices made on our behalf were so limiting, consequently shaping our mindset on what we wanted to become as adults," says Orife. "Thankfully, things started changing; it was not easy initially, but with proper guidance, I started to want more for myself."

Grace OrifeCEO of Adelaar Energy LtdOrife, who is a member of the advisory board of African Energy Chamber (AEC), says she transitioned into the energy industry to address the mismanagement of energy resources in Africa and alleviate energy poverty. The businesswoman’s company is working to meet energy demands while maximizing the exploration of energy resources, including oil and gas.AfricaSierra Leone Increases Quota of Women in Leadership Roles20 January, 09:09 GMTAccording to Orife, the Africa Women Business Energy Network (AWBEN), one of the initiatives driven by AEC, has “provided an umbrella body” for her, along with other women active in the energy sector, to facilitate collaboration amongst such women across Africa and develop core skills and capabilities.Comparing modern women with women from the previous generations, the Nigerian says nowadays women became “more aware of their circumstances and have better chances of overcoming the hurdles.”

"There's technology now; it wasn't dominant back then. Various organizations have sprung up to provide opportunities for women to succeed; back then, not many people were confident enough to go against the 'norms'," she argues. "Even right now, there are still limitations, but as times change and more innovations come up, so do people and ideologies evolve."

Orife notes that in order to motivate young women and girls to contribute more to the development of their communities, African governments must promote girls’ education, including through more female representation in decision-making bodies.

"The first step in moving forward is to change discriminatory societal norms; you won't see diversity unless you address the foundation by enabling more women access to education. Younger women can aspire to become more daring and successful when there are more women actively participating in various decision-making capacities; that way, they have people to look up to," Orife states.

The economist says that she herself was inspired in her career by Beatrice Spaine, the former General Manager of Shell Nigeria’s Deepwater Development.

"Be proud of your gender; be proud of yourself. Stay true to your craft and network," Orife concludes. "Do not limit yourself to societal dictates; want more for yourself and go for it; your future self will thank you for not giving up."

Viral’Women Belong in the Kitchen’, Burger King Says on Int’l Women’s Day, Sparking Twitterquake9 March 2021, 00:50 GMTIt is worth mentioning that since 1962, Africa has had its own Women’s Day, known as the Pan African Women’s Day and sometimes referred to as “the Day of the African Woman” or “Africa’s Women’s Day,” that has been celebrated annually on July 31.The first celebration of Pan African Women’s Day, which took place in 1962 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, marked the establishment of the Pan-African Women’s Organization (PAWO) that played an important role in mobilizing the women of Africa in the African independence movement.In January 2017, the African Union (AU) officially granted to PAWO the status of a specialized agency of the AU dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Last year, the African Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Pan-African Women Organization with commemorative activities that took place at Namibia’s Parliament.The African Union has also been at the forefront of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment on the continent. The union has declared 2020 to 2030 the “Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion,” with the aim of empowering women economically and promoting financial inclusion.Apart from this pan-African celebration of women, some African countries have their own annual National Women’s Days, including Tunisia (on August 13) and South Africa (on August 9).

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