What African Mothers Really Want for Mother's Day

All mothers dream of witnessing and celebrating milestones of their children’s lives, of living long and healthy lives with family. These simple, pleasant ideas of family life are robbed from far too many women in Africa due to the harsh reality. Poor healthcare, unpaid labor, inadequate women’s rights and equality, poor education, and sexual violence are all factors that affect African girls and women every day. When we discuss maternal health, we cannot have the dialogue without including women’s empowerment. So, in honor of this year’s Mother’s Day, let us talk about girls and women.

The African Union (AU) called 2015 the “Year of Women’s Empowerment,” but what does that truly mean? African women have made considerable progress in political, social, and economic positions, but a vast majority is still marginalized by their government. If we want true empowerment for females, that means making a political effort to secure basic rights and privileges. Currently, too many policies and cultural beliefs put females at an enormous disadvantage.

Females are one of Africa’s greatest untapped resources, but their government does not see them as such, and instead makes it harder for them to survive in society. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda said, the AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, “The leaders need to know that the young women and girls are here and they are not a statistic… This is part of Africa rising. Africa will not rise as long as its daughters are bleeding and Africa will never be prosperous or at peace with itself if the whole generation is losing opportunities.” Females of all ages make up nearly half the agricultural workforce, but sexist laws restrict their access to property, land, money, credit, and decision-making powers. In addition to this, they are expected to manage their families and care for the children, all forms of unpaid labor. Gender violence, coupled with sexual and reproductive health issues, only worsen the plight of the African female.

When it comes to healthcare and gender equality, African females suffer some of the worst statistics on the planet. Childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls. Every day, more than 400 African females die by pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Far too many girls and women die in the prime of their lives, and their deaths have lasting consequences for the communities they leave. Those who do not die often suffer from life-lasting aftereffects of childbirth that take a toll on their health.

Women’s health and education in Africa is so important and we can never stop talking about it for as long as healthcare and accessibility issues remain present, because the existence of these issues affects all other aspects of society. Economic development is slowed, and government funds are wasted on health issues that could be otherwise eradicated entirely if women were given more access to stronger healthcare and sexual education.

For this Mother’s Day, we need to continue pressuring African leaders to view girls and women as important members of society. If females are enabled to participate in their community politically, socially, and economically, we can expect lasting strides in women’s health and equality. Working toward a vision where women live in a world that offers them social justice, equality, and respect can result in healthy, lively communities.

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