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The Big Debate: How can gender equality be achieved in Africa?

On Thursday 4 October more than 200 guests attended Ripple Effect’s flagship event The Big Debate at City Hall in London to hear a panel of experts from around the world explore the question, How can gender equality be achieved in Africa?

Professor Cheryl Doss, a senior lecturer in development economics at the University of Oxford, introduced the debate by touching on some of the key issues, including education, law and domestic violence. She highlighted the lack of cross-country data in the World Development indicators for women and girls in Africa, particularly with regard to young married women, who “are the most invisible” in the data. “We have real holes in our knowledge”, Professor Doss shared.

“We need to make sure that these women have property rights, livelihood training and skills so that if their husband divorces them or dies, they can take care of themselves”

Professor Cheryl Doss The Big Debate

Chairing the debate was renowned journalist and founder of the Spare Rib Collective, Rosie Boycott. Throughout the evening each panellist drew on their area of expertise and personal experiences, creating a dynamic and exciting discussion.

Joyce Majiwa, a prominent Kenyan lawyer and Trustee of Ripple Effect Kenya, drew on her 20 years of legal experience and argued that women must have their equal rights enshrined in law in order to make a tangible difference.

“The chances of poverty are very real for women if they are not protected by law in property, particularly in the case of women who are divorced.”

Minna Salami The Big Debate

Similarly addressing cultural and societal barriers for African women, Minna Salami, a journalist and founder of the award-winning website MsAfropolitan, suggested that the root cause of the oppression is when tradition is used “as a weapon against women”. This is exemplified when women are denied independent access to funding, land ownership and technology. Minna Salami also drew on the topics of feminism and liberation to illustrate the positive changes that are currently taking place, particularly within the African feminist movement.

Panellists agreed that while improvements should be made on a higher policy level ensuring that women are supported by the law and state, fundamentally changes need to be made within the household and in mind-sets of families and individuals. Joyce said, “We have to show men that there is more benefit in sharing power, than fighting over power. Not only just sharing words, but with practically sharing power and duties.”

Citing one of Ripple Effect’s livelihood projects in Kenya as an example, Joyce described how she had seen for herself that by working together, men and women benefited from the tangible results of increased income, more food and clean water, helping men and women alike realise the positive benefits of shared power and responsibility.

The panel – who travelled from Kenya, South Africa and the USA for the event - covered many of the key issues facing women in Africa today; but also highlighted some of the positive changes which are currently taking place. Changing mind-sets at a family level, influencing policy and having a strong feminist movement all featured as important factors to eliminating gender inequality. Meanwhile, positive examples, such as the impressive developments made in gender equality in Rwanda and huge reductions in gender-based violence in Nicaragua, illustrated how change is possible.

A big thank you to our sponsors for the evening, Standard Bank and Explore.