Speech Delivered by Iyom Josephine Anenih Mini, Honourable Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development At a Conference on Education
November 12, 2010
Presentation by the US Embassy, Abuja
November 17, 2010
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Presented by:


  • Introduction
  • The contemporary 21st century African Woman
  • Some prominent African Women
  • Public perception about African women before the 21stcentury
  • The role of women in socio-economic development in Africa
  • Prospects & opportunities for the contemporary African women in the 21st century
  • Challenges militating against women in the 21st century
  • Recommendations on how we can improve the living standard of the 21st century African woman
  • Food for thought.
  • I am privileged to be part of this outstanding occasion to commemorate African women in leadership.  I also appreciate the wonderful opportunity given me to address such a timely and important topic
  • There have been several debates on the role of women in societies with special regards to their participation in economic activities world wide.  This has indeed triggered numerous controversies.  Whilst some people argue against increased participation of women in all spheres of the African economy, others have argued that a woman’s status in society depends crucially on her participation in socio-economic activities which no more confines her to the home.
  • In this presentation, we will determine whether women’s participation in all activities should be supported or discouraged.


  • The 21st Century has changed people’s perception about women particularly in Africa.  Rather, people have begun to place value on the “contemporary African woman”.  The value of the 21st Century woman is not about trying to imitate men, or becoming more like men rather,  the value of honouring femininity and offering to the world the wisdom that is held in humanity.
  • The traditional or obsolete perception that confines the African woman to the kitchen is gradually giving way to a better appreciation of the roles of women in development.  Women’s lifestyles are changing to accommodate new careers, education and family structures, and their role in society is being adjusted accordingly.
  • Technological advancement in the 21st century has made great impact on the status of the African woman, because women are now getting out of their “home jobs” into “paid jobs” and are forced to combine their work at home as homemakers and their jobs outside the home.
  • African women now have a fair representation in politics and public offices.  Statistic s indicate that Rwanda has 48.8% of its women in parliament, Tanzania 23.3%, South Africa has 29.8%, Uganda 28%,  Ghana and Liberia has seen a tremendous improvement in women’s participation in politics.  Liberia for instance has its Head of State, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as a woman.
  • Ghana has the Chief Justice, the Speaker of Parliament, five Ministers of State, as well as three Deputy Ministers of State who are all females.
  • But these not withstanding, women are exposed to various challenges and hazards because of the competitiveness and challenging nature of work in the 21st Century.
  • It is my greatest hope that this event would help us to set out the path for the advancement of women in African.  It will create a good platform to formulate new ideas, acquire new inspirations in order to support women to strive for progress and improved quality of life.


  • I am sure about 90% of us here know or have heard of these outstanding personalities.
  • What impressions do here personalities create in our minds?
  • Are we inspired and motivated by any of these personalities?
  • How many of us women here would wish to emulate them and even attain higher heights than they have?
  • Let us contemplate on these personalities and be inspired as women and say to ourselves that “there is much more we can accomplish and do” no matter where we are irrespective of our backgrounds.


  • Until Africa adopted a paradigm shift in the way women were perceived, women battled with finding themselves their choice of jobs.
  • Most African countries believed in the myth and tradition that, there were many professions from which women are virtually excluded because of social attitudes which consider certain professions as unsuitable for women.  E.g. women mechanics, doctors, engineers, army/police officers, among others.
  • Education was not valued for women – our fore fathers saw education for girls as a waste of time, effort, and money, because they would just grow up, get married and have children and thus “waste” their education.  In most instances, girls were noted for doing a lot of work in the home.
  • In some African countries, particularly among the rural communities and religious groups in Ghana, women were prohibited form openly expressing their thoughts in community circles in the presence of men.
  • Women were “programmed” by their respective societies through early socialization to be dependent on men.
  • Women who were beaten by their husbands were unable to voice out for fear of stigmatization and sometimes fear of divorce.
  • Few women worked outside the home and most of those women were heavily concentrated in the lowest paying and less prestigious jobs.  For instance if a woman worked outside the home, she was likely a secretary, a teacher, a nurse or a librarian.
  • On the contrary, experience has shown as time elapsed that women are equally capable as men in all kind of work, both professional and non-professional.

The Role of women in socio-economic development in Africa

  • Women have assumed interesting but tough roles in the total development of the continent.  African women contribute significantly towards the process of social and economic transformation and sustainable growth.  Therefore, it is impossible to implement effective programmes for the economic and social development of the Region without the full participation of women.
  • We cannot champion democracy and respect for human rights without taking into account the welfare and contribution of women, who make up over 50% of the population in Africa.

Women contribute to socio-economic development through the following platforms;

  • Women Parliamentarians
  • Women in senior/managerial positions in both the public and private sector
  • Women in academia
  • Women in International Professional Associations
  • Women Entrepreneurs
  • Women in Media
  • Women in Banking (key institutions such as the United Nations,  the World Bank and the African Development Bank have recognized that African women must be made an integral part of Africa’s development and are championing that course)
  • Women in ICT

Women’s involvement in the above sectors of the economy indicates that they are important agents of social change as such their role can never be underestimated.


  • Let me first acknowledge the fact that Africa’s environment is indeed international, and globalization is fast becoming the defining term of our times.  The world is increasingly fast-paced and competitive, and money goes where there are opportunities.  Trade,  financial markets, information, and manufacturing are all becoming more global, and women have started taking advantage of these opportunities in the century.
  • Below are some of the prospects that abounds the 21stcentury for African women
  • Opportunity to pursue education to a higher level: New educational  opportunities are opening and the learning environment in the 21st Century is undergoing change at an astonishing pace.  Girl child/female education has also moved beyond the traditional primary, secondary and tertiary classrooms and is no longer confined to a certain period of life.  With the copious opportunities as well as access to high degrees of education, women would be to venture into new fields and excel in new careers, and by doing so they would no more be independent than a burden on the society.
  • Access to health care information:      Today women are taking a different approach towards their health than they did in previous generations.  Previously, women couldn’t afford proper health care unless their husbands to do so caused a lot of havoc to the total right of women.  Pregnant women were the most vulnerable.  With the help of sensitization programmes and the media, women today are more health conscious and informed.  They are taking an active role in their health car eby learning to demand certain tests, get second opinions and to ask their doctors all of the right questions.  Technology has also decreased maternal death through the availability of antenatal and prenatal health care.  This means that women will have access to affordable, quality and appropriate healthcare and would no longer suffer to meet their health needs.
  • Increased participation of women in politics: Since the 4th Beijing World conference on Women in 1995, many African countries have been formulating systems and enacting laws to help women become more active participants.  Some countries particularly at the party levels, have made a positive contribution to women by giving preferential treatment in women’s participation in politics.  The ushering in of multiparty politics, free and  fair elections, freedom of association and free media in the 21st century has created opportunities for greater participation by women in public life and in decision making positions.  There are still more prospects for women in African politics.
  • The role of women civil society groups: The number of women’s organizations in Africa today is overwhelming and they cut across a wide spectrum of activities ranging from local livelihood activities, adult education and skills development rights education and advocacy, financial support among others.  Such organizations may include;
  • Faith based/religious organizations
  • Community based organizations
  • National organizations
  • Research and advocacy organizations
  • Pan African and sub-regional networks
  • Among the most well-known of these organizations includes; Women Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF), African Women’s Communication Network (FEMNET), Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Networks (ZWRCN), Gender links, (South Africa) Gender and Development Action (GADA) (Nigeria), to mention a few.
  • The evolution of these women societies have contributed to gender equality as well as women empowerment and will continue to provide more opportunities for women in the 21st century.
  • ENTREPRENEURSHIP: One of the distinctive economic opportunities for women in this era is  the ability to create, own and operate their own businesses.  Today many women are entrepreneurs and in advanced market economies,  they own more than 25% of all businesses and women-owned businesses are growing rapidly.  African women for instance produce more than 80% of food for sub-Saharan Africa and are active at all levels, domestically, regionally and globally.
  • This has indeed set a good tone for other women especially the youth who find themselves jobless after their first and second degrees to invent new business, with the help of technology as well as the knowledge acquired from education.  Apart from the fact that women strive to make a living out of the various businesses they enter into, they also bring commitment and integrity because they care about economic empowerment, entrepreneurial development and innovation.


Challenges militating against women in the 21stCentury

  • The desire to advance their career requires women to commit to years of competition and relentless work while establishing a stable, successful working situation.  This often means late nights at the office and frequent business trips with little time to maintain a successful relationship, let alone start a family.  In the past, these years were used to settle down in a relationship and have children, but now many women are putting motherhood on hold while they concentrate on advancing careers.  These and others to be discussed are the daunting obstacles confronting African women in the 21st Century;
  • Disproportionate access to education by women in Africa: Even though education has impacted positively on women, they are still disadvantaged in terms of education in most African countries.  For instance, Female enrollment rates are frequently lower than male enrollment rates, even for primary school, and female school dropouts rates are higher.  As a result, women often lack the basic educational qualifications and skills which are needed for them to obtain employment or to begin businesses of their own.
  • Statistics indicate that more than 130 million child in the developing world, more than 60% of them girls, do not have access to schooling.  Almost 900 million adults are illiterate – 2/3 of them women.  In all countries girls are still largely absent from the scientific and technological fields that are driving global change today.  This actually indicate that we still have a more responsibilities to educate women.
  • Difficulties in balancing career and family: Finding an acceptable balance between career and raising of families for the woman is not as easy as a man placing housekeeping money on the dining table.  In trying to balance personal and professional responsibilities, African women face a difficult task in striving to “have it all”.  Sometimes one of the two parties are seriously affected to the detriment of the other.  This is a major contributing factor to the high rate of divorce in Africa.
  • Insecurity for women at the informal sector/entrepreneurs:  In many African countries the informal sector is where most women – through their own efforts – are able to work. However, because it is informal, they are unprotected and largely without rights, and often have to work in extremely difficult physical and psychological environments.  This could be attributed to the failure on the side of the government to at least improve the physical conditions in which market women, for example, work, and ensure them a minimum of security.  In Ghana for instance, market women fall prey to criminal attacks both before and after going t the market.