International Women’s Day 2018 as seen in sub-Saharan Africa
On Thursday, May 8, the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to collectively celebrate the economic, social, political, and cultural achievements of women while also raising the call for gender equality worldwide. IWD has been observed since the early 20th century, with the first March 8th gathering occurring with the support of nearly one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. This year’s theme was “Time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”
This year, many sub-Saharan African countries produced a variety of demonstrations and movements in honor of IWD 2018. For instance, in Rwanda, thousands of men, women, and children celebrated IWD under the theme, “Rwandan women, let’s pursue efforts to build the Rwanda we want.” One of the ways in which the country celebrated on March 8 was through the implementation of focus groups targeted toward female university students at the College of Business and Economics in Kigali. These focus groups, organized by OneUN Rwanda, were conducted under the theme, “Access and Participation of Women.” Female moderators included revered individuals such as Dr. Marie Aimee Muhimpundu, vice mayor of Kigali Hope Tumukunde, former Lt Col Rose Kabuye, and Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, president of Rwanda Women Parliamentarians Forum. The purpose of the groups was to gain perspective from young women on issues such as education, employment, and health.
Furthermore, the Ugandan government took advantage of IWD to express its support for women’s participation in shaping the country’s future. In a speech delivered by President Yoweri Museveni claimed that “women are the base of society” and must therefore be provided with opportunities to grow. Additionally, in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged South Africans to use IWD 2018 to reflect on how they can advance all aspects of gender equality in their respective communities. The president chose to dedicate IWD 2018 to the late Albertina Sisulu, an anti-apartheid activist who committed her life to the struggle.
However, not all of the efforts taken on this day are seen in a universally positive light. Taking a more legal approach to IWD, the Ivory Coast updated its labor laws to restrict women from working in certain unsafe and physically demanding occupations. According to government spokesperson Bruno Kone, the types of jobs that are now restricted include positions that “[exceed] the ability and physical capacity of women, or work that presents dangers which is likely to undermine their mortality.” Yet, while Kone argues that this presents an opportunity for female empowerment, some worry that this is a step in the opposite direction from gender parity.
Nevertheless, Africa has made noteworthy strides over the past several decades in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. In viewing women as agents for development, governments have sought to enact policies that highlight the valuable contributions of women rather than treat them as passive bystanders in society. Policymakers should continue on this path so as to revolutionize Africa’s image on the global stage in regards to their treatment of women.