"Universal Education is crucial to the emancipation of Africa's women"
I am inspired always by a particular African woman I regret I never met, my Itsekiri paternal great grandmother, Madam Dorcas Ajamubaghan Etie Ejoh-Oki. My father imbibed, through her (and his children through him) all he held dear: a sense of self, family, compassion, loyalty, pride, dignity and continuity. Plus an enormous respect for the value of education. I grew up aware of her, her dignity, vibrancy, grace, humour, wisdom - and the fierce pride she had in who she was. She died in 1944.
Yet, so many African women today face challenges similar to hers all those decades ago.
While we now have universal recognition of the vital contribution African women make, a remaining and vast gender imbalance means that women still, in 2013, face a multiplicity of economic and social restraints. We all know the statistics ….80% of agricultural workers in Africa are women, yet few may own the land they toil. And, despite Africa having one of the few female country presidents, of the 175 million illiterate in Africa, perhaps more than 2/3 are women. Etc.
Real change – addressing and converting these challenges into opportunities involves genuine political will. For me, this has to begin with a real universal quality education for all. To quote Margaret Meade, “children must be taught how to think, not what to think”. And we can all, individuals, civil society and governments, play our part, no matter how small. Again I quote Meade, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
And so many of those who can, and do, are women. Amazing women. African women.
I take inspiration from so many remarkable women, past and present, mostly, if not exclusively, African. Women who have made their mark in the world of music and literature to medicine, finance and politics.
I think immediately of the late, incomparable, Miriam Makeba. Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Graça Machel. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - and also of those who have shaped and guided my own life. Old Alhaja, a trader at the University of Ibadan from my childhood at whose feet I spent many happy hours listening to stories from her life. From school, the extraordinarily talented and astonishingly beautiful Oge Nduka Otonti. My brilliant first cousin, Sola Oworu, a woman at the heart of Lagos State government. Thelma Odunwo, my paternal aunt. My wonderful, passionate and gifted friends who contribute so much: Sheila Ruiz in promoting Africa; Susana Edjang in alleviating maternal mortality and Josephine Osikena in progressing foreign policy ideas and partnerships.
African Women, on International Women’s Month, I salute you.
Elizabeth Dudley is a Trustee of The Britain-Nigeria Educational Trust, which exists to promote friendship and understanding between Britain and Nigeria by providing appropriate financial support for projects that directly contribute to the progress and advancement of education in Nigeria.