Women Empowerment in Africa, AWDF shows the way

Over the past thirteen years, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) has provided over US$18 million in grants to over 800 women’s organizations in 42 African countries, focusing on Women’s Human Rights, Economic Empowerment, governance, Reproductive Rights of women, HIV/AIDS, and lately Arts, Culture and Sports.

It all began in 2001 when three African women, Dr. Hilda Tadria from Uganda, Joana Foster, a Ghanaian international Lawyer, and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, a Nigerian Journalist and a Social Entrepreneur, decided to set up a fund to support African women.

It is the first pan-African women’s grant maker on the continent. Currently headed by Theo Sowa, AWDF is a world respected grant making organization with its international head office in Accra.

Majority of African women have been found in agriculture, and trade, especially in the informal sector. In 1985, women’s shares in African labor forces ranged from 17 per cent, in Mali, to 49 per cent in Mozambique and Tanzania (World Bank, 1989).

African women are guardians of their children’s welfare, and are the household managers, providing food, water, health care, education, and family planning to an extent greater than elsewhere in the developing world. In the year 2000, while as the overall literacy rate for adult men in Africa stood at 70%, that of women was 49%. Girls education was sacrificed so that boys could go to school, and this deprived many from being educated.

Women equality and social justice needed to engage everyone’s attention. Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the dynamics of women issues has changed. According to the UN Women, globally, women earn on average between 10 and 30 per cent less than men in the same jobs, which reflects women’s undervalued contribution to the economy.

The emergence of AWDF on the African continent was therefore a deliberate attempt at responding to the unyielding inequality that was at the heart of culture and traditional practices.

It was to respond to a grass-root call by supporting grass-root women-centered programs aimed at correcting the intractable imbalance between women and men on the African continent, and to ensure that by supporting women, children would be protected and cared for. The AWDF’s grant making processes are uniquely focused, holistic and diverse which ensures that it addresses every part of women’s realities as of rights, livelihoods, health, and empowerment.

Over 60% of AWDF grantees report significant increases in income and skills development enabling women to enroll children in quality schools, provide nutritious meals for their families, and obtain affordable healthcare to protect loved ones.

Since its inception, the organization has supported a wide range of organizations, including Challenging Heights, ABANTU for Development, Ark Foundation, FIDA, WiLDAF, NetRight, the Domestic Violence Coalition, and the Gender Center. They have funded programs focused on women. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Market Women’s Fund (SMWF) – Liberia, has received a total of over $130,000 for capacity-building, and has been supported to raise nearly two million US Dollars funding from other sources.

AWDF has also supported Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), an international, pan-African, non-governmental development organisation for African women with its Head Office in Kampala, Uganda. As part of its programs, AMwA established the African Leadership Institute in 1996, as a contribution towards post-Beijing initiatives in Africa. The institute serves as a network for African women between the ages of 25-45 years for professional support, advice/information and sharing of expertise.

In recent past, the Standpoint, a female-oriented talk show which addresses everyday issues women and young ladies face in society, also received support from AWDF. The Standpoint, which has aired nearly six years now, has become a household name in the country and is watched by both male and female on television and online in other parts of the world. The program is appreciated for creating avenues to discuss “taboo topics,” enlightenment, educating and also restoring peace to a
lot of women and families.

In writing this article, I’m motivated and inspired by their enthusiasm and values, and their strategic approach to grant making, notwithstanding the challenges they face with brazing the trail.

Of course there are still some challenges in addressing women issues. About 70% of people living in poverty are women, most of them in rural areas. Of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, 80% are female, 79% of whom are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

However opportunities exists to make further progress in advancing the cause of women. The Millennium Project of the Global Futures Studies and Research (GFSR) estimates that women control over 70% of global consumer spending, and therefore women strongly influence market preferences. Analysis shows a direct interdependence between countries’ Gender Gap Index and their Competitiveness Index scores and that Fortune 500 companies with more gender-balanced boards could outperform the others by as much as 50%.

In 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often described as the international bill of rights for women. By 2004, 51 of the 53 AU member countries had ratified CEDAW. Africa has made significant progress in women empowerment, and gender-based violence. Most African countries have passed laws against domestic violence. Ghana passed the Domestic Violence Act in 2007, and made it offence punishable either by a fine or imprisonment or both. In Ghana’s case, domestic violence was defined to include physical abuse, emotional torture, economic deprivation, and rape, including sexual harassments.

The Women’s Manifesto (WMG) is 10 years this month. The Manifesto represents women’s concerns about insufficient attention given to critical issues affecting their well-being which include the under-representation of women in politics, policy and decision-making levels, and in public life in general. According to a release issued in Accra on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of WMG, the passage of some landmark legislations such as the Domestic Violence Act, Anti-Human Trafficking Act and the Persons with Disability Act had been made possible by the Manifesto.

The challenge lies in the sustenance in this progress made in supporting African women programs. Women’s empowerment has been one of the strongest drivers of social change. A lot has been achieved. But significant differences still remain for women’s rights and equality to be achieved. AWDF is an organization that does not spend money. They give the money they raise to other organizations to undertake projects. It is the pioneer women grant organization that needs Africa’s support, the support of both men and women. There is cause for hope, and there is a cause to support. Women’s rights are human rights!

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