by Ruth Aine - 01 April 2015
Every time we think about the future of this continent, we are thinking about policy, the youth, our leaders, climate change and so on. This is understandable because we are a young continent, hence we have got to think a lot about the young generation and how we employ them, and create policy that is youth–friendly. However, there is an aspect of society that was highlighted in the recently concluded roundtable discussion hosted by the South African Node of the Millennium Project. This aspect is the role of women in society which is very crucial and translates to a secure future of the continent.
The role of future studies in Africa: South African Womens’ strategies to attain human and societal well-being within planetary boundaries was one of the papers that was shared and discussed by a gathering of men and women from all over the Continent, looking at changing the Continent through futures work. This meeting took place in Johannesburg and I was honored to have attended.
Did you know that human beings are at the center of the concerns for sustainable development and that they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature? Well, Principle 1 of the United Nations (UN) 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that. So, while we are heavily concerned with climate change, the green economy and the future of cities and states, let us stop and think about the person’s humanity – who are supposed to be enjoying the labor of all these protocols and declarations that we have become so taken up with. I am not saying that the former are not even more grave issues - they are.
The paper was written by Marthe Muller and we were all in awe as she helped us bring back the family into the center of the fight that we are in. The paper articulates that there are visible linkages between poverty eradication and sustainable development. These linkages, however, need to be forged at local levels – where individuals and families live. Why? Because African women are the catalysts for global transformation.
Human sustainability according to the UN, depends on three determinants: the rate of economic growth, the rate of technological progress and the rate of population growth. According to a 2013 population reference, sub–Saharan Africa still has a fertility rate of 5.2 children per woman.
However, important to note is that while women are the carriers of life, their professions are mostly unpaid. Their work in regards to family development, early childhood development, eco–conservation, nutrition, alternative and green technologies, including water harvesting and sanitation, are all duties that we take for granted. We think that every woman should do them.
Growing up, we are taught by our mothers how to do several things such as disposing properly of our sanitary towels for the girl child. You realize that when these are properly disposed of, we are protecting the environment, right? After peeling matooke and fruit, we knew what to do with the waste - take it to the garden to the compost pit. After it has decomposed, it will be used to mulch the vegetable garden. The systems we had then are not as mechanized as they are now. We were also taught how to eat. Organic food and vegetables were always part of the menu. I started eating ‘junk’ when I attended university because that is mostly what there was at the canteen. We know most of what we know from our mothers. I am sure that I will be doing this by default when my children come round. What does this say about African woman? African women directly or indirectly seek to nurture political, economic and social stability at the local level through a careful stewardship of water, food and human capital.
So what if this leadership and nurturing skill was transferred into issues of sustainability in the community? Well, the research shows that professionalizing the role played by women in society at the family level would help Africa go a long way in achieving sustainable development. “Professionalization of the care economy in Africa will encourage both men and women to be trained in and paid for providing those services of poverty eradication, care–giving, family development healing, counselling, and early childhood development that most serve the family unit.”
This is not the usual intervention for Africa that we may be hoping for, but this is something that once implemented, would do the Continent really well. Empower the women, not to take on huge tasks in governments and be on boards of organizations, but rather to focus on “eco-sensitive and self-directed development, exploration of human potential through planned and conscious parenting and meaningful education from cradle to grave”, tasks only women can do.