Idrisu Ali grimaces as he recalls the day he sent his 12-year-old daughter, Fatima, away to live with a 65-year-old man.
Although the practice is common in Nigeria’s remote northern state of Bauchi, Ali did not feel entirely comfortable with the idea of giving away his little girl’s hand in marriage – to a man old enough to be her grandfather.
“I was sad because he was too old. I wanted her to marry someone younger, say 55 or 50 because he could take care of her for a longer time before he dies. But he was a successful farmer in the village and he paid a good dowry,” says Ali in his rundown shack in Bauchi, the state capital.
The dowry consisted of some kola nuts (native to the African tropics), a cow, a bag of salt and a sewing machine. To protect his daughter from the negative glares of society, Ali accepted the generous offer and sent Fatima on her way to her new life as a wife.
“This is what happens when a girl reaches puberty. It is our culture and that is the right thing for a woman to do. She will grow up quickly and learn how to take care of a man and the home and bring honor to her family,” says Ali.
For Fatima and many other young girls in Northern Nigeria, their demise into forced marriages is puzzling.
Fatima’s marriage is prohibited under Nigeria’s Child Rights Act (CRA), which bans marriage before the age of 18. But federal laws are at loggerheads with age-old customs, as well as the implementation of Sharia law or Islamic law in some Muslim states.
“As a father you have to do what is best for your family. If your daughter is ready for marriage, you do what you must to make sure she finds a good man,” says Ali.
Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who are married in childhood according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). GirlsnotBrides.org asserts that globally, the number of teen brides is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2050 if there is no reduction with one in three girls in the developing world married before age 18.
The practice has continued to gain prominence in northern Nigeria due to prevailing attitudes in an area with gender disparity. The grim situation is particularly pronounced in this region due mainly to strong resistance to CRA with opponents stating that some aspects of the Act are against religion and therefore cannot be followed.
“According to current figures, more than 50,000 girls worldwide are married while still children, often before they may be physically and emotionally ready to become wives and mothers and this endangers the life trajectories of these girls in numerous ways,” says Oby Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor and Co-Founder of #Bringbackourgirls campaign.
Such was the case for Mamuna Ibrahim. At the age of 14, she is already a divorcee.
“When I was 13, one of my father’s friends came to the house and asked for a bride. My father chose me because I was the oldest out of my three siblings. I did not want to go with him. I wanted to go to school and be an air hostess but I could not disobey my father so I accepted,” says Ibrahim.
Her husband, a 38-year-old trader, took her away to the remote dust-blown state of Borno in north eastern Nigeria. Immediately after the marriage, Ibrahim’s problems began.
“I wanted to continue my education but he said no. One day he came home and I was reading a storybook and he got really angry and beat me. He said a wife’s place is in the house not at school. He was abusive and demanded sex every evening. It was painful,” says Ibrahim.
To escape the traumatic ordeal, she ran home to her mother and begged not to be returned. Her angry husband divorced her immediately under Sharia Law, which requires a man to say out loud “I divorce you” three times for a marriage to be over.
“My father was very angry and embarrassed. He threatened to kill me but my mother and other elders of the family pleaded with him. He stopped talking to me because I brought shame to the family. He disowned me,” says Ibrahim.
She stays with her mother’s sister on the outskirts of Kaduna. Her situation is worsened due to her early pregnancy. At three months in and with no education or prospects of finding a job, Ibrahim roams the streets of Kaduna selling bean cake and mobile phone vouchers to make ends meet.
According to the International Center For Research on Women (ICRW), the impact of the practice of child marriage is felt both at the individual and societal levels and it is therefore imperative in alleviating poverty and subsequently, promoting economic development.
“Child marriages have an adverse impact on the economy by limiting opportunities for career and vocational advancement for young girls. It therefore disempowers women and stifles the prosperity of a country because when a significant number of the workforce is rendered economically inactive, the nation will suffer,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO, Financial Derivatives Company in Lagos.
Its health implications are just as dire.
“There are several health risks that these young girls are exposed to. Most of them get pregnant at an age where normal vaginal births are difficult because their hips are not wide enough for the baby to be pushed through the vaginal canal and this can lead to the death of the mother and the baby. Also, the babies are exposed to diseases due to the lack of micronutrients in the girl’s body and most often babies do not survive,” says Dr. Mariam Doku, a pediatrician at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana.
Her claims are further buttressed by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) that asserts that teen brides are more likely to contract HIV and are also exposed to sexually transmitted infections due to their inability to negotiate safer sexual practices. As President of the IWHC, Françoise Girard, has played a key role in advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights with UN agencies.
It is her belief that ending the practice of teen brides is a smart thing to do as it falls in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has made ending child marriage by 2030 a key target.
Organizations like the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF continue to support efforts in many countries but according to Rewane, much more must be done.
“The notion that sending girls off to marry much older men is a better option is also partly attributable to poverty. For instance, a very poor family is likely to reason that marrying their daughter off early will provide her basic needs and in addition, the gains gotten from her marriage may be part of the survival strategy of the family. So we need to tackle the root of the issue, which is poverty and that means efforts to abolish this practice needs to be a state-level intervention,” asserts Rewane.
For those in remote areas who are dependent on subsistence farming, the practice can be influenced by seasonal conditions. For example, in the years when rains or crops fail, the practice of “drought brides”, thus girls who bring in a dowry, while being one fewer mouth to feed, contribute to pushing up the numbers of teen brides dramatically. Four of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in West Africa’s Sahel and Sahara belt, according to UNICEF.
In many of these communities, a family’s wealth is measured in terms of the herd of cattle they own and young girls are the medium of payment. As policy makers continue to lobby traditional heads to implement the CRA in local communities, the dilemma continues for girls like Ibrahim whose cries for freedom continue to fall on deaf ears.
Female tech entrepreneur helps SMEs automate their human resources
Chika Uwazie helps small and medium businesses find the right people and scale up with more sophisticated human resource systems in Nigeria’s booming economy.
Nigeria is projected to add no fewer than 200 million people to its current population of 196 million between 2018 and 2050. The country is also expected to surpass the United States (US), according to a 2019 Nigerian economic outlook report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). With such a swell in its population, the need to find the right talent has become a strategic imperative for organizations.
That is where Chika Uwazie comes in. The 31-year-old tech entrepreneur helps SMEs automate their human resources (HR) tasks to ensure they have the right processes in place to help them scale and be successful. Her own journey to success has been far from easy. The Georgetown University graduate, who spent 10 years as a competitive cheerleader in the US, made the decision to relocate to Nigeria after her little sister died due to complications from sickle cell anemia.
“When everything happened with my sister, I was at a crossroads. I had finished Georgetown and when you finish from a big school like that, you go into consulting with one of the big four. I said I don’t want to do that because that was not enough. I used to always get excited and light up when I spoke to my sister and we spoke about potentially starting something in tech and building a tech company,” says Uwazie.
After her sister’s death, Uwazie decided to take the leap and build a company that was not only profitable but also made an impact. She started a tech company called TalentBase, a HR software company that provides an affordable and easy-to-use HRM platform solution enabling HR managers and growing businesses to simplify and organize their HR processes. Uwazie was determined not to let the vision she shared with her sister die. But first, she needed funding.
“As you know, it is very hard for black people to raise money in the US, the bars are extremely high. I felt it would not necessarily be easier in Africa but I felt I would have more support if I came back to Nigeria to start a tech company and so that is why I came. And I felt like I wanted to have an impact. Tech is so oversaturated in the US and I felt like in Nigeria, there are so many things that need to be done.”
After almost a year of knocking on the doors of prospective investors, Uwazie got her big break through a colleague at Google who connected Uwazie with 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, which provided funding and support. The program required Uwazie to stay in San Francisco for six months, after which she was able to successfully raise more angel investment a year later to scale her business. This year, Uwazie stepped down from the CEO position at TalentBase to move on to her next venture, Career Queen.
“In Africa, and not just Nigeria, there is a human capital problem. Throughout the time I was running TalentBase, everyone kept complaining to me about how it was difficult to find good talent and this is why I started Career Queen, which is my second wind of entrepreneurship. It has been a crazy growth cycle and I didn’t realize how challenging recruitment is in Africa,” says Uwazie.
She spends most of her time recruiting C-suite executives and executive assistants for organizations in Africa, with a particular focus on women. And according to Uwazie, the numbers don’t lie.
“It has been proven, companies that hire women are 30% more profitable than those who do not have women in the team. The aim is to also get women a seat at the board table. A huge part of my vision now is starting this movement among women, making an impact in organizations and finding great talent for organizations.”
Only if there were more who thought like her.
Not Just Equality, But Recognition Of Excellence
August marks Women’s Day in South Africa, a day commemorating the efforts of more than 20,000 women of all races, who marched to the highest political office in the land, on the morning of August 9 in 1956, to raise awareness around women’s rights and present a petition against the carrying of passes by women, to the then prime minister.
More than six decades on, the call for the equitable treatment and acknowledgement of women’s rights remains a battle for a global community of women – for recognition and also for fair and equitable economic opportunities.
Think back to the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup, where champions, USA, returned home with the trophy but also a very small paycheck for their efforts. During their return tour, their victory was overshadowed by calls from supporters to ensure authorities offer them salaries equal to their male counterparts.
READ MORE | No Longer In The Wilderness
Whilst efforts have been made in this regard, the discrepancies in pay between men’s and women’s football, much like many other sectors, remain too large to ignore.
FIFA, the world governing body of football, doubled the total prize money for the 2019 Women’s World Cup from $15 million to $30 million but it is still a fraction of the $400 million received by players in the men’s tournament last year.
The disparity across sub-Saharan Africa is even more glaring. Despite a great showing from teams represented by Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon, the reality for many local players is that there are no local leagues. As such, players are expected to train and perform at a professional level while still managing a separate full-time job to pay their bills and make ends meet.
On closer inspection of recent data, one is hit with the enormity of the task at hand. The Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum in December 2018, revealed that at the current rate of change, it will take about 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about parity in the workplace.
This is a long time to wait for parity of any sort – what more for the sports field, the political sphere and new digital industries that are likely to emerge?
As women, we certainly can’t sit by the wayside in hopes of being rescued from this dilemma.
I believe that our focus and rhetoric need to be adapted and realigned. I believe it goes beyond just empowering females, but unlocking economic opportunities for all through the advancement of women.
It’s well documented that female-headed households lead to the advancement of all and everyone wins.
Beyond this, the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup reminded me that while the battle for gender equality remains a major challenge, the real issue is around equal and fair recognition – on the soccer field, in the boardroom and in places of political leadership.
As a society, we should be empowering, supporting and rewarding those who go above and beyond to achieve levels of excellence in their respective sectors.
“We should all be feminists,” a popular quote by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a lot of truth to it, in driving the awareness and active citizenry for change.
I believe we should take this a step further and we should all be activists who reward excellence, regardless of race or gender.
Let’s reward excellence! And the economic benefits will naturally follow – for all.
– Gugulethu Mfuphi is an award-winning radio broadcaster, financial journalist, conference moderator and CNBC Africa alumni. She was recently named one of South Africa’s 200 young leaders in media by Mail & Guardian.
No Longer In The Wilderness
Meet the women challenging stereotypes deep in the bush in Botswana’s tourism capital Maun, filling roles conventionally held by men.
For 10 years, until 2018, Botswana had no First Lady, as President Ian Khama was unmarried. Botswana’s first First Lady, Ruth Williams Khama, the wife of Botswana’s first president Sir Seretse Khama, was recognized for her charitable work with women, and the current First Lady, Neo Masisi, is a champion for these causes too.
However, Masisi is also an accountant by profession with an MBA and an impressive resume (United Nations Headquarters in New York, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic).
But not just on the frontlines, in the deeper realms of this southern African country and acclaimed tourism destination, there are more women defying stereotypes, especially in its famed safari industry.
In the country’s tourism capital of Maun, at Kwando Safaris, guests visiting the iconic Okavango Delta waterways and predator plains of the Central Kalahari might be surprised to discover that for over a decade, a majority team of women have been behind the operation.
“Having so many women work in the company was never a policy; it just happened that way. I guess that women were just more capable,” says Sue Smart in her office in Maun.
She talks about her role as the Director of Kwando Safaris for 12 years as an accidental occupation, but a gutsy corporate background primed her for the head position.
“Coming to Gaborone as a volunteer, I worked with children impacted by HIV/AIDS. Then I visited the Okavango Delta on holiday. A chain of life events eventually led to me working at Kwando Safaris’ Kwara Camp, volunteering back of house, in the kitchen, with housekeeping – anywhere they needed it.”
Formerly a Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, with a background in environmental biology, it was a chance meeting with the owner that saw her grow from volunteer to boss in just three months. “In many ways, I was not a conventional fit for this role. I’m not African, a pilot, a guide, or a man, but my background in other areas meant I could run a business – even in the bush.”
Having a woman at the helm has had significant side effects for the company. Many women at Kwando Safaris hold high positions, from the general manager to operations manager to those in reservations to sales and marketing. This unofficial head office policy also extends into the camps in a formal staff management plan, where each lodge has a male and a female camp manager always on duty.
Looking at the origins of tourism in Botswana, it’s perhaps not surprising that (generally speaking) travel in southern Africa has been a male-dominated industry. After all, the very first visitors to Botswana’s wild spaces were rough and tough gun-slinging, trophy-seeking tourists.
The current CEO of Botswana Tourism is a woman and, attesting to the country’s progressiveness, she’s not the first either. Myra Sekgororoane is encouraging about women in the industry saying, “I have not encountered any significant challenges because of my gender. Perhaps, I have been lucky in that the hospitality and tourism industry tends to have a high predominance of females globally.”
According to National Geographic, research shows working women in developing countries invest 90% of their income in their families, compared to the 35% generally contributed by men.
Tumie Matlhware and Ruth Stewart, managers for Travel For Impact, wholeheartedly agree. The Maun-based NGO aims to spread the wealth generated from tourism activities into the community, providing a direct and tangible link between conservation and its benefits.
“We want tourism dollars working beyond the traditional tourism world,” says Stewart, when we meet for coffee at the charming Tshilli Farmstall, another female-run establishment in Maun.
Travel For Impact has a powerful goal, with the slogan of “If every tourist who slept in our beautiful country paid 1 USD for every night they spent here, we would raise in excess of 300,000 USD per year”.
By partnering with exclusive lodges, camps, tour operators and hotels in Botswana, funds generated are put into local community partners, such as support for basket-weaving cooperatives. Looking at the company profile, the NGO funds many projects that support women.
Stewart shares the scientific standpoint endorsed by National Geographic, saying: “Women are the backbone of the community. If you support women, it gets passed down. They buy food, school supplies and more. They are the pillars of society.”
The corporate social responsibility choice at Kwando Safaris concurs. Smart believes that “the ultimate saviors of animals are people, which is why we sponsor the grassroots initiative, Mummy’s Angels, instead of a more usual conservation project”.
Mummy’s Angels started in April 2018, spearheaded by three women in Maun, to empower mothers with newborns who have little by way of financial support.
“We had second-hand clothes and other baby items in good condition and wanted to donate somewhere it would make a difference,” says one founder, Rochelle Katz.
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