Walking the path together: collective action drives gender parity in rural Africa
This March, thousands of young women in the CAMA alumnae network across Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia demonstrated their deep commitment to collective action for gender parity.
They celebrated International Women’s Day by volunteering, fundraising, honouring changemakers, and sharing their expertise with local and global leaders, showing what we can achieve when communities walk the path together – securing a girl’s entitlement to an education, and recognising the tremendous potential community action can unleash.
“The young women in the CAMA network do not attack or ‘fix’ a community. It’s about a collective understanding and walking the path together,” says Dolores Dickson, Executive Director of CAMFED Ghana. Her colleague Angeline Murimirwa, one of the founding members of the network of young women supported by CAMFED, and now Regional Director in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi, adds, “Young women who have overcome incredible odds to gain an education are also in a unique position to rally the support of their communities. We earn respect by showing respect, and delivering tangible results. This is the road to sustainable gender parity!”
Gathering community support around the most vulnerable
Across many districts, the young women of CAMA raised funds to buy books, uniforms, shoes, notebooks, pens and soap for children too poor to attend school. Writing songs (“Invest in girls’ education it pays!”) to mark International Women’s Day, CAMA members so impressed Morogoro Council in Tanzania that the council pledged money to support CAMA’s philanthropy, while local parents supported children with maize for school meals, in a community where hunger keeps children from learning. In Kilolo, Tanzania, the young women worked with the council to encourage pregnant girls to continue with their education, and raised over $350 for the Amani Centre for Orphans.
In Matobo and Wedza Districts, Zimbabwe, CAMA members organised a march, recited poems and held outdoor performances to raise awareness of the importance of sending girls to school, of ending child marriages and early pregnancies, and of the critical role women are playing in protecting and supporting marginalized children. They were joined by representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Education, Women’s Affairs, and Youth, as well as members of the police and social services, underlining the laws and policies that prohibit marriage of a child under the age of 18.
CAMA leaders in Zambia took the occasion of International Women’s Day to focus on ending child marriage. They visited their local schools, rallied parents and guardians to join the discussions, and used their own stories to highlight the benefits of educating girls, not just for the young women, but for their families and communities. “The quality of our relationship with the Ministry of Education in Zambia is exemplary,” says Angeline Murimirwa. “One of the consequences is that we can secure places for young women to receive Early Childhood Development training. CAMA members are setting up nurseries and giving toddlers in impoverished communities the support they need. It’s a holistic approach to breaking the cycle of poverty, and with it the scourge of child marriage.”
Empowering women by respecting the environment
Environmental protection is of vital importance to CAMA members across sub-Saharan Africa. On International Women’s Day, the young women raised community awareness about the health risks of uncleanliness and pollution, and launched local clean-up projects, including at rural hospitals in Tanzania, where CAMA members also donated detergents and cleaning equipment – a life-saving action. In rural Zimbabwe, the young women marched with banners promoting a clean environment, then cleaned up local spaces, the bus terminal, shopping center and hospital grounds.
“A clean environment is the pride of women,” explains CAMA member Marian, who is a volunteer Learner Guide teaching life skills to vulnerable children in her local school, and runs a clothing business. “Cleanliness promotes good health. When a community has healthy members, women are not tied down to care, hence can engage in other activities, such as running a business. This leads to independence and the ability to help more children attend school.” Working with Waste Management Committees, the young women are changing attitudes for the long term.
Honoring community leaders
Ask a grandmother in rural Africa what ‘gender parity’ means to her, and she may struggle to understand your meaning. Ask her what it meant when Emelia joined a rural school as the first female teacher, and she’ll explain how profoundly the prospects for girls in her community are changing, now that they have a female role model and emotional support at school. Emelia, trained by CAMFED, was one of nine community activists honoured at an event organised for International Women’s Day in Ghana by CAMA’s national committee, paying tribute to all those who help to ensure that girls gain equal access to education, and encourage young women’s leadership in all walks of life.
The event brought together 250 guests, including teachers, parents, local and national government officials, and the police service. Honorees included health and development advocate Hajia Veronica Azara Bukari-Kansawurche, the queen mother of the Bole traditional area. A professional midwife, she is also the president of the Traditional Women Leaders’ Association. Agnes Cheringa, a Teacher Mentor who provides psychosocial support to the vulnerable children supported by CAMFED, was honoured for her passionate support for girls’ clubs and the CAMA alumnae network. She and her husband run a preschool for marginalized children, and support impoverished families with clothing and food.
Among the two men who were thrilled to be honoured on International Women’s Day was Nayina Karim, a social entrepreneur who gave away free medicine to families who could not afford health care, and then set up a center for malnourished children in Karaga.
Joining global advocates for gender parity
Using their personal stories of transformation, and their expertise in rallying community support, CAMA leaders help to devise national strategies for reaching the global Sustainable Development Goals. In Malawi, they were thrilled to join one of the world’s great icons and advocates for women’s and children’s rights, Graça Machel, the former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.
The Graça Machel Trust, in conjunction with the United Nations, sought the advice of civil society organisations, and young women leaders in particular, on key issues affecting women and girls to share with the Ministry of Gender and inform collective advocacy and social action plans. CAMFED and CAMA’s leaders described their expertise in supporting girls through school, and empowering alumnae to start rural businesses. Tamara Tsambalikagwa, the national Chair of CAMA Malawi, who works with schools, community members, and district governments to help implement CAMFED’s programs, attended the two-day meeting in Lilongwe and says, “Mrs. Machel underlined that we must take responsibility and be accountable to one another, moving together as a national pact. As CAMA we know: together we can achieve change for Malawi.”
Together we are unstoppable
For the first young women who graduated from school with CAMFED’s support, there was just the desire to do better. Through CAMA, they channeled this desire into a sustainable and truly holistic model of action for vulnerable children, their communities and nations. “The remarkable breadth of the activities CAMA members organised this month, in celebration of women everywhere, sends the strongest message possible: Together, we are unstoppable – every day of the year!” Angeline concludes.