Delivering the Potential of Africa's Young Women.

Kudakwashe Manjonjo
Harare, Zimbabwe
In the year 2015, the first daughters born in the new millennium will be joining the ever-growing youth population in Africa. By 2063, most of them will be entering retirement age, so it is within that bracket of 2015-2063, where the question will be answered, whether the potential of Africa’s young woman will be realised.  The potential Africa hopes to see is these young women being respected, having full rights and responsibilities similar to those of the young men, receiving education, becoming the leaders of governments, civil society and families. This potential can be realised by policies that truly appreciate the reasons behind why in the last century, such potential was not realised. With that in mind, by producing coherent reasons as to the why women’s potential has been limited, this essay will argue that the full potential of Africa’s young women can only be realised by the young African man being part of the empowerment discourse of young women.


Walter Rodney in his famous book, “How Europe under-developed Africa” argued that Africa was underdeveloped by Europe. He states that when one is underdeveloped, there is a difference between two competing actors, and in most cases, one actor exploits the other actor for their gain. In terms of empowering women, the same idea has to be taken; which is that there is a cultural, systematic and legal ‘dis-empowerment’ of young women in society and the actor that does this and benefits from this, are the young men. It therefore only makes sense that in line with empowering women, young men need to be empowered too so that both genders fulfil their potential.


What is to empower? Broadly speaking, empowerment is people fully participating in the decisions and processes that shape their lives. To quantify this, the Human Development Report includes within it the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), which is a composite indicator that looks at women’s representation in parliaments, women’s share of positions classified as managerial and professional, women’s participation in the active labour force, and their share of national income. From the GEM framework, there is a bias to empowerment only incorporating women. Against this perception, Sen and Grown state that “the women’s movement. . .at its deepest it is not an effort to play "catch-up" with the competitive, aggressive "dog-eat-dog" spirit of the dominant system. It is rather, an attempt to convert men and the system to the sense of responsibility, nurturance, openness, and rejection of hierarchy that are part of our vision.”

With the latter definition in mind, the question of fulfilling a young woman’s potential is not limited to how we can help her; for example, educating her on her sexual and reproductive rights, introducing the quota system in parliament such as in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, or economic empowerment through credit schemes such as those found in Tanzania and Kenya. It involves, as a matter of prerequisite, the involvement of men, men’s empowerment. The major challenge that is there is that young men are perceived as being empowered already. As stated by Emmy Okello from Inter-Region Economic Network, some boys in Kenya trade school to work in coffee plantations, criminal activities among men are high and drug abuse is a growing trend. As results show from a survey done by NACADA, there is an alcohol consumption level of 75% in some areas in Kenya such as Kirinyaga by young men, showing that young men have their defects too that when not handled lead to them dis-empowering women.

How young men dis-empower young women

The lack of young being viewed as a main stakeholder is that there is resistance to gender-oriented reforms and a lack of appreciation of women’s opinions, which ultimately leads to the disempowerment of women. Currently, as a student leader at the University of Zimbabwe, the student constitution is being amended. Currently, the Student representative Council is composed of 22 leaders with 85% being men. Efforts to include a clause in the new constitution that will enhance women participation in the student body, for example, via quota system has faced resistance from most male students, arguing young women should not receive ‘favours.’

The same problem is seen in terms of sexual harassment, the most severe being rape. In South Africa, the NGO called Rape Crisis predict that more than 30 rapes occur everyday in South Africa. The focus however in most African countries in dealing with these situation has been giving support to the girl who would have suffered. Although there is definitely nothing wrong with this, policy should focus on how to reduce the number of rape cases that disempower the young women of our generation. That involves bringing young men to the focal point of the discussion of the empowerment of young women.

How men are not involved in empowerment

There are structural and philosophical deficiencies that have grown from the empowerment discourse being premised on young women empowerment only. In Zimbabwe, the first National Gender policy (2004) was underpinned with the ideal of “Growth with Equity which was implemented under four thematic areas namely – (i) Women in Politics and Decision Making; (ii) Women and the Economy; (iii) Education and Training of Women; and (iv) Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women.” There is no thematic area that involves young men as a primal stakeholder. Most international policy frameworks, such as the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1991); the Beijing Declaration on the Platform for Action (1995), the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), focus on women only as the primal stakeholder. National legislation and policy framework in Zimbabwe such as Matrimonial Causes Act (1987); Administration of Estate Act (1997); Maintenance Act (1999); Sexual Offences Act (2001), Education Act (2004), Labour Act, [Chapter 28:01]; Criminal Law Act (2006); Domestic Violence Act (2007), the 2004 Public Sector Gender Policy again, do not incorporate young men as a participant in empowering women. The ministry in Zimbabwe focusing on gender issues, in full is called the ministry of “Women affairs, gender and community development.” This shows the misassumption that gender empowerment means women empowerment is prevalent.


This paper so far has argued that women empowerment which will ultimately lead to the full potential of young women in Africa being realised can only be done if young men are included in the empowerment program. Which policy measures can be introduced to make this a reality?

There is a hoard of civil societies across Africa involved in women empowerment. There should be an effort from government to bring gender civil society and introduce a program where participation of men in empowering women should be discussed and agreed upon. For example, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) formed a branch called Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) which among women empowerment, also focuses on empowering the young men of our generation to grow up to be responsible fathers and citizens.

Similar to the mechanisms to make the women voice stand out via films and seminars against women inequality, such pathways should be created documenting and acting out men being part of the process of empowering women and themselves. Creating role models who will be part of the re-vamped empowerment system that tries to destroy the patriarchal system ethos that young men unconsciously carry on subscribing to, adversely dis-empowering women can do this.  There are a number of male feminists but because they are not given the chance to show their faces, the women empowerment agenda remains with a woman face only, exacerbating the lack of appreciation for their cause among young men.

The empowerment policies that governments formulate must be re-aligned to involve young men as a critical stakeholder in its formulation, adoption and implementation so that men do not feel threatened by women realising their full potential; be it at home, in the workplace or in any social, political or economic setup.

Similar to the manner in which young women are being educated of their rights and responsibilities, programs, initiatives should be composed for men from an international level all the way to local levels. It is the young men who rape, sexually harass young women and it is young men who are part of legislating and enforcing sexist, patriarchal laws so if their mind-sets are not altered, the young women will be continuously dis-empowered.


In conclusion, this essay has outlined a different perspective as to how the young woman can realise her full potential. Instead of only empowering the women, the man should be empowered too. Whether we like it or not, this world is made up of two sexes that both have to be involved in the gender empowerment initiative. Only then will we see the structural and cultural dis-empowerment of our young women, that we see so often today, being limited and hopefully extinguished come the time the AU turns 100 years in 2063.

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