Nala Feminist Collective, Generation Equality Forum, Paris, Aya Chebbi

We need to stop talking about gender equality and start funding it instead

Ten years ago, young women like myself took to the streets and changed the course of history in what you might know as ‘the Arab Spring’.

However, that’s a Western narrative. We call it the “Revolution of Dignity” because we protested for ‘Jobs, Freedom and Dignity.’ It has always been a revolution for economic justice led by women and youth.

Poverty affects women more

Poverty is sexist. Today, young African women are enslaved in human trafficking. In Malawi, young women are subject to trafficking to South Africa and to the north of Europe.

This reality doesn’t differ for young women from across the continent, with exploitation being perpetuated within Africa and outside.

Hunger and poverty are pushing young women to die in the Mediterranean, in their search for livelihoods. Once they reach European shores, they find sexist, discriminatory and xenophobic laws. Perhaps technology is the only advantage and progress young women have had since the Beijing convening in 1995.  However, despite the opportunities which the digital economy provides, one must recognise that 70% of Africa is offline. This is not only due to lack of internet signal, but because many people cannot afford to be online.

This is not business as usual, it is intersectional. As such, the current realities exacerbated by a global pandemic cannot be fixed by creating jobs or by merely teaching girls how to code.

Poverty cuts across the digital divide, exploitation and border policing which halt young women’s livelihoods. We are in urgent need of a recovery plan that does not “build back” better the economy, but rather “build forward”, with equity and feminist economics.

We are equal before the virus, it does not segregate based on gender, skin colour or nationality, but the virus also showed us how much our systems are unequal, how patriarchy uses violence as a weapon to keep women trapped in an inequality that decides a woman refugee cannot secure a job or a woman with a disability cannot access digital technology.

We have seen that Covid-19 recovery plans have left many women who are at the forefront of managing the pandemic, from health workers to caregivers, at the margins and peripheries of policy formulations or government support.

Economic, political, social, ecological and digital justice requires a new approach to leadership that is gender and generational inclusive. My generation is calling for Intergenerational Co-Leadership.

We cannot inherit systems we didn’t co-design. African youth are the youngest population in the world. As estimated by the World Bank, the African continent will reach one billion by 2050 and become the world’s largest workforce – one that currently has very few economic opportunities.

The informal and low-paying labour market, where most of Africa’s young women work, are affected the most by the pandemic. In Nigeria, for instance, 45% of people mentioned that they had stopped working by the middle of 2020, while in Uganda, the figure was 17%.

Equality is about the girl child, who is denied education and is making a life for herself in the market, at risk of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

The same risks exist when government policies put her at home in lockdown without protection. In front of a pandemic, we’re all the same. We are equal before the virus, it does not segregate based on gender, skin colour or nationality, but the virus also showed us how much our systems are unequal, how patriarchy uses violence as a weapon to keep women trapped in an inequality that decides a woman refugee cannot secure a job or a woman with a disability cannot access digital technology.

The Generation Equality Forum

At the beginning of July, at the Generation Equality Forum, $40bn were pledged to achieve gender equality with a roadmap for the next five years, through commitments that cut across six Action coalitions, and the Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action.

However, in order to achieve this, funds must be channelled directly to women and girls who are the most vulnerable, and to the grassroots who are the most aware of the context-based challenges and solutions.

We cannot afford to remain bound within neocolonial and patriarchal structures that have made young women’s contributions to society invisible.

African governments, Generation Equality leaders, and the private sector must be ready to co-lead with youth, and with young women. World leaders cannot turn a blind eye to the dilapidation of African countries’ infrastructures, which are directly impacted by their decisions and policies, making climate change be among the primary causes of girls being left out of school.  Can we re-imagine what the world would look like if women are counted in the economy, if we own the means of production, if we are intellectual, if our physical and maternal labour is free from servitude?

Less talk, more action

We need to stop talking about Gender Equality and start funding Gender Equality. It is ironic that whenever youth and grassroots organisations demand funding for the gender agenda, they are told that there has been a “budget cut” or there isn’t

But why is it that there are no budget cuts to dig up fossil fuels to destroy the planet? Why is it that when there is a terrorist attack in the Sahel region, countries fund militarisation but do not fund 20 million girls in the Sahel married before 18 with no economic opportunity?

We have seen how the Boko Haram crisis in the Lake Chad Basin continues to impact young women’s subsistence, leaving them without any sources of income.

Young women traders had to leave their farms, formal and informal economic activities to attempt to find safety in neighbouring villages, only to find themselves refugees and displaced, with low water access, experiencing further gender-based violence and human trafficking.

The efforts put into Silencing the Guns so far continue to overlook the urgency for funding and supporting young women peacebuilders and organisations, and specific young women programmes at the intersection of Youth, Peace and Security and Women peace and Security agendas. It is all happening at the grassroots level.

Bottom line

We need to change the system because the current neocolonial, racist and patriarchal system does not work for us.  We, as young women, are ready to co-lead.

In fact, we developed the Africa Young Beijing+25 Manifesto with ten bold demands, co-created with more than 1500 young women and men from 44 African countries and over 30 partners.

The demands are intersectional, but each context has its own affinities and structural challenges. We launched at the Generation Equality forum in Paris: the Nala feminist collective, a group of 17 Pan-African feminists calling for change, driving the manifesto demands and rising as a united voice because generation equality cannot move forward without Africa. Eventually, eight out of ten of these demands were incorporated into Action Coalitions’ commitments.

World leaders have the historic responsibility now to make things right for the next five years. Instead of leaving half of humanity behind, we should leave patriarchy behind – once and for all.


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