To solve Africa’s problems, give women a chance

Africa seems to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. People around the world associate the continent with extreme poverty, hunger, drought, civil wars and terrorism.

Generations of politicians, activists and development experts have attempted to figure out how Africa, an immensely rich and dynamic part of the world, could turn things around.

Having strengthened its relations with the continent in recent years, Turkey found the answer: women’s empowerment.

This is the key to solving pressing problems in Africa because African women are disproportionately affected by poverty, hunger and conflict. Some 80 percent of women live in rural areas, where child marriages are twice as common as in the cities, and suffer from a lack of access to healthcare, education, and other public services.

Consequently, half of the continent’s female population remains illiterate and 62 percent of all deaths from preventable causes during childbirth in the world occur among African women.

According to the United Nations, one in three African women become victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Some 130 million girls and women are known to have been subjected to female circumcision – a practice with no medical or religious justification.

Just one in 10 African women, 60 percent of whom work in the agricultural sector, are landowners.

With this in mind, Turkey has undertaken a number of projects to help women in Africa and provide them with access to basic services. My country supports a maternal and child healthcare centre in Niger, a number of women’s shelters in Cameroon and a vocational training centre in Madagascar.

At the same time, the Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TIKA) seeks to provide medical services for the most disadvantaged groups: In 2017 alone, the organisation oversaw medical check-ups for some 30,000 people and more than 3,000 surgical procedures.

Educational opportunities are also a crucial part of women’s empowerment. In recent years, close to 3,000 young girls from 46 African countries gained access to top-quality educational institutions through scholarships the Turkish state provides. Since the launch of the programme, 362 women have completed their studies in Turkey and returned to their native countries to work as doctors, engineers and teachers in order to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities.

It is also absolutely vital to create economic opportunities for African women if they are to become agents of change in their communities. This was the conclusion I reached during a 2015 visit to Ethiopia, where I met a group of women with terminal illnesses making beautiful jewellery to support their families.

Although their designs were sold to Western buyers at inflated prices, the women were paid approximately $1 for a hard day’s work. We decided to right this wrong by creating a platform where African women could sell the fruits of their labour at a fair price.

Thus the African Handicraft and Culture House opened its doors on Africa Day – May 25, 2016. Although some of the women that I met in Ethiopia had already succumbed to their illnesses by then, the centre remains a beacon of hope for hundreds of others who are able to make a decent income with its help.

Turkey’s development efforts in Africa, which attach special importance to empowering women, seek to inspire African solutions to African problems. They reflect a popular African proverb: “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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