She walks, barefooted, mile and miles to find water. She carries babies on her back and both hips. On her head is a basket. Her life is poor, hard, and often violent. Her babies die of diseases due to dirty water. There is war, civil war, and HIV, and TB, and malaria. She does not smile, she does not have hope.
This is the image we more often than not call to mind when we think of women in Africa. It is unfair, and inaccurate, in the sense that while there are millions of women for whom this is an appropriate description, there are many others for whom it is not. I’d like to offer some alternative imagery, and some inspiration, as women on this massive and resourceful continent of Africa are coming to their own rescue, and to the rescue of others. And not just surviving, but thriving.
I’d like to begin by stating the women, are by nature, resourceful and innovative. We are also natural inventors and creators, biologically designed to be so! The idea that women would, and are, leading in the fields of science and technology is not a surprise. However, African women, who’ve also been doing all of this work for millennia, are not often thought of as doing such, and are certainly not given the professional accolades for these kind of achievements on the scale that they should be.
Technology in Africa, and the role women are increasingly playing there, is an untold heroic story, and one we should know about. Consider the significance of investing in women in Africa, and not just in the microloans that are changing the face of poverty, but in professional fields, as well: medicine, technology, and academic research. This shift is taking place as African women assume, having earned, their place as innovators, leaders, and changemakers in the same fields that their sisters can benefit from advances in the most.
One example is the WAAW Foundation. From their website, “WAAW Foundation was founded in 2007 by Dr. Unoma Okorafor while she was a PhD student, in response to a burning desire to see more women of African descent healthy, educated, and inspired to participate in home and community building. As a lonely African female voice in Technology, Unoma set out to create sustainable, long-lasting ways to support and educate African women in technology innovation.
WAAW Foundation recognizes that Female Education and Science and Technology Innovation are the two most crucial components to poverty alleviation and rapid development in Africa. The plight of the African woman against prejudices and huge societal disadvantages in often male dominated communities is still vastly unexposed, and requires a strong and compassionate voice. We believe that the woman is the pivot of the family and the family is the pivot of the community. Empowering an African woman is a gift that keeps on giving.
Another is iHub. I first saw these women in action at SXSW in Austin, a gathering of mostly white men. These women held their own and shared stories of how their own experiences in poverty led them to create the web-based platforms that were aimed at eradicating poverty in the communities where they had grown up.
These are just some of the examples of they ways that women in Africa are changing the face of technology, leveling the professional playing field, and offering all of us a new, fresh, and more dynamic face of African women.
Circle of Health International, COHI, is a US-based NGO that provides women and children’s health services in crisis settings. COHI has worked in several countries in Africa, including Tanzania and Sudan. COHI is committed to identifying female leaders in their communities, and providing professional support to those in the field of healthcare provision and leadership. COHI is also deeply committed to supporting innovative technologies, and the women pioneering them, to reach the health care providers in resource poor settings who need them most.
COHI is participating in a crowdfunding campaign this week to secure funds to bring such innovation to its partners in the field, please consider supporting COHI this week through this campaign, and sharing the news of our work with your community.
Sera Bonds, MPH
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