In many countries, gender inequalities still lead to discrimination and violence against women and girls as a result of social, cultural, legal and economic norms. These persistent inequalities prevent women from enjoying their rights and from actively participating in decision-making on issues that affect their lives. UN Women even estimate that it would take 300 years to overcome inequalities relating to legal protection or representation of women in the fields of power and leadership. 

Fortunately, community-based women’s organisations are working to reduce this gap by ensuring that women and girls are involved in decision-making processes that affect them. Through the Voix Essentielles initiative, these organisations in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are helping to amplify women’s voices and improve access to health services for them all. 

Some of their activities, highlighted by  Moussonews

Sope Sa Njabot: heroines in the community response to Tuberculosis

In Senegal, Sope Sa Njabot has been informing, raising awareness and advising people on all aspects of the fight against tuberculosis since 2006. A community approach that is bearing fruit in Mbour thanks to support from Speak up Africa through the Voix Essentielles programme.

In Mbour, located on La Petite-Côte, about 80 km south of Dakar and bordering the seaside resort of Saly, Alimatou Sadiya Samb, community liaison officer for the Sope Sa Njabot association, regularly visits people in her neighbourhood to show them how to protect themselves against tuberculosis. This community volunteer is involved in a campaign to prevent and treat tuberculosis, even in the most remote areas of her commune during the rainy season. (…) Alimatou Sadiya Samb fully embraces her mission.

« We sometimes come across people with mental disorders or people with disabilities living with the disease without help. We are the relays who become their mothers and fathers. We are the ones who make sure they get better because they have no one to help them. »

Alimatou Sadiya Samb, community liaison officer for the Sope Sa Njabot association

The Bajenu Gox in Thiès have succeeded in improving mother and child health

Senegal has recorded good results in terms of infant, neonatal and maternal mortality in recent years. Behind this success lies a tremendous effort by the Bajenu Gox. We went to Thiès to see the recipe for the success of these “neighbourhood godmothers”, recipients of Voix Essentielles funds.

On a chilly morning, after light rain had fallen on Thiès the day before, the Bajenu Gox, all dressed in white, organised a chat session, one of their flagship activities. At these events, they share their knowledge with each other. Adja Fatou Badiane, a Bajenu Gox (which means “neighbourhood godmother” in Wolof), heads the Bajenu Gox association of Thiès, which has more than 250 active members. Adja Fatou Badiane describes the main areas they work in:

« We advocate for action in three areas to reduce maternal mortality. The first one is about women’s decision to wait too long before going to hospital. We raise women’s awareness so they don’t wait for the last minute before going to a health facility. Going to hospital late poses enormous risks. Secondly, we also intervene in the late provision of care in hospital. Finally, difficult access to certain health structures is our third area of advocacy ».

Adja Fatou Badiane, Bajenu Gox

Tuberculosis: 200 lesbians cared for by “Coeur Valide” in Côte d’Ivoire

People suffering from tuberculosis are cared for and monitored free of charge by the association – Coeur Valide – in San Pedro in Côte d’Ivoire. Among them are more than 200 lesbians. Their support is further facilitated by the Voix Essentielles programme.

Being a lesbian and having a disease like TB is an uphill struggle in Côte d’Ivoire. In San Pedro, the Coeur Valide association keeps coming to their rescue. Christiane, 30, owes her survival to this association. She is a trader who belongs to this sexual minority, and has suffered from tuberculosis for a long time. She is now cured thanks to the association’s monitoring programme. With a lump in her throat and her eyes filled with tears, the young woman testifies that she has survived thanks to the care provided by Cœur Valide.

« The disease was slowly eating away at me. I was suffering on a daily basis. But when I found out about the Cœur Valide project, I was able to benefit from the care provided, free of charge. I feel much better. »

Christiane, Trader

Côte d’Ivoire: Fenac advocates for the distribution of sanitary towels in schools

The issue of menstrual hygiene management is a concern in many African countries. Menstruation is sometimes a reason for girls to drop out of school. In Côte d’Ivoire, the association Femme en Action (Fenac) advocates for the distribution of hygiene kits in schools. It has carried out several activities and campaigns to raise awareness as part of the Voix Essentielles programme.

Adopting a policy to distribute sanitary towels to teenage girls in schools in Côte d’Ivoire is now the Femme en action association’s fight. Nadège Epi Kouadou, the project’s coordinator, has not had a moment’s rest since she began supporting Speak Up Africa with the Voix Essentielles programme for the Top fille project. With her team, she travels to establishments in Abgoville, 71 kilometres from Abidjan, to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management.

Bittou: The widows and orphans association halts the spread of malaria and tuberculosis

Malaria is the leading cause of mortality in Burkina Faso. Among the thousands of preventable deaths are several women and children. In Bittou, a town on the Ghana and Togo border, the Widows and Orphans Association is at the forefront of the fight against this deadly endemic with support from the Voix Essentielles fund.

Although the mother acts to guarantee the wellbeing of children, households and the community, the decision to seek health care does not rest with the head of the household. This gender inequality slows down the many efforts underway to control and eliminate malaria in the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso. The Bittou Association of Widows and Orphans (AVORB) aims to break this social barrier through its malaria and tuberculosis prevention advocacy.

For six months, the president of the association, Maïmouna Savadogo, and her facilitators held information sessions for women on how to prevent malaria and on how important it is for them to seek health care. Heads of households are also educated during these community talks.

Sexual and reproductive health: lives saved by Gnintawoma

Discussing sexual health issues in the commune of Garango, a town in the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso, could be considered an affront to morality. Strategically and with a community-based approach, as part of the Voix Essentielles programme, the Gnintowama association has been able to establish exchanges around the issue of sexual and reproductive health.  Thousands of local women and girls are now enlightened on the subject and make independent decisions.

Sabine (not her real name), 17, owes her life to the Gnintawoma association. She had tried to have a clandestine abortion. The bleeding hadn’t stopped, to the extent that some of her friends were concerned about her health. The educational talk held by the Gnintawoma association in their school came as a sound of relief. At the end of May 2022, Sabine’s high school in Garango was chosen for a campaign to raise awareness on the dangers of abortion and drugs, but also on contraceptive methods to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Du 6 au 10 décembre 2022, experts scientifiques et jeunes africains se réuniront à Dakar au Sénégal pour la 5e édition du Forum Galien Afrique. A cette occasion, Speak Up Africa organise un panel ce mercredi 7 décembre sur le thème : « Les jeunes face aux défis de la couverture sanitaire universelle : de l’investissement à un accès équitable aux soins de santé ». Cette session permettra de souligner la contribution dans l’amélioration de l’accès équitable aux services de santé de qualité ainsi que dans les prises de décisions concernant leur santé et leur bien-être.

Un accès encore inéquitable aux soins

Selon l’Organisation Mondiale de la Santé (OMS), près de onze millions d’Africains sombrent dans la pauvreté chaque année à cause des dépenses de santé laissées à leur charge. Des millions d’autres n’ont pas accès aux services de santé dont ils ont besoin en raison de la faible couverture des services de santé. Les femmes, les enfants, les personnes en situation d’handicap ou autres groupes vulnérables sont les premières victimes des faiblesses des systèmes de santé.  En dehors de la forte morbidité que ces difficultés d’accès aux soins entraînent, elles font perdre plus de 2400 milliards de dollars à l’Afrique chaque année [1].

Les jeunes, des acteurs incontournables

Pour inverser la tendance, les jeunes africains se mobilisent sur le continent à travers des innovations dans la santé digitale ou encore leurs engagements associatifs pour assurer un accès équitable aux services de santé dans leurs pays.

« Les jeunes ont leur mot à dire au sein des processus décisionnels en matière de santé. Si nous voulons construire un avenir durable et assurer des systèmes de santé inclusifs, leur participation est indispensable car ce sont eux les leaders de demain »

Aminata Badiane Thioye, responsable de communication et plaidoyer à l’Alliance Nationale des Jeunes pour la Santé de la Reproduction et la PF (ANJSRPF)

Miser sur le leadership féminin

Un paradoxe : les femmes sont en première ligne des soins de santé (70% des agents), mais elles n’occupent que 25% des postes de décision dans les systèmes de santé. Dans le domaine de la recherche et de l’innovation, les femmes ne représentent que 30% des chercheurs et innovateurs.

« Pour des soins de santé inclusifs, de qualité et adéquats, il est nécessaire de changer de paradigme en matière de politiques de recherche et d’innovation.  Ce n’est qu’en misant sur le potentiel des femmes en matière de recherche et d’innovation que nous pourrons mieux cerner les besoins de santé spécifiques des femmes et y apporter des solutions innovantes ».

Marie Chantal Umunyana, PDG Umubyeyi Elevate, récipiendaire du programme Women Innovators Incubator

« Pour résoudre les problèmes de santé publique sur le continent africain, la participation de tout un chacun est essentielle. Notre objectif est d’offrir une plateforme aux leaders scientifiques africains et d’impliquer la jeunesse et les femmes, à travers nos programmes et initiatives afin d’améliorer la sécurité sanitaire et la couverture sanitaire universelle ».

Yacine Djibo, Fondatrice et directrice exécutive de Speak Up Africa.

[1] Stratégie pour des infrastructures sanitaires de qualité en Afrique 2021-2030, Banque Africaine de Développement (BAD) 

On the occasion of the global campaign « 16 days of activism against gender-based violence », community-based organizations from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are meeting in Abidjan to share their experiences and pool their voices to end gender-based violence. The meeting, driven by Speak Up Africa, will take place from 30 November to 1 December 2022.

Recipients of Voix EssentiELLES Fund from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are participating in the meeting under the theme « Voix EssentiELLES speak up against gender-based violence ».  A round table on the regional challenges of the fight against gender-based violence as well as institutional meetings to sensitize communities and policy makers on their role in the elimination of violence against women and girls are on the agenda.

Need for urgent action

 According to a UN Women report published in September 2022, nearly 65% of women worldwide reported having experienced verbal, physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. At least 6 out of 10 women believe that public sexual harassment has worsened since Covid-19. This violence is not only a major obstacle to the elimination of the HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, but also has a significant impact on global economy. Without urgent action, UN Women’s report warns, it would take 300 years to close the gap in legal protection or representation of women in power and leadership. 

« Urgent action must be taken if we are to meet SDG 5 – achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – which is essential for sustainable development. Creating a just and prosperous society is impossible when women and girls, key members of our communities, continue to be victims of violence and inequality of all kinds. »

Abouma Sévérine Nebie, president of Association pour l’Intégration Économique et Sociale des Femmes dans le développement (IES-Femmes) which is involved in Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Burkina Faso.

Key voices

« It is crucial to strengthen the awareness and commitment of all stakeholders for the elimination of gender-based inequalities and violence. In this regard, Voix EssentiELLES organisations meeting in Abidjan is a real springboard. »

Khady Cissé, founder of Organisation pour la Santé de l’Enfant de la Femme et de la Famille (OSEFF), which is involved in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Côte d’Ivoire

Launched by Speak Up Africa in 2021 in partnership with CHANEL Foundation and the Global Fund, Voix EssentiELLES initiative promotes the involvement of community-based women and girls’ organizations in decision-making and strengthens their capacity to influence policies that affect their health. With funding from Voix EssentiELLES fund, the organizations involved in the initiative are on the front line to fight violence and inequality against women and girls in their countries.

« Whether it is at health, economic or social level, great progress has been made whenever women and girls have the capacity to express their full potential. It is therefore essential to financially and technically support women’s organizations working to strengthen women’s leadership and reverse current gender inequalities. »

Fatimata Mamadou Lamine SY, Executive Secretary of the Association Sénégalaise pour l’avenir de la femme et de l’enfant (ASAFE), which is involved in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Senegal.
By Fatimata SY, activist and General Secretary of Association Sénégalaise pour l’Avenir de la Femme et de l’Enfant (ASAFE). Fatimata is recipient of the Voix Essentielles fund in Senegal. 

Sali was only 9 years old when I met her during one of my outreach tours in northern Senegal. Yet her young body had already been scarred for life by female genital mutilation. The anger and sorrow I saw in the girl’s eyes reminded me of the essence of my commitment, 25 years ago, against female genital mutilation in Senegal. 

Being from a family of female excision practitioners, my fight to preserve women’s bodies and dignity has always seemed obvious to me, regardless of the stigma and hostility resulting from it. The rapid development of our continent in recent years may lead one to believe that these practices no longer exist. 

Still, an estimated 50 million girls are at risk of being subjected to genital mutilation in Africa by 2030, according to UNICEF. In Senegal, nearly 2 million girls and young women underwent genital mutilation in 2019. The prevalence of female genital mutilation among girls under 15 years of age is 16%. 

Barriers to HIV response

This violence still persists mainly because of gender inequalities in our communities and patriarchal values and superstitions that crystalize fantasies around women’s bodies. In addition to being an extreme violation of their dignity and freedom, genital mutilation undermines women’s mental and sexual health. According to UNAIDS, such violence increases women’s vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, which affects women two to six times more than men in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using the same surgical instrument without sterilization, as well as the increased risk of bleeding during sexual intercourse, highly increases HIV risk among victims. Not even the medicalized practice of genital mutilation is without risk.

In many cases, the trauma and other psychological consequences of such violence undermine girls’ confidence and ability to insist on condom use from their partners. Memories of this painful experience and the shame of their scarred bodies prevent them from seeking screening or care for even the most minor genital infections.

Bodily autonomy

Giving women and girls back control of their bodies, their lives and their futures is urgent for an effective response to HIV. How can we accept that even today, 93% of women in Senegal do not have the freedom to make their own decisions about health, contraception or simply to choose when and how to have sex with their partner? As long as these inequalities exist, as long as genital mutilation persists, and as long as women are silenced about their bodies and their sexuality, the elimination of HIV will unfortunately remain a wishful thinking… 

Organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are helping women and girls to claim their sexual and reproductive health rights through empowerment programmes and access to education, as well as actions to remove gender-based barriers to accessing health services. In Senegal, hundreds of girls aged 13 to 18 have received sexual health support through the « Voix Essentielles » initiative launched in July 2021 by Speak Up Africa and supported by the Global Fund. 

These young girls, exposed to sexual activity at an early age, usually with adults, are now empowered and able to avoid risky sexual practices and take control of their health.  Such programmes for women and girls must be supported, expanded and strengthened by governments, international agencies, private sector and civil society.  This is the only way we can effectively tackle gender-based violence and finally put an end to AIDS…

This article was originally published on Jeune Afrique

Chaque 28 mai est consacré à la célébration de la journée mondiale de l’hygiène menstruelle. Cette journée nous concerne tous sans distinction de sexe, d’âge, de race, de situation géographique et de religion. Pourtant au Burkina Faso, parler des menstrues est toujours un sujet tabou. Cette difficulté à parler des menstrues en général et en particulier des comportements à adopter pour une bonne hygiène menstruelle freine l’avancée de nombreux efforts qui sont faits au quotidien pour l’égalité des genres.

La menstruation est un processus biologique naturel et normal qui témoigne d’une bonne santé reproductive de la femme. Elle ne doit pas être perçue comme un phénomène qui dégage une aura négative, de la peur, de la honte et de la gêne. C’est ainsi que cette journée mondiale de l’hygiène menstruelle se veut être une occasion de briser les tabous sur la menstruation, de sensibiliser et engager une conversation sur la thématique. Elle a pour but également d’interpeller les différents acteurs et décideurs clés sur la précarité menstruelle. 

Parmi les Objectifs du Développement Durable (ODD), l’ODD 6 « Eau propre et assainissement » vise à assurer la disponibilité et la gestion durable de l’eau potable et de l’assainissement, et un des buts précis implique de donner accès aux femmes et aux filles à des installations sanitaires et à des mesures d’hygiène adéquates d’ici 2030. Il est donc indispensable d’aligner la thématique de l’hygiène menstruelle comme une priorité de santé publique. 

Pour dynamiser la célébration de la journée mondiale de l’hygiène menstruelle et apporter notre contribution dans la lutte, nous organisons incessamment des évènements. En guise d’exemples, nous pouvons citer les campagnes digitales, les causeries éducatives, les formations sur la confection des serviettes hygiéniques réutilisables, des plaidoyers, des activités de mobilisation de ressource personnelles pour doter des serviettes hygiéniques réutilisables aux jeunes filles et femmes vulnérables. 

Toutes ces actions traduisent notre vision : « celle de créer un monde dans lequel toutes les jeunes filles et femmes sont épanouies ». Aussi ces actions ont pour but de :

Le 24 mai de cette année, nous avons lancé une campagne digitale sur nos réseaux de communication. Aussi, le samedi 28 mai, nous avons tenu une discussion sur les menstrues de façon générale et les mythes autours de la thématique. Cette discussion a réuni plus d’une vingtaine de nos membres et prendra fin par une séance aérobic pour dénoncer les nombreuses difficultés auxquelles les jeunes filles et femmes sont confrontées pendant leurs menstrues.

Ne restez pas en marge, nous devons toutes et tous briser les tabous autour de la santé et de la gestion de l’hygiène menstruelle, alors engagez-vous également à nos côtés !

Par Farida Tiemtore, Présidente des Héroïnes du Faso et récipiendaire du Fonds Voix EssentiELLES. 

In Dakar, Senegal, to mark Africa Day, not-for-profit organization Speak Up Africa has brought together partners to celebrate the many actors in the development sector.

Almost a year after the launch of the African LeadHERs campaign, which aims to promote and amplify the voices and actions of African women, from all sectors of society, working daily for gender equality, and the first ever African LeadHERs Forum in March 2022, Speak Up Africa is launching its African LeadHERs podcast in collaboration with Entre-Elles, a platform for expression and sharing created by Tombany Kouloufoua. 

« The Entre-Elles podcast is extremely proud to be working with Speak Up Africa to launch the African LeadHers podcast series. Amplifying the voice of the world’s women is at the heart of the Entre-Elles mission and we are delighted to be able to celebrate Africa Day alongside the African LeadHers of today and tomorrow. »

Tombany Kouloufoua, founder of Entre-Elles.

The first six-episodes series of the podcast will highlight the profiles and actions of participants in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, which aims to support women and girls in all of their diversity, by meaningfully engaging them in decision-making processes and spaces that influence health policies and programs. At the podcast’s launch, the Senegalese slam poet Samira Fall took up the subject and developed an audio recital on the importance of women’s voices in the public space. This text echoes the African LeadHERs Forum Manifesto to which Ysaora Thibus, fencer and French Olympic medallist, Diandra Tchouatchang, basketball player and French Olympic medallist and Badgyalcassie, choreographer and influencer contributed.

« The African LeadHERs Forum is a very important platform for us, professional athletes, to share our experiences with a focus on transmission and in a spirit of sisterhood. I met some great people there, such as the recipients of the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, who have inspired me enormously. These discussions have changed me and I am convinced that by reclaiming the narrative, we can break the bias. »

Yasora Thibus in her interview at the Forum

On May 25, Speak Up Africa also presented the Union Sportive de Ouakam with a cheque for one million CFA francs from the Funds allocated to the organization at the first ever Sport Impact Award ceremony organised by Sport Impact. In March 2022, Speak Up Africa received the Jury Prize for the impact of the activity held in January 2021 during the celebration of World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Day. On that day, Speak Up Africa, along with the Yard agency, the Ministry of Health and Social Action and key partners in the fight against NTDs, organized the painting of a participatory fresco on the grounds of US Ouakam, at the foot of the Renaissance Monument, as well as the painting of portraits of Sadio Mané, Omar Sy, Issa Rae and Tacko Fall. The activation generated over 10 million impressions on social networks through the engagement of influencers Observateur and Fatou Guinea and the virality of the content. 

« We were delighted to receive the Jury Award from Sport en Commun, which highlights Speak Up Africa’s work in the field of sport and influence, and we are now pleased to continue our collaboration with US Ouakam, enabling them to strengthen their activities and create an attractive environment for women’s sport in communities. The Kigali Summit on NTDs and malaria will take place next month in Rwanda and it is important for us to continue our advocacy through this mural so that everyone continues to say No to NTDs! »

Yacine Djibo, Speak Up Africa’s Executive Director

On that day, ahead of the World Menstrual Hygiene Day held every 28 May, Speak Up Africa gave its long-time partner, Special Olympics Senegal, a batch of 1,200 sanitary towels, intended for athletes living with an intellectual disability, to protect themselves better each month, during their menstrual cycle. 

« I would like to thank Speak Up Africa for supporting our female athletes by distributing these sanitary towels. Menstruation is a natural reality, but girls and women living with intellectual disabilities often find it more difficult to manage their periods with dignity, and the first barrier is access to tools to help them manage. These sanitary towels will allow our athletes to better manage their periods and thus be able to live their lives more decently »

Rajah Sy, Director of Special Olympics Senegal.
Since 6 April 2022, the French city of Marseille has been hosting the 11th AFRAVIH conference, the Francophone Alliance of health actors against HIV and chronic or emerging viral infections. Founded in 2009, AFRAVIH’s aim is to bring together health professionals from different communities engaged in the fight against HIV in French-speaking countries.

From Ouagadougou and Abidjan, Farida Sonia Tiemtore and Pélagie Akoua Kouame took part in the conference to promote the Voix EssentiELLES pilot initiative, implemented by Speak Up Africa, a non-profit strategic communications and advocacy organisation based in Dakar, Senegal, and co-funded by the Global Fund and Fondation CHANEL. 

« We are delighted today to meet the heroines working on a daily basis and in their respective communities for gender equality and more specifically the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Their stories and their voices are essential to advance our common goals and strengthen the capacity of organisations led by women and girls. »

Françoise Vanni, Head of External Relations and Communications at the Global Fund.

Voix EssentiELLES aims to support women and girls, in all of their diversity, by meaningfully engaging them in decision-making processes and spaces that influence health policies and programmes in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Through this pilot, Speak Up Africa and its partners aim to address four main challenges, namely

  1. the limited political participation and representation of women and girls in decision-making spaces for policies and programmes that affect their health,
  2. deep-rooted harmful socio-cultural practices, including various forms of violence,
  3. insufficient and indirect resources dedicated to women-led community organisations, and finally
  4. the limited capacity of small grassroots organisations to engage in advocacy work.

« Voix EssentiELLES allows us to carry out real advocacy, at our level and in our communities, in particular for women and young people, who are in my opinion the pillars of our development. We can eliminate HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but to do so we need a collective solidarity that echoes across borders. From Burkina Faso to Abidjan to Dakar, we are fighting for what’s important, and we are keen to see this project scaled up across the entire sub-region. »

Farida Sonia Tiemtore, Founder and President of Héroïnes du Faso.

Because voice, decision-making and leadership are vital factors for the empowerment of women, the Héroïnes du Faso association works for the well-being of women in the land of honest men (and women). Its goal is to promote respect for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, social engagement, education and the empowerment of women. Through the Voix EssentiELLES pilot initiative, in which it participates, a catalytic fund of 170 million CFA has been created to support selected women’s and girls’ organisations with achievable time-limited objectives. 

« We are working tirelessly on common sustainable development goals for global health. To achieve them, we also need to think about and support the goals of women and girls at community level. Listen to them, support them and fund them, because their solutions and actions must be our guidelines for the development of our strategies and action plans. »

Stéphanie Seydoux, France’s Ambassador for Global Health. 

This September, the Global Fund will hold its Seventh Replenishment Conference where at least $18 billion will be needed to fight HIV, TB and malaria and to strengthen health systems. Since its creation, the Global Fund has invested over US$53 billion, saving 44 million lives and reducing the combined death rate from the three diseases by more than half in the countries in which it invests. In 2022, we need a new impetus for global solidarity and leadership.

« Funding from the Global Fund is crucial to the well-being of our communities. The inputs and medicines that enable us to fight HIV/AIDS on a daily basis save lives. In addition to these inputs, we need support to carry out our day-to-day work with women and sex workers. Voix EssentiELLES is an initiative that funds us directly and helps us to go about our activities, therefore funding from the initiative is more than essential for us and our beneficiaries. »

Pélagie Akoua Kouame, , Founder and Director of COVIE in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ultimately, community health is critical to achieve gender equality and end gender-based violence. To achieve this, innovative public-private partnerships are more than necessary in order to give a voice, a place and the tools they need to organisations that work daily with and for the most vulnerable people in our societies, women and girls in all their diversity. We need to change the narrative, change the paradigm and change behaviour and, above all, fight for what matters.

Marseille, 7 April 2022

For the first time, the World Water Forum is hosted in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. And it is a timely but stark reminder of how the world is slipping behind its commitment to achieving universal access to safe sanitation by 2030.

Globally, the World Bank estimates that 2.4 billion people live without access to basic sanitation. Of these, 760 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 200 million people across the continent still practice open defecation. With numbers increasing in some countries, service providers fail to keep pace with population growth. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports two million deaths annually, with children under five years old. 

Access to safely managed sanitation is crucial for women and girls, and those living in vulnerable situations. Lack of sanitation management leads fecal sludge to be dumped in the living environment causing preventable and treatable endemic diseases such as neglected tropical diseases, malaria among others. Labelled as “the Forum of Responses,” this 9th World Water Forum provides an opportunity for Africa to present its solutions and responses; and for the first time ever sanitation is considered among the priority issue. As Senegal is considered a leader in the sanitation sector, both regionally and internationally, platforms are created for the community to propose sustainable solutions.

The prioritization of sanitation has led to the establishment of the Sanitation Village, a major innovation in World Water Forums. For the first time in history, sanitation has a dedicated space. The village of 24 stands and exhibitors witnessed the signing of a partnership agreement between the Government of Senegal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the first day of the Forum in the presence of Mr. Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Minister of Water and Sanitation of Senegal.

In the «Golden Sludge» space of the village, the visual artist Caroline Gueye was painting a triptych called «Boues d’Or et Bouts d’Arbre» (Golden Sludge and Tree Trunks) throughout the day, while at the entrance to the village, we were exhibiting pictures by the talented Senegalese photographer Laye Pro, highlighting the entire value chain of the sector.

The Village aims to strengthen advocacy and actions for the implementation of tangible responses to accelerate universal access to safely managed sanitation. Furthermore, it is a space for stakeholders to call for stronger actions towards the achievements of regional commitments and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.2.  As an integral part of the 9th Forum’s major exhibition, the Village is a platform for advocacy, awareness raising, exchange, and learning on sanitation and hygiene, promoting ongoing innovations in sanitation, and mobilizing actors for the call to action.

For Speak Up Africa, we believe African nations must develop the solutions needed to tackle African health challenges. And thus, it is natural for us to focus on awareness, prioritization, and commitment to improving access to adequate and equitable sanitation for all in Africa. Through platforms such as the World Water Forum, and the Sanitation Village, Speak Up Africa convenes its partners, ranging from the private sector to civil society including decision-makers and the media for multi-stakeholder discussions to raise the profile of sanitation. A total of eleven sessions and side-events were organized in the Village with more than 700 participants attending.

On the side-lines of the World Water Forum, the Minister of Water and Sanitation of Senegal, Mr. Serigne Mbaye Thiam has officially launched and endorsed Speak Up Africa’s Golden Sludge Campaign. A campaign aiming to reinforce awareness-raising, prioritization, and political commitment through the implementation of equitable and inclusive sanitation policies. This campaign will enable Speak Up Africa to support African countries in addressing these challenges and creating an enabling environment for safely managed sanitation in Africa.

With less than eight years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we are convinced that through initiatives such as the Sanitation Village is possible to identify the best and most adapted solutions to the African context and realities. 

Furthermore, it is also a key determinant for sustainable food production, industrial development, and urbanization. But critical questions remain. How to recover resources from waste? What is each actor’s role along the sanitation value chain? How can contextual systems be installed for sludge and solid waste disposal and treatment? And above all, how can we encourage more women to take charge and inform the solutions for Africa’s sanitation issues.

The 9th World Water Forum provides a platform for responses to all these issues as we continue to rethink our approach to the various challenges upon us, the best practices, and initiatives to our different contexts.

By Yacine Djibo, Executive Director, Speak Up Africa

En prélude au 9ème Forum mondiale de l’eau, des femmes du secteur ont organisé le 20 mars 2022 un dialogue sur les défis de l’assainissement et la place qu’elles occupent dans les entreprises. Une occasion pour certaines de partager leur parcours.

Le dialogue des femmes dans le secteur de l’eau et de l’assaisonnement tenu hier montre le leadership féminin dans cette rencontre internationale. Cet échange en prélude du 9e Forum mondial de l’eau a permis à beaucoup de femmes de partager leur vécu. C’est le cas de la Directrice Général de la Sen Eau. Pour Mme Janny Arnal l’eau se voit au féminin. 

« Avant de commencer ma carrière, je voyais que tout le monde était géré par les hommes. Ils occupaient tous les grands postes. Mais si c’est un poste voulu par une femme, il faut prouver », défend- t-elle. Poursuivant son témoignage elle souligne qu’à un moment donné elle est allée voir le Directeur pour un poste dans les opérations. « Il me dit une femme opératrice. Donc il fallait prouver, montrer au plombier que je suis capable de faire une prise en charge. En plus de cela je dois assurer tout le monde que je n’avais pas besoin de montrer.  C’est ça les femmes il faut osez. Il ne faut pas se résigner. Il faut montrer qu’on est bien capable de le faire », explique Mme Arnal. 

Avant de conseiller aux femmes d’aller toujours chercher le meilleur. Selon elle, les femmes se remettent toujours en question à cause de leur humilité.

« L’humilité de la femme fait qu’on se pose des questions si l’on est capable. Oui on est capable. Et vous faites la richesse des entreprises dans tous les pays du monde. On a quelque chose en force c’est le cœur.  Quand on fait avec le cœur on fait les choses plus que les hommes. Alors osez chères femmes osez ». 

Mme Arnal

Ce dialogue inscrit sous le thème : « Soutenir la croissance et promouvoir la visibilité des femmes professionnelles : la clé du succès du secteur Eau, Assainissement », vise selon Cheikh Tidjane Fall, représentant du Secrétaire exécutif dudit Forum à renforcer les capacités des femmes professionnelles et à les positionner au cœur des actions pour améliorer l’accès à l’eau et à l’assaisonnement. C’est aussi une illustration de plus pour les organisations de femmes.

« Les femmes sont très engagées pour la réussite du forum qui s’organise à Dakar au nom de toute l’Afrique. Il est impossible de parler de développent socio-économique de santé de paix et de sécurité sans l’implication des femmes et des filles du monde entier. Elles ont un rôle important aux côtés des autres acteurs de la société pour contribuer à la construction d’un monde ».

M. Fall
Ouagadougou, Abidjan and Dakar, March 10, 2022 – On the sidelines of the Generation Equality Forum, in June 2021, Speak Up Africa launched its “African LeadHERs” initiative, which aims to promote and amplify the voices and actions of African women and girls who strive to achieve gender equality. African LeadHERs promotes a new mindset to think and act creatively to drive action through innovation and inclusion of women and girls in decision making spaces in order to achieve a fairer and more equal world. 

To commemorate International Women’s Day, Speak Up Africa organized its first ever African LeadHERs Forum. The event took place March 7th and 8th and convened more than 260 participants online & in person in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal including 26 experts and champions through 6 activations. Day one of the Forum focused on the Voix EssentiELLES initiative launched by Speak Up Africa in 2021 and co-funded by the Global Fund and the Fondation CHANEL.Through this initiative, female-led grassroots and community-based organizations have an opportunity to secure a grant of up to US$10,000, or up to XOF 5 million, to the entities or the organization leaders. 

« We are thankful for organizations like Speak Up Africa, which support us by providing funding, technical support, and capacity-building opportunities such as the workshop on storytelling »

Fatimata Sy, President of the Senegalese Association for the Future of Women and Children (ASAFE) and a beneficiary of the Voix EssentiELLES fund in Senegal.

The cost of gender discrimination and inequality has myriad ramifications. High incidences of gender discrimination tend to result in correspondingly higher percentages of human rights violations such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). FGM, a pervasive violation of bodily corporal rights, is estimated by UNICEF to have affected 200 million women across thirty countries.

Financial literacy is another challenge a lot of societies face. Advancing financial literacy reduces the number of the unbanked, which, in turn, helps empower women – by putting them on the pathway to financial independence. Yet financial literacy can help further empower women and mothers, by delaying the age at which girl children are married off. Often, girls are pressured to drop out of school and marry at very young ages, and are deterred from pursuing further education. In Ivory Coast, the Voix EssentiELLEs workshop focused on the power of financial inclusion of women to break the bias facilitated by Mariam Djibo, General Manager of Advans Côte d’Ivoire, a microfinance institution, while in Burkina Faso, beneficiaries of the project learned via Harouna Drabo, journalist and fact-checker the power of communication and story-telling. Day one of the Forum concluded with Nadia Mensah Acogny on the art of speaking publicly while emphasizing on the importance of self-condidence, “No one knows how to talk about your issues and your solutions better than you do”, she concluded.

« Empowering women is a matter of economic, legal and moral common sense » …

Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Africa Managing Director of the Commons Project Africa Managing Director of the Commons Project during our high-level online conversation on women-led innovation in Africa 

« Achieving sustainable health and gender equality on the continent »

on day two of the African LeadHERs Forum. Organized in partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), with whom we launched the Africa Young Innovators Award in 2020 and the Women Innovators Incubator in September 2021. The Incubator aims to address the blatant gaps in female-led innovation and tackle additional hurdles they have to face to help take their business ideas from concept to implementation.

Featured significantly in the forum was the importance of owning one’s narratives, a message also underscored by Speak Up Africa in their work. The second day of the Forum also discussed ways to advance gender mainstreaming, while highlighting diversity.

« Initiatives such as the African LeadHERs Forum help underscore the importance of positive movements »

« More often than not, women are conditioned to imbibe harmful messaging about their place in society, both at work and at home. Women must see themselves represented and empowered in any room they walk into. »

Ysaora Thibus, fencer and 2021 team Olympic silver medalist on the importance of representation and sports to achieve gender equality.

In 2020, Ysaora created Essentielle stories to support the narrative around women in sports by providing them with a platform to express themselves and tell their own stories. Alongside Ysaora during the final event of the Forum held under the theme « Sport, leadHERship and influence: the power of representation to break bias”, Diandra Tchouatchang, French basketball player and 2021 team Olympic silver medalist as well and Cassandra Ngbolonga, professional choregrapher, Founder of Beafrika and Instagram sensation. The panel and afternoon activities concluded with the painting of an African LeadHERs fresco, where the three women engraved their messages on the walls. Rajah Sy, Director of Special Olympics Senegal and Astou Ndiaye, WNBA champion also participated in the discussions in front of 30 young girls and women.

« It is important we focus on celebrating our differences and see them for what they are: strengths. »

Rajah Sy.

During the African LeadHERs Forum, Speak Up Africa launched their Gender and Social Inclusion strategy. The plan, with four strategic orientations and eight operational standards set for gender mainstreaming, details a multi-pronged approach to providing solutions to the most critical issues that African populations face when working to create a more equitable world.

Globally, gender inequity and lack of parity has proven itself detrimental to advancing women’s rights and equality. The cost can be measured across various metrics, including jobs, opportunities, livelihood, and social perceptions.

« Discrimination needs action, as well as awareness raising and acknowledgment. We have identified six key guiding principles and four main strategic orientations that set the tone for our work in advancing gender mainstreaming, »

« We also established a robust implementation framework, with eight minimum guiding standards. Setting clear, realistic targets makes the plan achievable, and spells out the way that each action matters. »

Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa.

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