08 March 2022
As part of the African LeadHERs Forum and to mark International Women’s Day, Speak Up Africa convenes “Voix essentiELLEs” organizations in Ouagadougou, Abidjan and Dakar, to break the bias and achieve gender equality.
The Voix EssentiELLES initiative was launched in 2021 to positively impact and amplify women’s voice, leadership, and decision-making powers at different levels. It celebrates diversity in women and girls, and actively engages them in empowering spaces set up to help address the harmful ramifications of gender bias.
Gender bias has powerful implications in women’s careers and daily lives. In the event of work often carried out by women, societally that work is undervalued. Unfortunately, women face similar discrimination outcomes when doing work in typically underrepresented fields. Thus, women face gender discrimination across various areas- including salary, the perception of their commitment to work.
As a strategic communications and advocacy organization, Speak Up Africa is dedicated itself to fostering policy change and increasing awareness for sustainable development – particularly around Malaria, Neglected Tropical Diseases, sanitation and immunization. The organization is also invested in catalyzing leadership – particularly within the female demographic. To mark International Womens’ Day, Speak Up Africa launched its first ever African LeadHERs Forum to celebrate and promote women’s leadership, actions, voices and innovations across the continent. On its first day, the Forum focused on the Voix EssentiELLEs initiative and its “University of ExcELLEnce”. In-person and online sessions were organized in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal in order to raise the profile and provide platforms to community voices, highlight the power and crucial representation of community voices in the national, regional and global dialogues that impact their health and strengthen the leadership capacities – in communications, financial inclusion and public speaking.
The day started with a session, facilitated by Harouna Drabo, journalist and fact-checker in Burkina Faso, womens’ rights advocate and Awardee of the Speak Up Africa Leadership Award in 2021, and joined by 23 CBOs in-person. The theme of the session “Breaking the bias in the media: the power of storytelling and communications” reinforced the importance of women’s voices in the media and reclaiming the narrative.
“The African LeadHERs Forum is an excellent platform to build the profile of women in the media. Our session and discussions emphasized on the crucial need of a new narrative that will reveal the full potential of women, and above all, shed light on their meaningful to contributions to Africa’s overall development.” commented Harouna Drabo.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the session focused on financial inclusion was facilitated by Mariam Djibo, General Director of Advans Côte d’Ivoire and Dr. Emma Angoua, President of the Global Platform for Women Entrepreneurs in Côte d’Ivoire. “In Côte d’Ivoire, 9 million women actively participate to the country’s economy but only 1 million of them have a bank account. Providing financial services to these women is a crucial step to their financial and overall empowerment.” added Mariam Djibo.
The first day of the Forum ended with a session featuring Nadia Mensah-Acogny, Chief Operating Officer of Acosphere. Joined by more than 20 CBOs and special guests including Diandra Tchatchouang, French Basketball Player and winner of the Bronze medal with Team France during the last olympic grames in Tokyo, Ysaora Thibus, Fencer, three-time olympian and winner of a silver medal with Team France in Tokyo as well and Cassie Ngbolonga, Choregrapher and influencer from the Central African Republic. During the session on the power of speech and public speaking, Nadia Mensah Acogny highlighted: “Taking the floor is taking the power. But power is not given, it’s conquered. Mastering the art of speech enables us to transform the way others look at us, break the bias, rewrite history and write our future.”
As it stands, women are strongly disincentivized to take on the mantle of leadership. Whether culturally or economically, across numerous countries the cultural norms tend to favour women working in the home. Alongside this, young girls are often pressured to marry early, and discouraged from going to school. Thus these cultural attitudes inform the social norms, and contribute to the relatively smaller numbers of girls and women in business, a count which seems to get smaller in correlation to the company position.
These have economic as well as public health ramifications, with a lack of education, knowledge, emancipation and financial independence often leading to poorer health outcomes amongst women and girls – especially in regards to maternal, natal, and sexual health. Furthermore, community-transmissible viruses and other major public health diseases such as malaria, HIV and malaria have been a persistent scourge in certain climates.
“Through Voix EssentiELLES, part of our mission is to help break this bias” concluded Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa. “This involves creating a positive movement that allows women to not only see themselves represented in any room they walk into – but also to meaningfully participate in decision making spaces that affect their health”.