The “intergenerational poverty” of African women

While representing over a half of the world’s population, women still don’t enjoy equal opportunities, especially in less developed areas of the planet where the doors to opportunity remain only partially opened.

Access to services such as education, health, as well as to productive resources like land, capital, credit are systematically limited to perpetuate a tradition of discrimination against the female population.

Not only women are more than half the world’s population, they also constitute the majority of those who live below the poverty line.


Women in Ethiopian village. © Fondazione Rita Levi-Montalcini Onlus 2008

“Intergenerational poverty”: education, work, rights

Which factors make poverty a “women’s issue”? Among the main and most recognized factors there is definitely education. Illiteracy is a real “open invitation to poverty”. The living conditions of many girls often make it essential to scarify education for immediate survival. The result is that two-thirds of the one billion illiterate adults are women.

In Africa, work is woman

Traditional societies delegate to woman most of the activities related to survival. Cultivation, feeding, grazing animals, small business. Women’s work is considered a service to family members, free of charge.

Exceptions do exist, just think of Magatte Wade, Folorunsho Alakija, and other beautiful examples of women who thanks to education have managed to make a career reaching important positions, as in the video below.

But in order to avoid that these remain isolated cases, we must create an environment in which women can exercise a more direct control over resources, have access to credit, enjoy the respect and the due consideration and remuneration for their work.

Imposed rights and duties

And that is not limited to a mere increase of their income, but it indicates an increase in their opportunities and the recognition of their right to economic and social participation in the society which they belong to. A society which must guarantee the full respect of women’s rights and not only demand the fulfillment of imposed duties.

The right to health, the right to freely choose how to enjoy their freedom, the right to protection against violence.

Despite the progress made in recent years, the number of girls whose rights are denied is still high and affects the entire economic system.

According to recent OECD studies, the full participation of women in a country’s economic activity would bring to a GDP growth of at least the 12 percent.

Education, work, rights, these are the three fundamental concepts to break the cycle of “inherited poverty” that hampers the full development and realization of women’s potential in Africa.