My name is Yemurai Nyoni and I’m a young man aged 23 from Zimbabwe. At many points in my brief history as an activist for women and girls health I have been asked one question, “Why do you care?” My family, friends and colleagues have asked me to explain why I’m so passionate about changing the development status of women and girls, particularly as a young African man. To be honest in my society it’s unusual for a young man to look out for the interests of women, it’s simply unmanly and seen as a sign of weakness. I don’t really know how I landed in this space but I’m very confident of the reasons why I decided to stay.
It’s a Woman’s World
In the words of Her Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Women form half of the world population and give birth to the other half.
Development is centred on women, empowering women is empowering the families and communities that make up the global village.
Women function in both productive and reproductive roles within our societies, bearing the biological brunt of population growth and the resultant commitment to raise children who will run the world in the future.
In my region, women provide the bulk of the food we eat and, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization, in Sub-Saharan Africa they produce up to 80% of basic foodstuffs for both the household and sale. What this basically means is that if African women were to stop farming the whole continent would go hungry, lose all other forms of productivity and waste away to poverty and disease amidst certain political chaos. Global statistics agree with the dominant contribution of women to crop production, as well as, their significance as a demographic in the decision-making landscape.
Women are Beautiful
On the 4th of June this year I launched an online blog campaign called ‘1000 Voices – 1000 Days’ in an effort to engage young people in 1000 conversations to help change the development status of girls and women in Africa. The purpose of the campaign was to appreciate that African women are not just numbers from statistical documents, or troubling lines in project proposals.
It was an effort to show that their dreams can shake the world, their resilience can take down any obstacle and their multifaceted beauty shines to every forsaken corner of development.
In the words of Nomqhele Dube, one of the young women who shared their stories on the blog,
I am a special young woman. Can you see the beauty I create, just by being me? I have a wonderful collection of magical, polished and raw talents. I know things that no one else knows. I am good at things that no one else does better than me. I am beautiful in my own way.
Women and girls in Africa face direct threats to their wellbeing and some are forced into very major responsibilities at tender ages. Even in this adversity, young women like Edith Asamani from Ghana had the courage to say,
When failure, disappointment and defeat come my way, I smile them away. When I think of what keeps me going, I think of my passion for change and the responsibility of being a first-born who has been working to help take care of her siblings since she was 11 years old…and I smile.
The world is rich because of the strength and resilience of its women, they are the true building blocks of our nations, and the pillows we find waiting for us when we fall down in the hardest of crises.
Women and Girls are Under Threat
I care about women and girls because they’re largely at the receiving end of bad social policy, the repercussions of war, and the impact of drought and disease. According to the World Bank, women account for 61 percent of those living with HIV and young women are three times more likely to be HIV positive than young men. Girls continue to be married off in their adolescence, which puts them at grave risk of experiencing violence from their significantly older counterparts as well as adverse complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
Women are economically disempowered, with a large proportion of them in unskilled and low paying jobs. They are not in possession of critical economic assets like land, given that just one percent of the world’s women own land . The global landscape, as it relates to women, is filled with all sorts of inequalities and disenfranchisements and these leave them vulnerable to exploitation and continued oppression.
I Believe Young Men Can
The most important motivation for the work I do is the belief that I have the power to address these challenges as a young African man. The current and future power dynamics in our region are skewed in favour of young men. In the prevailing set up, we are set to lead families, determine the political and economic direction of our nations and claim influential positions in all major social spaces. We are poised for power, and what we decide to do with it now has great potential to directly impact the future of girls and women for decades to come.
I choose to care, and to engage other young men to do the same. I choose to denounce violence against women and girls, and to use whatever influence our social structures have placed at my disposal to increase the decision-making power of women.
Girls must go to school unhindered and they must make a seamless transition into adulthood with full capacity and opportunity for effective economic, social and political influence.
I must secure the prospects of my daughter-to-be, and also ensure that my partner will have all the means necessary to help us jointly determine our future. It is through change-inspiring conversations, bold leadership and innovative actions that I believe this will happen and this has been the nature of my work. It’s not un-African for a young man to be so concerned about women and girls, instead its un-African to sit down while your neighbour violates your sister, tramples on your daughter and spits on your mother. Standing up for women and girls is a matter of honour; it’s a demonstration of true power and only real men can step up to face that responsibility.