#002: Our Girls Are Coming Back

May 19 Issue of Empower46 below. To receive more like this straight to your inbox, join us here.

  • · Our Girls Are Coming Back

In April 2014, Boko Haram descended on Chibok, a local government area in North-East Nigeria, kidnapping over 200 schoolgirls. The aftermath was an international uproar, marked by the viral social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls that saw major international leaders condemning the heinous acts of Boko Haram and compelling the Nigerian government to act.

Overcoming Boko Haram has proven a mammoth task for the Nigerian government, and there are multiple reasons why this is so. Between an underequipped military and a clear lack of government strategy, Nigeria has so far been unsuccessful in halting Boko Haram’s havoc. However, small strides are being made—such as last month’s freedom of 82 kidnapped Chibok girls as well as the liberation of 21 Chibok girls last October. According to the Nigerian government, the girls were released through negotiations with Boko Haram and (according to some reports) in exchange for some of the group’s imprisoned members. Despite this victory, great pain remains for the families of girls who have not yet been freed and great concern about successfully re-integrating the newly-liberated girls into Nigerian society. From all angles, the Nigerian government has a lot of work on its hands—and for the sake of our girls and society, we hope for success.

Read for: “While the release of girls is likely to cast them back into the spotlight, Akilu says that it is important the young women be allowed to choose their own future. She says, “When a terrorist takes you, you often have no choice in the matter. So when you return to society, we cannot repeat that—we’ve got to give [them] some choice.”




  • Should Sexual Health Services Be Provided to Minors? 

Perhaps, the answer is “it depends”—somewhere out there, a lawyer gave me a thumbs up.

Female access to sexual health services is always a topic of contention, particularly in more conservative societies. However, even more contentious, is the idea of providing girls younger than 18 years of age access to sexual health services. So let’s say, it depends, the follow up is…. depends on what?  Does it depend on whether or not the society in question is highly conservative? Should it be based on the precedent and status quo? Or based—unassumingly—on the health and wellbeing of the society?

Zimbabwe is asking itself these same questions. In order to access sexual health products (i.e. birth control) in pharmacies or hospitals in Zimbabwe, girls younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. However, given the rise in teenage pregnancies, HIV rates and school drop-out rates (as a result of pregnancy), Zimbabwe almost has a health crisis on its hands.  MP Ruth Lambode, as well as many other MPs in the Zimbabwean parliament, have pushed to distribute condoms in schools, particularly in provinces with the highest HIV rates. What will be difficult to settle on, is the age at which these services should be provided to young adults. No matter what Zimbabwe decides, the fact that 4,500 girls did not take their Grade 7 exams because of either teenage pregnancies or early marriages shows that 18 is a little too late.

Read for: “Labode said that the high HIV incidence and early pregnancies among teenagers point to the fact that Zimbabwe is now a country of hypocrites who deny the obvious. [Labode said] ‘You want students to go and ask for condoms at the clinic and then the nurse will say Haunyare? [Are you not ashamed?]. There is a problem and I think as a nation, we are hypocrites’”



  • · Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the Women Beside Her

 I was in JSS1, my first year of secondary school, when my Social Studies teacher (quite drily) added to our lesson for the afternoon: “Liberia has a new president, and she’s the first female president in Africa.” Between a 10-year-old brain and a desire to simply get through the class and head to the dining hall for lunch, I simply did not understand the magnitude of it. Older and with an insatiable need to research African political systems, I became in awe of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the 67-year-old grandmother that became Africa’s first democratically elected female leader; and I remain fascinated by her life story.

 When President Johnson-Sirleaf was elected into office, Liberia was reeling from its Second Civil war (1999-2003)—the country had its First Civil war (1989-1996). After the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement and 2-year transitionary period, Liberia held its 2005 general election, which saw Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf enter history books as Africa’s first elected female president. Perhaps, most remarkable in Liberia’s recent history and Ellen’s road to the Liberian presidency, is the resilience and tenacity of its women. From their struggle for peace (famously detailed in the award-winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell) to their crucial role in electing Ellen into the presidency, women were instrumental in healing Liberia.

As President Johnson-Sirleaf prepares to leave office and Liberia gears up for its October 2017 presidential elections, the world will have its eyes on the ordinary women whose resolve rescued their country.

Read for: “Once they realized that the country was going to have democratic elections, [that] they had the right to vote and they could exercise it, they could say: We’re gonna vote for a woman, because a woman is not going to bring war in the country.”




  • · 6 African Women Entrepreneurs You Should Know

The 2017 World Economic Forum (held in Durban, SA) highlighted six amazing female African entrepreneurs leveraging technology and innovation to disrupt industries from agriculture to health to solar energy. All the businesses are based in Africa and prove that the continent’s women are pushing boundaries and shattering glass ceilings. Personally, I’m fascinated by all the women on this list and their amazing work. However, given that I have a soft spot for Agriculture and what it can yield when properly invested in, I am especially intrigued by Angel Adelaja’s urban farm and tech agri-business, Fresh Direct [Nigeria], and Esther Karwera’s Akorion [Uganda], which—amongst other things—supports transfer of mobile money in the agricultural value chains.

Click for: The closing performance of the 2017 World Economic Forum in South Africa. If you’re a super-fan of South African choirs (like I am), you can thank me later.



  • · Women’s Fight for Land in Morocco

 New York Times’ Aida Alami reports on women’s land rights in Morocco, with a stellar article on women’s organized protests against state-sanctioned privatization of traditional tribal collectives. Moroccan women who live on these collectives organized and formed the Soulaliyate women’s movement which fights to provide tribal women with equal access as men to tribal land rights. Focused on privatization and liberalization, the Moroccan government (well-intentioned on the cause of development as it may be) seized many tribal lands and sold them to agencies for development. Doing this particularly led to the displacement of women (those without a man’s ‘cover’ such as widows or unmarried women), but men who were displaced were compensated with either money or land elsewhere. Without equal access to land rights, women were forcefully pushed out of their homes without compensation, and left with no home or source of income with which to feed themselves or their families. The women have risen up to protest, using all forms from public demonstrations to manifestos. As humans, women should be allowed to inherit and/or benefit from their own land—and not even the patriarchy or tradition or government should stand in the way—the Soulaliyates’ fight is making sure of that.    

Read for: “Saida Soukat said that she had faced threats and intimidation for her role in the movement. In February, she was badly beaten by a man as she was walking alone on a road. But her greatest worry…is that she and her family will be forced off the land and out of their home.”





Nneoma Nwankwo