International women’s day in Africa

A group of black women conversing
A group of black women conversing (Photo credit: Picha stock)

March 8 is International Women’s Day, an event that is traced to the 1908 demonstration of 15,000 women in New York, asking for better working conditions and higher wages. Then in 1975, the UN made March 8 the International Women’s Day. Since then, every year, March 8th is celebrated differently, depending on the country and the global geopolitical ‘colors’. This year, the theme at the international level focuses on UN Women and the world for gender equality and a sustainable tomorrow. These words obviously capture the preoccupations of the world today. 

Women, Violence and Climate Change

Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of the climate crisis as it amplifies existing gender inequalities and puts women’s lives and livelihoods at risk. Across the world, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources, and often bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel. As women and girls bear the burden of climate impacts, they are also essential to leading and driving change in climate adaption, mitigation and solutions.  Without the inclusion of half of the world’s population, it is unlikely that solutions for a sustainable planet and a gender equal world tomorrow will be realized. Women possess unique knowledge and experience, and their inclusion in decision-making processes is critical to effective climate action. Studies found that increasing women’s representation in national parliaments leads to the adoption of more stringent climate change policies, resulting in lower emissions. The participation of women in natural resource management is associated with better resource governance and conservation outcomes. 

Violence against women and girls is a post-disaster phenomenon. In general, sexual assaults, physical abuse and human trafficking increase after a disaster and this often stems from stress due to financial concerns, disaster-trauma, and the increased substance use that comes with it, etc. Sexual violence may occur in crowded housing situations (e.g., against or by a host family member). Stress is exacerbated in crowded shelters or temporary housing which may lead to aggressive behavior, including sexual aggression. In war-torn areas – including refugee encampments and internally displaced persons camps – sexual violence is often seen as a means of control of the population. In some disasters, there is a distinct disparity in deaths between women and men. Researchers have found that, “61 percent of fatalities in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, 70 percent after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Banda Aceh, and 91 percent after Cyclone Gorky in Bangladesh in 1991” were women. However, when economic and social rights are more equally distributed between men and women, the death rates are also more equal. Gender equality is doubtlessly a powerful tool in tackling the climate crisis and the influence of 19-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg had an important impact on many girls all over the world. In Uganda, floods, landslides and droughts led numerous girls into climate change activism. This is how those girls link gender, justice, climate change and poverty: “we can’t have climate justice without poverty eradication. We can’t have climate justice without achieving zero hunger. We can’t have climate justice without gender equality”.

March 8 in Africa

In 8 African countries, this day is a holiday and Burkina Faso is one of them. The other African countries that observe that practice are: Eritrea where the Ogbonge girls and women put up a fierce battle in the struggle for independence. Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia complete the list.

Burkina Faso

The day was the opportunity for the new authorities to express their total respect for women’s rights and commitment to ensure women’s protection. On this 165th edition of March 8, the minister for gender chaired the celebration, in a context of insecurity (caused by jihadist attacks) where the majority of victims are women. The theme was therefore ‘Health and Security Challenges: What Strategy for a Better Protection for Women?” A panel made several presentations on themes like the socioeconomic condition of women and insecurity, and also Covid-19 and women. The minister, M. Seydou SOULAMA congratulated the girls and women who leave no stone unturned in this mission in Burkina. He reminded the audience of the immense importance of women’s security and prosperity in Burkina and one of the proofs he mentioned is the digitalization of the business of girls and women, a measure that aims at protecting them against extremist violence, since they can do business without moving far from their homes. He explained that this year’s celebration is centered around ways to improve the conditions of the 1,700,000 internally displaced people. Food security, the prevention and treatment of Covid-19, and several other decisions aiming at making women key agents of development have been pointed out as the main concerns of the political authorities. March 8 is the day when social roles are swapped in Burkina. Men go shopping for groceries and cook for their family, a task which is left to women most of the time. Every year, a new material with special designs is printed and worn by all celebrants. To crown it all, the President of the country made a speech that reechoed the theme of this year’s March 8.


Although March 8 is not a public holiday in Ghana, the importance of the date is deeply felt. Important presentations and discussions are held. In universities, qualified panelists ponder over the condition of girls and women. At the University of Cape Coast for instance, the Center for Gender Research, Advocacy and Documentation (CEGRAD) which is at the forefront of the fight against sexual harassment of both females and males coined a theme that resonates with that of the UN: “ Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow” and the panelist were chosen accordingly: the female  Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University, the keynote speaker is a female lecturer at the Department of Fisheries, and he host is the Director of the Center, a female lecturer in Sociology. That is a very laudable practice, in honor of gender and there certainly a difference in the celebration of March 8, depending on the country where one lives. But is there a difference in the understanding and essence of March 8? I heard this statement from a lady that made me question the overall impact of March 8, since its inception: “In many countries today, Women’s Day does not mean anything. I, standing here, do not know the meaning of Women’s Day. I did not know that Tuesday was Women’s Day until a friend sent me a text message wishing me a Happy Women’s Day”.  This certainly unleashes serious cogitation. Are we, as a society, on the path to the implementation of the spirit behind March 8? Is it high time we recalibrated our shot? 

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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