Interview with Ms. Bate Arrah, Secretary-“In Africa Poverty has a Woman’s Face”
Question: Do you agree with the assertion that women incarnate the face of poverty in Africa?
Answer: Of course, I do. Take a look at the faces of African women and note how wide-eyed and desperate they are. Gender inequality exists in both rich and poor countries, but the gap is certainly wider in Africa in particular, and the effects far reaching. Someone writing on the Third Millennium Development Goal (Promote gender equality and empower women) captured women and poverty in Africa with these words "In Africa Poverty has a Woman’s Face". Men prefer work that goes with prestige, power, remuneration, recognition etc. Rarely would you fine a man doing a job with no economic value. Such non-economic workloads are the lot of women. This explains, in part, why much work by women and the poverty burden are not taken into account in official policies. Such policies continue to ignore the non-market activities which women are engaged in. Yet, women predominate in non-market and household activities than men – which explains why they tend to be more adversely affected by lack of government policy that caters to their specific needs. For poverty in Africa to cease incarnating a woman’s face, organizations such as the African Development Bank must show commitment at the highest level. The mainstreaming of gender issues in Bank interventions should not be left to chance. It should result from a clear vision of Bank policies and actions designed to create a future for gender balance and equality.
Question: How do you define poverty in the African context?
Answer: Poverty within the African context is wide-ranging indeed. The variations emanate not only from differences in perception, but also differences in culture. Broadly speaking, I would define poverty to be a condition where people are unable to attain a minimum standard of living, lack access to basic needs such as education, health, and are not empowered. And as far as women’s empowerment is concerned, the continent still has a long way to go.
Question: Recently, AfDB Group President, Donald Kaberuka, said gender should be accorded "the same importance as agriculture", in Bank operations. What is your take on this?
Answer: Gender, like agriculture and governance, is a cross-cutting issue in the bank. I personally decry the fact that there is no Gender Unit in the Bank. If the Bank has seen the need to set up a Fragile States Unit – for which I am in full support - the same importance should be accorded to gender. Hopefully, that would explain Mr. Kaberuka’s commendable stand. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed thus far is the promotion of women, not gender. The President is trying to achieve gender advancement and all should join hands with him.
Achieving gender equity in policy formulation and enforcement is essential to the efficacy of Bank operations. The Bank should explore innovative ways aimed not only at recruiting, retaining and promoting women into leadership positions, but also at empowering them. This would enable the Bank to create a corridor for gender balance and equality which is, without doubt, one of the factors to help Africa achieve overall social well-being for all its population.
Question: Some people argue that special programmes to reduce poverty among women amount to gender segregation since they are part and parcel of the communities to which they belong? What is your take on this?
Answer: Such arguments constitute a great obstacle to gender advancement and equality in the Bank and Africa! Such "thinkers" must not forget that current policies ignore the differences in income and power between men and women. Women are still battling for equality in all spheres; they do heavy work but are abjectly poor, they have limited opportunities in trade and other resources. The fact that men and women differ from one another in certain characteristics and function is an inescapable fact of nature and this makes possible their complementary roles in certain areas. These differences are not meant to impede, but to enhance gender balance.
It is depressingly familiar to all that endeavours to attain high levels and noble objectives are almost invariably doomed to failure where motivation is lacking. Strange as that may seem, some women actually create obstacles to gender empowerment. Women themselves need to have the ability to overcome deep-rooted barriers such as habits and attitudes, and rise above vested interests, division and disunity.
Another major obstacle to achieving gender equality (in the family and workplace) is the lack of a clear definition of the meaning of equality, on the one hand, and its applicability in daily life, on the other. The discriminatory attitudes toward women which were apparent in distant times somehow find their echo in the modern day. If a male supervisor for instance does not go back on a decision, he is considered firm or assertive both of which are qualities. But if a female does the same she is faulted as aggressive, stubborn, and even wicked. And of course, some people continue to refer to women as "the weaker sex"!