Since the founding of the Africa Day on the 25th of May 1963, this date had not been celebrated in such extraordinary conditions. The covid-19 pandemic has taken over our lives all over the world, including our great neighboring continent and in these days hundreds of millions of people experience the closest thing to a global catastrophe that has occurred in decades.
We, the rich and powerful countries of the North, have a reason to feel vulnerable; with our borders always tightly closed to safeguard our achievements from poorer ones, now see how many have been left in the gutter or on the edge of it. Considering of course, that the systems are put in place to secure the lives of the citizens and not the other way around, we have seen that our systems have always had and still have feet made of clay.
Right from the beginning, everyone asked: if this can happen to us the richer continents, what could possibly happen in Africa? There were and still are, apocalyptic predictions. But the truth is that in Africa the pandemic is under control.
As for us, we are not surprised. We know African women and know what they are capable of. We decided that we wanted to ask them, that we wanted to hear them. Because African women are the engine of their continent and listening to them and working with them is a guarantee that we will succeed in solving their problems and those of their communities. Given that listening is respect and knowledge.
They tell us that the lockdown is more difficult for women. They tell us that sometimes protecting themselves from the virus is almost incompatible with earning a day to day living, which countless women practically do in markets across Africa to provide for their families.
They tell us that communicating, studying or working from home becomes difficult when there is no connection and knowledge of new technologies.
They tell us that during the lockdown women suffer increased violence from abusers in their homes.
However, they also tell us for the most part, that their governments have reacted quickly, that there are groups of women making face masks, that they are requesting and becoming part of pandemic response committees.
They tell us that in this pandemic they are being what they have always been, agents of life and health. Also in Africa, women constitute the 70% majority of health personnel and therefore not the greatest victims in crises, as has always been the case.
But surely, what is most consistent in their testimonies, what is most shocking, what comforts them and the entire continent, is the enormous self-confidence that Africa and its women are acquiring in this pandemic as Aminata Toure, the former Prime Minister of Senegal told us just a few days ago. Because despite the lockdown, despite the closure of borders, despite all the difficulties, Africa is holding up, Africa endures and this serves a lesson of resilience to the entire world, of which it is very much aware.
As our Tanzanian friend and adviser Gertrude Mongella stressed, African women are survivors and because they are, Africa has come through. Women for Africa is and will be by their side, sharing that African pride which on the 25th of May 1963 took on the form of the Africa Day that we commemorate today.
Today, more than ever, Africa has a woman’s name.
María Teresa Fernández de la Vega
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