After three days of unprecedented meetings between the US and leaders from nearly 50 African countries, the US Africa Leaders Summit ended Wednesday. In addition to public and private commitments of up to $33 billion for trade and investment, the United States called on leaders of the African continent to make a considerable investment in advancing the status of women and girls.
Before the summit kicked off, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, part of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). There, she emphasized the need to address the status of women and girls across the African continent and commit to making girls’ education a priority. “We all know that the problem here isn’t only about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs. It’s about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It’s about whether societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether they view women as full citizens entitled to fundamental rights,” she said.
Mrs. Obama acknowledged the advances made in decreasing maternal mortality, and increasing female legislative representation, but she explicitly condemned gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), forced child marriage, human trafficking, rape, and domestic violence, calling the practices “serious human rights violations” not “legitimate cultural practices.”
“These practices have no place in our shared future, because we all know that our future lies in our people – in their talent, their ambition, their drive,” Mrs. Obama said. “And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”
President Barack Obama echoed the same sentiment when he announced an infusion of $3.3 billion to support the first of four regional leadership centers being established across the continent to spur youth cultural and economic development. “If you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by a strong woman,” he told the group during a town hall. The leadership centers – which will launch first in Kenya in 2015, then expand to Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa – will provide leadership training and professional development opportunities to young Africans who aspire to leadership roles across the continent, most of whose population is under the age of 35 and predominantly female in many countries.
Wednesday, the last day of the official Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, turned the focus to the health needs of African women and girls. The two called on first ladies to maximize their role for the benefit of the continent’s females. Former President George W. Bush also addressed women’s health needs, announcing commitments of $2.2 million from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to expand the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon health partnership program on the continent.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is a joint effort founded by the Bush Institute in Dallas, along with PEPFAR, Susan G. Komen, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The program works to reduce the rate of breast cancer and cervical cancer, the top cancer killer of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The White House called this week’s summit the largest event any US President has held with African heads of state and government.
Media Resources: White House 8/5/14, 7/30/14; AllAfrica 7/29/14; Dallas Morning News 8/6/14