Women, education and development. With Italy in the front line in supporting and protecting women’s rights in Africa. These were the principal issues addressed by the 4th Conference organised by the Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation and hosted by the Farnesina, entitled “Education for African Women: a question of gender and a driver of development”. Participants included the Minister for Integration, Cecile Kyenge; the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marta Dassù; and the Director General for Development Cooperation, Giampaolo Cantini. Also taking part were the President of the Foundation, Biancamaria Bosco Tedeschini Lalli, and Italian and African representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society.
Progress for Africa will be achieved through women, while Italy plays a leading role, says Bonino
The conference opened with messages from the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano; the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini; and Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. Commenting on her recent missions to Africa, Minister Bonino underscored the “leading role played by Italy in protecting women’s rights and promoting true gender equality, not just through official initiatives but also through the contribution made by our NGOs and civil society”.
And Italian Development Cooperation, added Minister Bonino, “provides the utmost support to the advancement of women’s status in Africa. All of this taking into consideration one vital concept. The concept that allowing women, through education, to fulfil their abilities and aspirations in their personal and working lives is the only way to enable Africa to achieve its full growth potential. Progress for Africa will necessarily be achieved through women and the active role that they play”.
Diversity is a resource, not an obstacle to be pushed to one side, says Kyenge
Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge’s speech focused more closely on Italy’s domestic problems, most notably that of migrants.
“Our policy guidelines and initiatives must be inspired by the need to impart a greater impetus to development. And in this, we should start by recognising the value of diversity as an opportunity for a new approach that sees difference as a resource rather than an obstacle to be pushed to one side”, underscored Minister Kyenge. She illustrated the importance of “motivating women migrants, involving them, fostering a united spirited and imparting greater confidence to them, and focusing on the skills and abilities of each”.
Not least because, in Italy as in the rest of the world, “increasing women’s education levels is in itself an indicator of improvement in women’s status. Because increased access to education presents a challenge to discrimination against women”, concluded Minister Kyenge.
Africa is once again at the centre of our geopolitical map, says Dassù
“We have decided to restore Africa to the centre of our geopolitical map, after years – most probably – of paying the continent too little attention”, commented Deputy Minister Marta Dassù in her closing address. The Deputy Minister underscored minister Bonino’s commitment to Africa and to the campaign to combat discrimination against women. And women’s issues will, observed Dassù, be one of the key themes of EXPO 2015, in the run-up to which the “WE – Women for EXPO” has recently been launched at the Farnesina’s initiative.
“We are trying to create a significant international lobby, a pressure group to arrive in Milan with a Women’s Charter in which we aim to set out the 10 most important actions to improve women’s role in the nutrition sector”, explained the Deputy Minister. “Women’s role in the agricultural sector, and especially in Africa, is decisive”.
The example of Asha, a gynaecologist who has returned to Somalia to help her fellow citizens
The story of one woman who exemplifies women’s role in one of Africa’s many crisis regions was featured in this morning’s Conference. Dr. Asha Omar Ahmed, a Somali citizen who studied medicine and gynaecology in Rome, described her decision to return to Mogadishu to provide her own, important support to Somalia’s rebirth.
Today, Asha works at the De Martino hospital, Mogadishu’s first, built by the Italians in 1929. There, she helps to prevent death in childbirth and focuses her battle on the “stupid and widespread” practice of female genital mutilation. Asha’s life in Mogadishu is not easy.
“I don’t have a normal life. I move around the city with an escort, in an armoured-plated existence. But for me, going back to Somalia meant making an important contribution to the country’s growth”. We need to try to emerge from this developing country “tunnel”, is the message conveyed by Asha, a “reverse example” of African migration. As she explained, “very few of us return, but ours is an example of how to halt the brain drain from Africa”.