African World Heritage Day: Women are the custodians of Africa’s cultural and natural heritage

The African continent boasts some of the world’s most outstanding cultural and natural sites. It is home to iconic wildlife and breathtaking natural beauty, and hosts a quarter of global biodiversity. Africa’s distinctive and unique plethora of traditions, languages, sites, artifacts, and oral histories plays an important role in the continent’s growth and development.

African World Heritage Day, celebrated on May 5th, brings global attention to the need to preserve the continent’s tangible and intangible cultural and natural heritage for generations to come. And crucial to conservation and preservation are women, who are custodians of Africa’s unique heritage. 

Women’s agency and leadership is essential to passing on cultural heritage from one generation to the next. Through their creativity, knowledge, and key role in social practices and cultural expression, women are fundamental to maintaining traditions and cultural identity across the African continent.

Making up around half of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, women are also key actors in building communities, sustaining families, and leading restoration and reforestation efforts. They are perfectly positioned to play a leading role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, making the continent a more sustainable and climate resilient place.

African women are, therefore, not only the custodians of tradition, social practices, and creative expression, but also leaders and agents of cultural and sustainable development. Yet, they are underrepresented in public leadership and decision-making roles. Excluding them from positions of power and preventing their meaningful participation in decision-making processes undermines the possibility of creating a just, equitable, and sustainable future for Africa.

The EJS Center Data Hub for Women’s Leadership in Public Governance has revealed a body of data on gender representation at decision-making levels in West Africa. By providing evidence of the extent of women’s appointments, the Center is contributing to a better understanding of the challenges and state-of-play of women’s leadership and, as a result, bolstering efforts to increase equity in public governance.

The Data Hub shows that women only make up 17.1% of seats at the lower and single houses at legislature level across the 15 African countries surveyed, while they only hold 22% of cabinet positions.

By giving African women the opportunity to fulfill their roles as leaders, decision-makers, and agents of positive change, countries across the continent can ensure that their cultural and natural heritage will be in safe hands for generations to come. Celebrating African World Heritage Day begins by celebrating and championing women’s representation at all levels of society and decision-making in Africa.

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