In a resounding resistance against gender-based violence (GBV), women basketball players are uniting to tackle this pervasive problem head-on. The activity, run in collaboration between the Basketball African League (BAL) and Speak Up Africa and its Voix EssentiELLES initiative, highlights the compelling need to tackle GBV in Africa. 

Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with 31% of women reporting that they have been victims of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. According to the International Monetary Fund, for every 1% increase in the number of women victims of gender-based violence, national economic activity falls by up to 8%. The correlation between gender-based violence and economic development underlines the urgency of combating this problem if Africa is to prosper.

December 10 not only marks Human Rights Day, but also symbolizes the end of the annual international campaign "16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence against Women and Girls". Initiated in 1991 with the inauguration of the International Women's Leadership Institute, this campaign aims to mobilize worldwide support for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. The theme of this year's 16 Days campaign is "Investing to prevent violence against women and girls", underlining the importance of investing in different prevention strategies to stop violence in its tracks.

In solidarity with the global initiative, the Basketball African League and Speak Up Africa, through the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, have taken proactive steps to combat gender-based violence. The two organizations, which have been collaborating since the beginning of 2023, organized a gender training session for young female basketball players and launched a digital awareness campaign saying "No to GBV". The objectives were to strengthen the sharing of experiences between Voix EssentiELLES beneficiaries in Senegal and young BAL athletes, enhance participants' knowledge of GBV and "positive masculinity", and increase the visibility of the 16 Days of Activism through campaigns on social networks.

Gender expert Marietou DIA, mobilized for the training, pointed out that few athletes are adequately sensitized to gender-based violence during training sessions. Despite the various forms of violence prevalent in the sporting community, victims often remain silent for fear of reprisals, shame or taboo. It is crucial that the entire sporting community mobilizes effectively and fights against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Business highlights

Activities included a basketball camp at the NBA Academy, giving BAL the opportunity to identify talented young girls for the U23 camp in Rwanda. A gender training workshop brought together 20 young female basketball players, five female coaches from BAL and two representatives of Voix EssentiELLES from Senegal - Sylvie Diack, coordinator of the Club des jeunes filles de Kolda and Fatimata SY, activist and Secretary General of the Association Sénégalaise pour l'Avenir de la Femme et de l'Enfant (ASAFE) - as co-facilitators. Discussions focused on gender-related concepts, gender stereotypes, power dynamics, social norms, types of violence, referral structures for GBV victims and survivors, etc. Discussion groups led by Voix EssentiELLES were formed, and case studies were carried out on a specific theme to encourage the exchange and sharing of experiences, motivating players to get involved in the fight against GBV. One of the major successes of this activity was the creation of a space for dialogue and the sharing of experiences between participants. The girls benefited from practical tools for advocacy and GBV case management. In the end, they came up with slogans to say "No to GBV".

In conclusion, it is vital to create spaces for dialogue and the sharing of experiences between women from different backgrounds. The young athletes received practical advocacy tools and learned how to deal with cases of GBV. It is imperative to put in place preventive measures, train sports supervisors and promote values of equality, respect and non-violence within the sporting community. 

As the trainer aptly states, "by working together, we can help put an end to this violence and create an inclusive and safe environment for all." Voix EssentiELLES paves the way, a sign of hope for a future free of gender-based violence.

This blog is signed by:
Papa Djibril Faye, Program Manager
Kadidiatou Madina Bah, Strategic Communications Manager

As part of the second African LeadHERs' Forum, Speak Up Africa organized a series of webinars called "Webinars of equality". Held on the sidelines of International Women's Day on the theme "Digital spaces to achieve gender equality", these webinars aimed to amplify the voices of women from various sectors - from community-based organizations to pan-African sports organizations inside and outside the continent - to highlight the urgency of reducing gender inequalities around the world.

114 participants from Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, France, and Senegal took part in these virtual conversations held on March 14 and 28. The webinars brought together a dozen speakers from various sectors, including health, civil society, and sport. The first one convened the Voix EssentiELLES and was held on the theme "Voix EssentiELLES, all committed to a more inclusive world" while the second focused on "Leadership, Mentorship and Diasporas: the power of sport to achieve gender equality". 

During the first virtual meeting, the Voix EssentiELLES speakers highlighted the need to address inequalities that prevent women from accessing digital services.

Gender inequalities in digital access remain persistent throughout the world. In Africa, for example, it is estimated that nearly 80% of women do not have access to digital technology. In the case of mobile internet use, the gap between men and women on the continent is 37% in 2022.

The Voix EssentiELLES recalled that these limited access to digital space accentuate gender inequalities since it prevents women from accessing specific digital services related to health, education, or finance. Women's exclusion from the digital world undermines efforts to achieve gender equity and threatens the progress made in women's rights.

"Covid-19 has shown that digital space is important in the fight for gender equality. Today, thanks to the power of social networks, women's rights activists can have an impact on millions of women’s living conditions even in rural areas."

Gbazalé Irad, President of Femmes en action and recipient of the Voix EssentiELLES Fund in Côte d'Ivoire

"The digital space is one of the main factors for women's empowerment. It is a crucial tool to propel the voices of all women to the public sphere on issues that concern them."

Aissatou Lopy Mbaye Ndiaye, Vice President of the National Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund in Senegal.

In addition to these difficulties of access to digital technology, women are the first victims of online violence. In 2021, for example, a study revealed that 85% of women in the world are exposed to violence on the Internet, including harassment.

"It is important to raise awareness about the existence of online violence in Senegal, as there is a real lack of knowledge about this scourge in our communities."

Oussama Sagna Monique, Project Manager at JGEN and recipient of the Voix EssentiELLES Fund in Senegal

The second webinar convened several sports personalities such as Diandra Tchatchouang Djadjo, former international basketball player, Axel Toupane, International basketball player, Syra Sylla, President of the association Ladies and Basketball and Marie-Laurence Archambault, CSR Manager at the African Basketball League. They highlighted the need to fight gender stereotypes that persist in the sports world as well as the importance of using digital space to strengthen women's representation in sport.

"Representation in sport is extremely important, as young girls do not imagine themselves in sports careers that they do not see or that are not promoted. In this sense, digital allows us to facilitate the connection between female sports role models and young girls but also to create our own media and platforms to change the narrative about women in sport."

Syra Sylla, President of the Ladies and Basketball Association and Head of Communications at Sport Impact
In many countries, gender inequalities still lead to discrimination and violence against women and girls as a result of social, cultural, legal and economic norms. These persistent inequalities prevent women from enjoying their rights and from actively participating in decision-making on issues that affect their lives. UN Women even estimate that it would take 300 years to overcome inequalities relating to legal protection or representation of women in the fields of power and leadership.  

Fortunately, community-based women's organisations are working to reduce this gap by ensuring that women and girls are involved in decision-making processes that affect them. Through the Voix Essentielles initiative, these organisations in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire are helping to amplify women’s voices and improve access to health services for them all.  

Some of their activities, highlighted by Moussonews...

Sope Sa Njabot: heroines in the community response to Tuberculosis

In Senegal, Sope Sa Njabot has been informing, raising awareness and advising people on all aspects of the fight against tuberculosis since 2006. A community approach that is bearing fruit in Mbour thanks to support from Speak up Africa through the Voix Essentielles programme.

In Mbour, located on La Petite-Côte, about 80 km south of Dakar and bordering the seaside resort of Saly, Alimatou Sadiya Samb, community liaison officer for the Sope Sa Njabot association, regularly visits people in her neighbourhood to show them how to protect themselves against tuberculosis. This community volunteer is involved in a campaign to prevent and treat tuberculosis, even in the most remote areas of her commune during the rainy season. (...) Alimatou Sadiya Samb fully embraces her mission.

"We sometimes come across people with mental disorders or people with disabilities living with the disease without help. We are the relays who become their mothers and fathers. We are the ones who make sure they get better because they have no one to help them."

Alimatou Sadiya Samb, community relay of the association Sope Sa Njabot
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The Bajenu Gox in Thiès have succeeded in improving mother and child health

Senegal has recorded good results in terms of infant, neonatal and maternal mortality in recent years. Behind this success lies a tremendous effort by the Bajenu Gox. We went to Thiès to see the recipe for the success of these “neighbourhood godmothers”, recipients of Voix Essentielles funds.

On a chilly morning, after light rain had fallen on Thiès the day before, the Bajenu Gox, all dressed in white, organised a chat session, one of their flagship activities. At these events, they share their knowledge with each other. Adja Fatou Badiane, a Bajenu Gox (which means “neighbourhood godmother” in Wolof), heads the Bajenu Gox association of Thiès, which has more than 250 active members. (...) Adja Fatou Badiane describes the main areas they work in:

"We advocate for action in three areas to reduce maternal mortality. The first one is about women’s decision to wait too long before going to hospital. We raise women’s awareness so they don’t wait for the last minute before going to a health facility. Going to hospital late poses enormous risks. Secondly, we also intervene in the late provision of care in hospital. Finally, difficult access to certain health structures is our third area of advocacy."

Adja Fatou Badiane, Bajenu Gox
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Tuberculosis: 200 lesbians cared for by “Coeur Valide” in Côte d'Ivoire

People suffering from tuberculosis are cared for and monitored free of charge by the association - Coeur Valide - in San Pedro in Côte d'Ivoire. Among them are more than 200 lesbians. Their support is further facilitated by the Voix Essentielles programme.

Being a lesbian and having a disease like TB is an uphill struggle in Côte d'Ivoire. In San Pedro, the Coeur Valide association keeps coming to their rescue. Christiane, 30, owes her survival to this association. She is a trader who belongs to this sexual minority, and has suffered from tuberculosis for a long time. She is now cured thanks to the association’s monitoring programme. With a lump in her throat and her eyes filled with tears, the young woman testifies that she has survived thanks to the care provided by Cœur Valide.

"The disease was slowly eating away at me. I was suffering on a daily basis. But when I found out about the Cœur Valide project, I was able to benefit from the care provided, free of charge. I feel much better."

Christiane, trader
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Côte d’Ivoire: Fenac advocates for the distribution of sanitary towels in schools

The issue of menstrual hygiene management is a concern in many African countries. Menstruation is sometimes a reason for girls to drop out of school. In Côte d'Ivoire, the association Femme en Action (Fenac) advocates for the distribution of hygiene kits in schools. It has carried out several activities and campaigns to raise awareness as part of the Voix Essentielles programme.

Adopting a policy to distribute sanitary towels to teenage girls in schools in Côte d'Ivoire is now the Femme en action association’s fight. Nadège Epi Kouadou, the project’s coordinator, has not had a moment's rest since she began supporting Speak Up Africa with the Voix Essentielles programme for the Top fille project. With her team, she travels to establishments in Abgoville, 71 kilometres from Abidjan, to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management.

Read more

Bittou: The widows and orphans association halts the spread of malaria and tuberculosis

Malaria is the leading cause of mortality in Burkina Faso. Among the thousands of preventable deaths are several women and children. In Bittou, a town on the Ghana and Togo border, the Widows and Orphans Association is at the forefront of the fight against this deadly endemic with support from the Voix Essentielles fund.

Although the mother acts to guarantee the wellbeing of children, households and the community, the decision to seek health care does not rest with the head of the household. This gender inequality slows down the many efforts underway to control and eliminate malaria in the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso. The Bittou Association of Widows and Orphans (AVORB) aims to break this social barrier through its malaria and tuberculosis prevention advocacy.

For six months, the president of the association, Maïmouna Savadogo, and her facilitators held information sessions for women on how to prevent malaria and on how important it is for them to seek health care. Heads of households are also educated during these community talks

Read more

Sexual and reproductive health: lives saved by Gnintawoma

Discussing sexual health issues in the commune of Garango, a town in the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso, could be considered an affront to morality. Strategically and with a community-based approach, as part of the Voix Essentielles programme, the Gnintowama association has been able to establish exchanges around the issue of sexual and reproductive health. Thousands of local women and girls are now enlightened on the subject and make independent decisions.

Sabine (not her real name), 17, owes her life to the Gnintawoma association. She had tried to have a clandestine abortion. The bleeding hadn’t stopped, to the extent that some of her friends were concerned about her health. The educational talk held by the Gnintawoma association in their school came as a sound of relief. At the end of May 2022, Sabine’s high school in Garango was chosen for a campaign to raise awareness on the dangers of abortion and drugs, but also on contraceptive methods to avoid unwanted pregnancies

Read more

On the occasion of the global campaign "16 days of activism against gender-based violence", community-based organizations from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire are meeting in Abidjan to share their experiences and pool their voices to end gender-based violence. The meeting, driven by Speak Up Africa, will take place from 30 November to 1 December 2022..

Recipients of Voix EssentiELLES Fund from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire are participating in the meeting under the theme "Voix EssentiELLES speak up against gender-based violence". A round table on the regional challenges of the fight against gender-based violence as well as institutional meetings to sensitize communities and policy makers on their role in the elimination of violence against women and girls are on the agenda.

Need for urgent action

According to a UN Women report published in September 2022, nearly 65% of women worldwide reported having experienced verbal, physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. At least 6 out of 10 women believe that public sexual harassment has worsened since Covid-19. This violence is not only a major obstacle to the elimination of the HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, but also has a significant impact on global economy. Without urgent action, UN Women's report warns, it would take 300 years to close the gap in legal protection or representation of women in power and leadership.   

"Urgent action must be taken if we are to meet SDG 5 - achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls - which is essential for sustainable development. Creating a just and prosperous society is impossible when women and girls, key members of our communities, continue to be victims of violence and inequality of all kinds."

Abouma Sévérine Nebie, president of Association pour l’Intégration Économique et Sociale des Femmes dans le développement (IES-Femmes) which is involved in Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Burkina Faso

Key voices

"It is crucial to strengthen the awareness and commitment of all stakeholders for the elimination of gender-based inequalities and violence. In this regard, Voix EssentiELLES organisations meeting in Abidjan is a real springboard."

Khady Cissé founder of Organisation pour la Santé de l'Enfant de la Femme et de la Famille (OSEFF), which is involved in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Côte d'Ivoire

Launched by Speak Up Africa in 2021 in partnership with CHANEL Foundation and the Global Fund, Voix EssentiELLES initiative promotes the involvement of community-based women and girls’ organizations in decision-making and strengthens their capacity to influence policies that affect their health. With funding from Voix EssentiELLES fund, the organizations involved in the initiative are on the front line to fight violence and inequality against women and girls in their countries.

"Whether it is at health, economic or social level, great progress has been made whenever women and girls have the capacity to express their full potential. It is therefore essential to financially and technically support women's organizations working to strengthen women's leadership and reverse current gender inequalities."

Fatimata Mamadou Lamine SY, Executive Secretary of the Association Sénégalaise pour l'avenir de la femme et de l'enfant (ASAFE), which is involved in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative in Senegal
By Fatimata SY, activist and General Secretary of Association Sénégalaise pour l’Avenir de la Femme et de l’Enfant (ASAFE). Fatimata is recipient of the Voix Essentielles fund in Senegal.

Sali was only 9 years old when I met her during one of my outreach tours in northern Senegal. Yet her young body had already been scarred for life by female genital mutilation. The anger and sorrow I saw in the girl's eyes reminded me of the essence of my commitment, 25 years ago, against female genital mutilation in Senegal.

Being from a family of female excision practitioners, my fight to preserve women's bodies and dignity has always seemed obvious to me, regardless of the stigma and hostility resulting from it. The rapid development of our continent in recent years may lead one to believe that these practices no longer exist.

Still, an estimated 50 million girls are at risk of being subjected to genital mutilation in Africa by 2030, according to UNICEF. In Senegal, nearly 2 million girls and young women underwent genital mutilation in 2019. The prevalence of female genital mutilation among girls under 15 years of age is 16%.

Barriers to HIV response

This violence still persists mainly because of gender inequalities in our communities and patriarchal values and superstitions that crystalize fantasies around women's bodies. In addition to being an extreme violation of their dignity and freedom, genital mutilation undermines women's mental and sexual health. According to UNAIDS, such violence increases women's vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, which affects women two to six times more than men in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using the same surgical instrument without sterilization, as well as the increased risk of bleeding during sexual intercourse, highly increases HIV risk among victims. Not even the medicalized practice of genital mutilation is without risk.

In many cases, the trauma and other psychological consequences of such violence undermine girls' confidence and ability to insist on condom use from their partners. Memories of this painful experience and the shame of their scarred bodies prevent them from seeking screening or care for even the most minor genital infections.

Body autonomy

Giving women and girls back control of their bodies, their lives and their futures is urgent for an effective response to HIV. How can we accept that even today, 93% of women in Senegal do not have the freedom to make their own decisions about health, contraception or simply to choose when and how to have sex with their partner? As long as these inequalities exist, as long as genital mutilation persists, and as long as women are silenced about their bodies and their sexuality, the elimination of HIV will unfortunately remain a wishful thinking...  

Organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are helping women and girls to claim their sexual and reproductive health rights through empowerment programmes and access to education, as well as actions to remove gender-based barriers to accessing health services. In Senegal, hundreds of girls aged 13 to 18 have received sexual health support through the "Voix Essentielles" initiative launched in July 2021 by Speak Up Africa and supported by the Global Fund.  

These young girls, exposed to sexual activity at an early age, usually with adults, are now empowered and able to avoid risky sexual practices and take control of their health. Such programmes for women and girls must be supported, expanded and strengthened by governments, international agencies, private sector and civil society. This is the only way we can effectively tackle gender-based violence and finally put an end to AIDS...    

This article was originally published on Jeune Afrique

Every 28 May is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. This day concerns us all, regardless of sex, age, race, geographical location or religion. Yet in Burkina Faso, talking about menstruation is still a taboo subject. This difficulty in talking about menstruation in general and in particular about the behaviour to adopt for good menstrual hygiene hinders the progress of many efforts that are made daily for gender equality.

Menstruation is a natural and normal biological process that indicates a woman's good reproductive health. It should not be perceived as a phenomenon that gives off a negative aura, fear, shame and embarrassment. This is why World Menstrual Hygiene Day is intended to be an opportunity to break taboos about menstruation, to raise awareness and to start a conversation on the subject. It also aims to raise awareness of menstrual precariousness among key actors and decision makers. 

Among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 6 "Clean Water and Sanitation" aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of safe drinking water and sanitation, and one of the specific goals involves providing women and girls with access to adequate sanitation and hygiene by 2030. It is therefore essential that menstrual hygiene is aligned as a public health priority. 

To boost the celebration of World Menstrual Hygiene Day and make our contribution to the fight, we are constantly organising events. Examples include digital campaigns, educational talks, training on how to make reusable sanitary pads, advocacy, and activities to mobilise personal resources to provide reusable sanitary pads to vulnerable girls and women. 

All these actions reflect our vision: "to create a world in which all girls and women are fulfilled". These actions also aim to :

On 24 May this year, we launched a digital campaign on our communication networks. Also, on Saturday 28 May, we held a discussion on menstruation in general and the myths surrounding the topic. This discussion brought together more than twenty of our members and will end with an aerobic session to denounce the many difficulties that young girls and women face during their menstruation.

Don't stand on the sidelines, we all need to break the taboos around menstrual health and hygiene management, so get involved with us too!

By Farida Tiemtore, President of Héroïnes du Faso and recipient of the Voix EssentiELLES Fund.

In Dakar, Senegal, to mark Africa Day, not-for-profit organization Speak Up Africa has brought together partners to celebrate the many actors in the development sector.

Almost a year after the launch of the African LeadHERs campaign, which aims to promote and amplify the voices and actions of African women, from all sectors of society, working daily for gender equality, and the first ever African LeadHERs Forum in March 2022, Speak Up Africa is launching its African LeadHERs podcast in collaboration with Entre-Elles, a platform for expression and sharing created by Tombany Kouloufoua.

 "The Entre-Elles podcast is extremely proud to be working with Speak Up Africa to launch the African LeadHers podcast series. Amplifying the voice of the world’s women is at the heart of the Entre-Elles mission and we are delighted to be able to celebrate Africa Day alongside the African LeadHers of today and tomorrow." 

Tombany Kouloufoua, founder of Entre-Elles

The first six-episodes series of the podcast will highlight the profiles and actions of participants in the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, which aims to support women and girls in all of their diversity, by meaningfully engaging them in decision-making processes and spaces that influence health policies and programs. At the podcast’s launch, the Senegalese slam poet Samira Fall took up the subject and developed an audio recital on the importance of women’s voices in the public space. This text echoes the African LeadHERs Forum manifesto to which Ysaora Thibus, fencer and French Olympic medallist, Diandra Tchouatchang, basketball player and French Olympic medallist and Badgyalcassie, choreographer and influencer contributed.

 "The African LeadHERs Forum is a very important platform for us, professional athletes, to share our experiences with a focus on transmission and in a spirit of sisterhood. I met some great people there, such as the recipients of the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, who have inspired me enormously. These discussions have changed me and I am convinced that by reclaiming the narrative, we can break the bias." 

Yasora Thibus in her interview at the Forum

On May 25, Speak Up Africa also presented the Union Sportive de Ouakam with a cheque for one million CFA francs from the Funds allocated to the organization at the first ever Sport Impact Award ceremony organised by Sport Impact. In March 2022, Speak Up Africa received the Jury Prize for the impact of the activity held in January 2021 during the celebration of World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Day. On that day, Speak Up Africa, along with the Yard agency, the Ministry of Health and Social Action and key partners in the fight against NTDs, organized the painting of a participatory fresco on the grounds of US Ouakam, at the foot of the Renaissance Monument, as well as the painting of portraits of Sadio Mané, Omar Sy, Issa Rae and Tacko Fall. The activation generated over 10 million impressions on social networks through the engagement of influencers Observateur and Fatou Guinea and the virality of the content.

 "We were delighted to receive the Jury Award from Sport en Commun, which highlights Speak Up Africa’s work in the field of sport and influence, and we are now pleased to continue our collaboration with US Ouakam, enabling them to strengthen their activities and create an attractive environment for women’s sport in communities. The Kigali Summit on NTDs and malaria will take place next month in Rwanda and it is important for us to continue our advocacy through this mural so that everyone continues to say No to NTDs!" 

Yacine Djibo, Speak Up Africa’s Executive Director

On that day, ahead of the World Menstrual Hygiene Day held every 28 May, Speak Up Africa gave its long-time partner, Special Olympics Senegal, a batch of 1,200 sanitary towels, intended for athletes living with an intellectual disability, to protect themselves better each month, during their menstrual cycle. 

 "I would like to thank Speak Up Africa for supporting our female athletes by distributing these sanitary towels. Menstruation is a natural reality, but girls and women living with intellectual disabilities often find it more difficult to manage their periods with dignity, and the first barrier is access to tools to help them manage. These sanitary towels will allow our athletes to better manage their periods and thus be able to live their lives more decently ." 

Rajah Sy, Director of Special Olympics Senegal

Since 6 April 2022, the French city of Marseille has been hosting the 11th AFRAVIH conference, the Francophone Alliance of health actors against HIV and chronic or emerging viral infections. Founded in 2009, AFRAVIH’s aim is to bring together health professionals from different communities engaged in the fight against HIV in French-speaking countries.

From Ouagadougou and Abidjan, Farida Sonia Tiemtore and Pélagie Akoua Kouame took part in the conference to promote the Voix EssentiELLES pilot initiative, implemented by Speak Up Africa, a non-profit strategic communications and advocacy organisation based in Dakar, Senegal, and co-funded by the Global Fund and Fondation CHANEL. 

"We are delighted today to meet the heroines working on a daily basis and in their respective communities for gender equality and more specifically the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Their stories and their voices are essential to advance our common goals and strengthen the capacity of organisations led by women and girls."

Françoise Vanni, Head of External Relations and Communications at the Global Fund

Voix EssentiELLES aaims to support women and girls, in all of their diversity, by meaningfully engaging them in decision-making processes and spaces that influence health policies and programmes in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Through this pilot, Speak Up Africa and its partners aim to address four main challenges, namely (1) the limited political participation and representation of women and girls in decision-making spaces for policies and programmes that affect their health, (2) deep-rooted harmful socio-cultural practices, including various forms of violence, (3) insufficient and indirect resources dedicated to women-led community organisations, and finally (4) the limited capacity of small grassroots organisations to engage in advocacy work.

"Voix EssentiELLES allows us to carry out real advocacy, at our level and in our communities, in particular for women and young people, who are in my opinion the pillars of our development. We can eliminate HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but to do so we need a collective solidarity that echoes across borders. From Burkina Faso to Abidjan to Dakar, we are fighting for what’s important, and we are keen to see this project scaled up across the entire sub-region."

Farida Sonia Tiemtore, Founder and President of Héroïnes du Faso

Because voice, decision-making and leadership are vital factors for the empowerment of women, the Héroïnes du Faso association works for the well-being of women in the land of honest men (and women). Its goal is to promote respect for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, social engagement, education and the empowerment of women. Through the Voix EssentiELLES pilot initiative, in which it participates, a catalytic fund of 170 million CFA has been created to support selected women’s and girls’ organisations with achievable time-limited objectives. 

"We are working tirelessly on common sustainable development goals for global health. To achieve them, we also need to think about and support the goals of women and girls at community level. Listen to them, support them and fund them, because their solutions and actions must be our guidelines for the development of our strategies and action plans."

Stéphanie Seydoux, France’s Ambassador for Global Health

This September, the Global Fund will hold its Seventh Replenishment Conference where at least $18 billion will be needed to fight HIV, TB and malaria and to strengthen health systems. Since its creation, the Global Fund has invested over US$53 billion, saving 44 million lives and reducing the combined death rate from the three diseases by more than half in the countries in which it invests. In 2022, we need a new impetus for global solidarity and leadership.

"Funding from the Global Fund is crucial to the well-being of our communities. The inputs and medicines that enable us to fight HIV/AIDS on a daily basis save lives. In addition to these inputs, we need support to carry out our day-to-day work with women and sex workers. Voix EssentiELLES is an initiative that funds us directly and helps us to go about our activities, therefore funding from the initiative is more than essential for us and our beneficiaries."

Pélagie Akoua Kouame, Founder and Director of COVIE in Côte d'Ivoire.

Ultimately, community health is critical to achieving gender equality and ending gender-based violence. To do this, innovative public-private partnerships are more than necessary to give voice, space and tools to organisations that work daily with and for the most vulnerable in our societies, women and girls in all their diversity. We need to change the narrative, change the paradigm and change behaviour, but above all, fight for what matters.

Marseille, 7 April 2022

Ouagadougou, Abidjan and Dakar, March 10, 2022 - On the sidelines of the Generation Equality Forum, in June 2021, Speak Up Africa launched its African LeadHERs initiative, which aims to promote and amplify the voices and actions of African women and girls who strive to achieve gender equality. African LeadHERs promotes a new mindset to think and act creatively to drive action through innovation and inclusion of women and girls in decision making spaces in order to achieve a fairer and more equal world. 

To commemorate International Women’s Day, Speak Up Africa organized its first ever African LeadHERs Forum. The event took place March 7th and 8th and convened more than 260 participants online & in person in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal including 26 experts and champions through 6 activations. Day one of the Forum focused on the Voix EssentiELLES initiative launched by Speak Up Africa in 2021 and co-funded by the Global Fund and the Fondation CHANEL.Through this initiative, female-led grassroots and community-based organizations have an opportunity to secure a grant of up to US$10,000, or up to XOF 5 million, to the entities or the organization leaders.  

"We are thankful for organizations like Speak Up Africa, which support us by providing funding, technical support, and capacity-building opportunities such as the workshop on storytelling.

Fatimata Sy, President of the Senegalese Association for the Future of Women and Children (ASAFE) and a beneficiary of the Voix EssentiELLES fund in Senegal

The cost of gender discrimination and inequality has myriad ramifications. High incidences of gender discrimination tend to result in correspondingly higher percentages of human rights violations such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). FGM, a pervasive violation of bodily corporal rights, is estimated by UNICEF to have affected 200 million women across thirty countries.

Financial literacy is another challenge a lot of societies face. Advancing financial literacy reduces the number of the unbanked, which, in turn, helps empower women - by putting them on the pathway to financial independence. Yet financial literacy can help further empower women and mothers, by delaying the age at which girl children are married off. Often, girls are pressured to drop out of school and marry at very young ages, and are deterred from pursuing further education. In Ivory Coast, the Voix EssentiELLEs workshop focused on the power of financial inclusion of women to break the bias. Mariam Djibo, General Manager of Advans Côte d'Ivoire, a microfinance institution, while in Burkina Faso, beneficiaries of the project learned via Harouna Drabo, journalist and fact-checker the power of communication and story-telling. Day one of the Forum concluded with Nadia Mensah Acogny on the art of speaking publicly while emphasizing on the importance of self-condidence: " No one knows how to talk about your issues and your solutions better than you do", she concluded.

"Empowering women is a matter of economic, legal and moral common sense".

said Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Africa Managing Director of the Commons Project during our high-level online conversation on women-led innovation in Africa

"Achieving sustainable health and gender equality on the continent

on day two of the African LeadHERs Forum. Organized in partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), with whom we launched the Africa Young Innovators Award in 2020 and the Women Innovators Incubator in September 2021. The Incubator aims to address the blatant gaps in female-led innovation and tackle additional hurdles they have to face to help take their business ideas from concept to implementation.

Featured significantly in the forum was the importance of owning one’s narratives, a message also underscored by Speak Up Africa in their work. The second day of the Forum also discussed ways to advance gender mainstreaming, while highlighting diversity.

"Initiatives such as the African LeadHERs Forum help underscore the importance of positive movements,

noted Ysaora Thibus, fencer and Olympic silver medallist of the 2021 team, speaking on the importance of representation and sport in achieving gender equality.

"Most often than not, women are conditioned to imbibe harmful messaging about their place in society, both at work and at home. Women must see themselves represented and empowered in any room they walk into.

In 2020, Ysaora created Essentielle stories to support the narrative around women in sports by providing them with a platform to express themselves and tell their own stories. Alongside Ysaora during the final event of the Forum held under the theme "Sport, leadHERship and influence: the power of representation to break bias”, Diandra Tchouatchang, French basketball player and 2021 team Olympic silver medalist as well and Cassandra Ngbolonga, professional choregrapher, Founder of Beafrika and Instagram sensation. The panel and afternoon activities concluded with the painting of an African LeadHERs fresco, where the three women engraved their messages on the walls. Rajah Sy, Director of Special Olympics Senegal and Astou Ndiaye, WNBA champion also participated in the discussions in front of 30 young girls and women. " It is important we focus on celebrating our differences and see them for what they are: strengths," added Sy.

During the African LeadHERs Forum, Speak Up Africa launched their Gender and Social Inclusion strategy. The plan, with four strategic orientations and eight operational standards set for gender mainstreaming, details a multi-pronged approach to providing solutions to the most critical issues that African populations face when working to create a more equitable world

Globally, gender inequity and lack of parity has proven itself detrimental to advancing women’s rights and equality. The cost can be measured across various metrics, including jobs, opportunities, livelihood, and social perceptions.

"Discrimination needs action, as well as awareness raising and acknowledgment. We have identified six key guiding principles and four main strategic orientations that set the tone for our work in advancing gender mainstreaming.

"We also established a robust implementation framework, with eight minimum guiding standards. Setting clear, realistic targets makes the plan achievable, and spells out the way that each action matters."

Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa.

As part of the African LeadHERs Forum and to mark International Women’s Day, Speak Up Africa convenes “Voix essentiELLEs” organizations in Ouagadougou, Abidjan and Dakar, to break the bias and achieve gender equality.

The Essential Voices initiative was launched in 2021 to make a positive impact and amplify women's voice, leadership and decision-making power at different levels. It celebrates the diversity of women and girls and actively involves them in empowerment spaces set up to help combat the negative consequences of gender bias.

Gender bias has powerful implications in women’s careers and daily lives. In the event of work often carried out by women, societally that work is undervalued. Unfortunately, women face similar discrimination outcomes when doing work in typically underrepresented fields. Thus, women face gender discrimination across various areas- including salary, the perception of their commitment to work.

As a strategic communications and advocacy organization, Speak Up Africa is dedicated itself to fostering policy change and increasing awareness for sustainable development - particularly around Malaria, Neglected Tropical Diseases, sanitation and immunization. The organization is also invested in catalyzing leadership - particularly within the female demographic. To mark International Womens’ Day, Speak Up Africa launched its first ever African LeadHERs Forum to celebrate and promote women’s leadership, actions, voices and innovations across the continent.

On its first day, the Forum focused on the Voix EssentiELLEs initiative and its “University of ExcELLEnce”. In-person and online sessions were organized in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal in order to raise the profile and provide platforms to community voices, highlight the power and crucial representation of community voices in the national, regional and global dialogues that impact their health and strengthen the leadership capacities - in communications, financial inclusion and public speaking.

The day began with a session facilitated by Harouna Drabo, a journalist and fact-checker in Burkina Faso, women's rights advocate and recipient of the Speak Up Africa 2021 Leadership Award, who was joined by 23 community-based organisations in person. The theme of the session "Breaking down bias in the media: the power of storytelling and communication" reinforced the importance of women's voices in the media as well as reclaiming the narrative.

" The African LeadHERs Forum is an excellent platform to build the profile of women in the media. Our session and discussions emphasized on the crucial need of a new narrative that will reveal the full potential of women, and above all, shed light on their meaningful to contributions to Africa’s overall development.” commented Harouna Drabo.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the session focused on financial inclusion was facilitated by Mariam Djibo, General Director of Advans Côte d’Ivoire and Dr. Emma Angoua, President of the Global Platform for Women Entrepreneurs in Côte d’Ivoire. “In Côte d’Ivoire, 9 million women actively participate to the country’s economy but only 1 million of them have a bank account. Providing financial services to these women is a crucial step to their financial and overall empowerment.” added Mariam Djibo.

The first day of the Forum ended with a session featuring Nadia Mensah-Acogny, Chief Operating Officer of Acosphere. Joined by more than 20 CBOs and special guests including Diandra Tchatchouang, French Basketball Player and winner of the Bronze medal with Team France during the last olympic grames in Tokyo, Ysaora Thibus, Fencer, three-time olympian and winner of a silver medal with Team France in Tokyo as well and Cassie Ngbolonga, Choregrapher and influencer from the Central African Republic. During the session on the power of speech and public speaking, Nadia Mensah Acogny highlighted: “Taking the floor is taking the power. But power is not given, it’s conquered. Mastering the art of speech enables us to transform the way others look at us, break the bias, rewrite history and write our future.”

As it stands, women are strongly disincentivized to take on the mantle of leadership. Whether culturally or economically, across numerous countries the cultural norms tend to favour women working in the home. Alongside this, young girls are often pressured to marry early, and discouraged from going to school. Thus these cultural attitudes inform the social norms, and contribute to the relatively smaller numbers of girls and women in business, a count which seems to get smaller in correlation to the company position.

These have economic as well as public health ramifications, with a lack of education, knowledge, emancipation and financial independence often leading to poorer health outcomes amongst women and girls - especially in regards to maternal, natal, and sexual health. Furthermore, community-transmissible viruses and other major public health diseases such as malaria, HIV and malaria have been a persistent scourge in certain climates.

"Through Voix EssentiELLEs, part of our mission is to help break this stigma," concludes Yacine Djibo, executive director of Speak Up Africa. "This involves creating a positive movement that allows women to not only see themselves represented in any room they enter - but to participate meaningfully in the decision-making spaces that affect their health."

Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Dakar, Senegal, 8 March 2022