With awkward, embarrassing and cringe-worth moments we shared in writing. From bad dates, those morning walks of shame and horrific makeovers. Towards the African Day of Standardisation, I’ve now reached the pinnacle.
Dedication; Noel Leonard Mgeni Thank you for showing me the excitement and joy of writing.
Whilst 2016 kickoffs the second phase of the African Women’s Decade in the ARSO’s Lady President tenure, an approach to women’s empowerment needs another- ”A standards” visual percept where development is women-driven, unleashing their potentials and fronting a dynamic force in all walks of life to respond to the necessities of the present without compromising the same ability in future generations.
Taken as consensus agreements between national delegations representing all the economic stakeholders concerned, suppliers, users, government regulators and other interested groups such as consumers, standards can neither be downplayed nor their commitment to best practices be denied in consistently classification of materials, manufacture and supply of products, testing and analysis, in terminology and provision of services.
In such wise, standards speak one voice between suppliers and their customers to facilitate trade and technology transfer echoing the 2063 Africa that leaves no woman behind.
Women claim over half the Africa’s populace meanwhile the continent’s untapped economic force. Their participation in most areas of human endeavor is severely limited. Poverty and HIV/AIDS still carry a female face, rare to seat around the decision making tables yet diminished of land, credit, inputs and markets in agro-industries, less schooled, early marriages and dying while giving birth remain part of woman experience, to mention but a few.
The reasons why standards need to walk the talk on women empowerment are as numerous as the number of women in the continent and therefrom, the overarching purpose of this essay is to stress on the contribution of standards in women empowerment and development.
A woman’s health is her primary empowerment and wealth for the continent. However, in Africa the health sector appears compromised and plays a disempowerment role deserving standards attention. In most countries the doctor/nurse-to-patient ratio exceeds 1:10,000 and 1:600 respectively rejecting the corresponding standardized World Health Organization’s doctor/nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:400 and 1:4 which should be African Organization for Standardization’s mandate in specific National Standard Bodies to rescue the remote women dying on roads/long queues seeking medical attention.
While majority consult traditional practitioners who far outnumber doctors, underestimating standards in traditional medicine would therefore have serious consequences on women’s health. Thus, standards harmonisation on safety, efficacy, quality of raw materials and herbal medicines, then on certification scheme for medicinal plant produce, sustainability, good agricultural, collection, manufacture and conservation practices of medicinal plants provide minimum requirements for registration of traditional medicines, legal framework and code of ethics for traditional healers to lessen the burden of debilitating diseases that plague women’s lives.
Moreover, incorporating traditional medicine in national healthcare systems under the supervision of national standards bureaus will turn Africa into influential global player and partner with a significant share in world’s traditional medicine market employing vast number of her women. Regrettably, the counterfeit and substandard drug business in Africa undercuts the progress in tackling deadliest women diseases, that’s why standards are brought home to provide quick tests on active ingredients, conformity assessment and verification procedures to dispose the fraudulent ones including fake anti-malarials and anti-retrovirals that endanger lives of pregnant women who bear the burden of Malaria and HIV epidemics. Standards move beyond to inspect sub-optimal road networks for ambulances and health experts to easily reach isolated women.
Additionally in nowadays fast-growing personal care and beauty industry Africa’s female consumers attract a particular focus. As highest users of cosmetics, their health implications clearly call for standards to strictly regulate safety and ingredients. Through exposure and hazard assessment, contaminants evaluation, appropriate packaging and labeling, standards enforce bans and disqualify sub-standard and counterfeit products with non-compliance to the uniqueness of African women’s skin color, hair type, culture, socio-economic status and weather conditions they inhabit. Standards further govern African innovative products that treat and restore the proud image of her women and with their natural and traditional ingredients gaining fame among consumers, harmonizing their standards will mainstream cosmetology and wellness from being a low paying job- for unskilled women into formal economies that trade brands beyond localities and have legs in global markets.
As agriculture remains the continent’s largest employer of women inculcating standards becomes an urgent priority. Mechanical standards guarantee suitable agri-machines in varying climatic and soil conditions with excellent fuel efficiency, durability and high performance for a more modern sector, profitable and attractive to the continent’s women. Still in agricultural innovations like greenhouses flexibility in electronics standards improves changes in software monitoring weather automation systems for maximum crop growth and yields making them economical, portable with low maintainance costs for rural women. Furthermore, standards inspect the already imported seeds that’re liable to germination problems, pests and diseases attacks to anchor food security amongst rural women subsistence farmers and extend into safeguarding them against substandard raw materials, poor product mixing, chemical additives, misbranded, absent labels, standards mark, expiry dates, underweight, poor quality bags and counterfeit repackaging of fertilizers to boost agricultural feminization. Nevertheless Africa’s agriculture bears the brunt of climate change, having evidenced to favor pest populations with more resistant mutants, more stiffer standards regulate varieties of emerging pesticides formulations to accommodate indigenous women farmers majority of whom are agripreneurs.
Although most of women-owned enterprises in Africa ranging from agribusiness to textiles, garments, etc, are stuck at small and medium levels, their true prosperity is hinged on standards implementation that breaks borders by reducing rejections, lengthy quality control procedures and eliminates technical barriers to trade. Adopting good standardization and conformity assessment leads to new cost-efficient technologies in post-manufacture and storage that adds value, improve product safety, marketability and mitigate price swings while safeguarding fair competition to penetrate private standards like US bioterrorism laws and UK maximum residue levels. Thus in 2015, Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) expanded education delivery to women entrepreneurs on the manufacture of quality products with standards mark to withstand the competition both in domestic and foreign markets. For the continental free trade area take off by 2017 standards mobilise quality infrastructure moving women businesses beyond micro to pan-African companies of global reach in all sectors.
The hospitality sector isn’t exception since international microbiological standards in food as defined by codex alimentarius scan from locally processed food, fermented food products to industrial manufactured foods and beverages for quality, safety and hygiene to check the spread of food-borne related illnesses making the already women- dominated sales areas like restaurants, hotels, catering firms and resorts more compliant to the required international standards. Standardisation in quality, environment and energy management systems boosts more marketing gains, positive public image, competence plus efficient and effective operations in energy use/saving and waste reduction to assure up-to-date services that meet and exceed their customers’ expectations. Thus, women ascend to managerial and supervisory positions making the sector tour-receptive able to host a given number of visitors in which standards guide the quality of accommodation, tourism assets, efficiency and safety of transport to, from and within countries stimulating foreign exchange via wellness, agri and cultural tourism stirred by women unlike the wildlife-based tourism.
If I dreamt five years ago that I would invest in women for Africa’s renaissance without thinking of standards as utmost priority, I would write it off as bad dream or a night mare. The easy way out is to wake up, rethink and make women great again.
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