Beyond The Gloss; Here Is What Being A Girl In The 21st Century Africa Means


Poverty, bad infrastructure, poor health services, unpredictable political situations and unreliable governance are just some of the weighty issues that Africa as a continent continues to grapple with and which most of the people who live on this lovely continent have to work around as we optimistically hope for better policies and better leadership that will see the continent get transformed to realize its full potential.

If you are a girl growing up in the 21st Century Africa, apart from ‘the mainstream challenges’, there are a set of challenges that despite their being mindboggling and completely capable of making one’s life miserable, may never make it to the floor of our parliaments and senates for those numerous amendments you hear about on TV stations. Here is my proposition; we discuss some of these challenges, laugh about some, cry about some and perhaps develop ‘local coping mechanisms’ that will see us through.

Girls from different places in Africa. Image from
Girls from different places in Africa. Image from


I think I will give you guys a whirlwind if I throw in the word ‘globalization’ because I figure, existing in a multicultural society is hard enough. Let me paint a correct picture: as a 23 year old African girl today, chances are you are very different from your great-grandmother. Unlike her, you have moved past your county of birth (they probably called them districts of birth). Your education level is probably way above hers and you have grown up in an era when it is so easy to bring Americans and their cultures right to your living room and actually compete with them. It gets worse: there is the internet which makes it very easy to even interact with these people.

Being a girl in the 21st Century Africa is trying to negotiate all these things: hearing all these voices but all the time remembering where you are coming from without losing sight of where you are going.

Needless to say, this is not an easy existence especially when the older generation is always reprimanding you for copying the West or not speaking your mother-tongue properly!


You want to be more eloquent like Anne. You want to be as hot as Paula. As free spirited as Mary Jane… Then you want to have Maryan’s stable-looking job and to be in a seeming deep romantic relationship like your friend Gugu. I know it is truth universally accepted that in life, you gain some and you lose some but this is easier said than understood so somehow, you are always keeping yourself under the pressure of trying to be like the people you know who are doing better than you are in life. And I think social media was invented just to make these pressures intense because these things are right there on our faces.

The guys

I will keep the roadside idiots aside for today. Not that they have stopped being a menace, I just do not have space for them today.

When you are a girl, there are guys… some trying to love you for real, others keen to mess your life up, others are there to waste your time and of course, others have a bet with their friends to take down the no nonsense girl at the office. Sometimes we love the wrong people and throw away the right people with devastating consequences. If you have heard a girl swearing that she will never have anything to do with any other guy in her life ever again, this is not the time to tell her that African culture demands that every girl gets married.


This is the era where we are threatened that some jobs are going to get obsolete in the next ten years. Please note that this is happening at a time when you still do not even have a job three years after graduation.

Also, when you are a young adult with academic qualifications, some of the things that occupy the top part of your head is how to get yourself in your desired career, earn money and get some independence from your folks. In Africa, this— landing a job you are passionate about—is a pure game of chance because as the saying goes, you do the job that you get, not the one that you love or you went to school for.

I am sure that I have not come close to exhausting the list of the challenges of being a girl on this continent today. The point is that, being a girl in the 21st Century Africa may seem like a walk in the park but it really is not. There are challenges – some that are solvable and some which we just got to live with. So what are your challenges?

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I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.