Africa Has the Opportunity to Unlock the Potential of Its Women and Girls

School girls look watch first lady Michelle Obama and Senegal's first lady Madame Marieme Faye Sall during a visit to the all
School girls look watch first lady Michelle Obama and Senegal's first lady Madame Marieme Faye Sall during a visit to the all-girls Martin Luther King Middle School, Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Dakar Senegal. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As the world celebrates women and girls this International Women's Day, I feel disappointed that despite those of us in the West talking and campaigning on their behalf, so many young girls are being let down. The fact that we are talking about gender equality when 31 million girls receive no education at all is scandalous. We should all reflect on what we need to do as a society to give hope to these girls, not to mention the hundreds of millions more who are forced to drop out of school because of poverty, conflict and discrimination.

As someone who did not go to school until very late in life, I think real action is now needed if we want to sustain our mission and promises to get every child, including every girl, into school by the end of 2015. I grew up in an African village where major organizations promised to help young marginalized girls like me, yet we were vulnerable to exploitation. It was only after being a victim of human trafficking that I began learning the very basics in France and found the help of a mentor.

At Africa Gathering, my team and I are opening tech hubs for young women in Africa; we believe technology must not be just for those that currently have access to it but that it is for everyone. In our Senegal tech hubs, young girls are learning basic code: they are developing apps and tech solutions and in turn this training is opening up opportunities for them that they wouldn't have had otherwise: for example, girls in Uganda are now able to learn about their health and wellbeing through use of family planning and other apps which improve their lives at a local level.

In recent years, there has been progress when it comes to getting girls safely into school and learning. African governments have received support from major organizations working on strengthening education systems, including the Global Partnership for Education and UNESCO, and global movements such as A World at School are being led by young ambassadors for education, often still in their teens.

Yet we are still not doing enough to close the gender gap; it is girls in rural areas who will be the last to go school. The harsh reality is we cannot talk about the prosperity of women and girls in Africa if we don't tackle the reasons girls are discriminated against and made vulnerable to exploitation in the first place.

Gender inequality is a major problem in most African Countries -- indeed it is not unique to Africa -- but concrete actions such as increasing funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, removing the barriers to an education and even legalizing land ownership must be some of the priorities for today's African leaders.

Africa has the opportunity to unlock the potential of its women and girls. They are its wisest investment.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with A World At School's "Girls Stand #UpForSchool" petition launch on International Women's Day 2015 (March 8). There are currently 31 million girls out of school around the world. This launch is part of a wider petition that will be delivered to world leaders to ensure they keep a promise to get every girl and boy into school and learning by the end of 2015. Find out more -- and add your name -- at