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Cameroon women protest high cost of living

A woman shops at the Mvog Ada market in Yaounde, Cameroon

A woman shops at the Mvog Ada market in Yaounde, Cameroon

Thousands of women in Cameroon took to the streets on Wednesday, International Women’s Day, to protest the high cost of living. The government blames soaring food and energy prices on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The women blew trumpets and whistles on the streets of the central African state's capital Yaounde, shouting and decrying the high cost of living amid surging inflation. The women say they want the government to help them cope with price increases.

Suzanne Menanga is the coordinator of the Cameroon Female Consumers Union that organized the protest. She says her group protested on Women's Day because more than 80 per cent of Cameroon's roughly 14 million women are either unemployed or earn very low wages that make it difficult to cope with the high costs.

She says a February 2023 minimum wage increase for private sector workers from about $60 to $68 and the 5.4 per cent salary increase for government workers have not improved the living conditions of Cameroonians.

Menanga says food price inflation increased from 25 per cent in 2022 to 40 per cent in 2023, adding that it is difficult for families to purchase everyday items like bread, sugar, fish, salt, soap and vegetable oil, whose prices are up by between 18 and 45 per cent.

The women say the minimum wage for private sector workers should be increased to at least $100. The government should increase the salaries of state workers by 20 per cent, according to the women. The protests took place in several towns including Bamenda, Bafoussm, Ngaoudere and Ebolowa.

Cameroon Trade minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying it has led to an increase in the prices of basic commodities all over the world.

Atangana, like the World Bank and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), says the current high inflation and slow economic growth in low- and middle-income countries that rely heavily on Ukraine and Russia for grains and plant oils is caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He says Cameroon is one among scores of countries where high fertilizer prices have become an obstacle to food production. Atangana says Cameroon is even lucky that it is not experiencing food shortages.

Atangana said civilians should learn to live with the price increases, adding that living standards are affected all over Africa and may only be reduced when Russia stops its aggression in Ukraine.

Last year, the Cameroonian government said President Paul Biya ordered an immediate disbursement of more than $15 million to grow wheat and rice in the central African state. The government asked civilians to eat locally produced food instead of imports.

The women say it is difficult for them to obey government instructions to stop overdependence on expensive imported rice, maize and beans because a 60 per cent increase in prices for fertilizer is making it difficult to grow crops locally.

The Agriculture ministry says it has already spent one million dollars on fertilizer subsidies since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

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