NEWS 2005

 

SMILE, WOMAN OF AFRICA, SMILE!

A. N. Kithaka

This week holds two important events for African women. The 25th of  November marks the start of the 16 Days of Gender Activism Against  Violence, an international campaign meant to raise awareness about  gender violence, strengthen the work of local organisations and  demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world. Incorporating  the International Day Against Violence Against Women (November 25th)  and International Human Rights Day (December 10), the goal of the  campaign is to link violence against women to the fact that it is a  human rights violation. November 25 is also especially important for  African women, as it is the day that the Protocol on the Rights of  Women in Africa comes into force. Having been ratified by the  requisite 15 African countries, this extremely important and  progressive treaty has the potential to liberate and empower all  African women to know and utilise their rights. That’s why A.N.  Kithaka, in the article below, makes an eloquent plea for Kenya to  ratify the protocol. Extolling the advantages that the Protocol will  have on African countries, Kithaka argues that the work done by  numerous groups around the globe is imperative to gender rights, and  to leaving behind violence against women as a things of the past .  below Kithaka’s article are a list of resources on 16 days and the  Protocol - suggested websites, further reading, blogs and events.


Women of Africa, we have cause to celebrate; the long awaited  ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of the African Woman by  the requisite 15 member states has just been announced. The Protocol  will come to force soon (November 25). Those states that have  deposited their instruments of ratification with the Executive  Council will be at liberty to incorporate its provision into their  domestic laws.

It has been a long journey; a journey and a battle well fought by  national, regional and international lobby groups. Most of us were  not aware of this but we are glad that their collective and  consistent lobbying, cajoling and canvassing has finally born fruits.  The Second Summit of the African Heads of Governments and States  sitting in Maputo, Mozambique finally adopted the Protocol as a  supplement to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The  only rider was that it had to be ratified by 15 states out of a  possible 53 member states. The fifteenth state to deposit its  document of ratification with the Executive Council did so on the  26th day of October, meaning that within 30 days from this date, the  Protocol will come into force! It has been correctly taunted as the  Green Card that will usher us to a new era. It not only guarantees us  a wider spectrum of human rights specific to our needs as the much  oppressed and repressed creature of the old (and new!) millennium,  but also allows us to seek redress in the yet to be constituted  African Court of Human and Peoples Rights. Unfortunately, Kenya is  yet to ratify the protocol, perhaps due to the present national  preoccupation with the referendum. Nevertheless, it will not be an up  hill task to nudge the government towards the right direction - it  appears malleable.

The big question is, how soon will women in Kenya join the proud list  of those countries that have chosen to give their women an early  Christmas gift by ratifying the document? How long will the women in  Kenya have to camp on this renegade side of the Red Sea as they wait  for the magic word 'ratification' to part the raging waters and usher  them to that other side where gender discrimination, repulsive FGM,  forced marriages and widow inheritance, domestic and sexual violence,  etc. are a thing of the past? Not long, I hope.

We must join hands to lobby for this ratification at all costs. Only  then can we rise and say “Eureka!” Otherwise we may as well be  content to sit on this side for an eternity, as we watch our sisters  from Cape Verde, Mali, Malawi, Lesotho, Comoros, Libya, Namibia,  Rwanda, Nigeria, Djibouti, Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa, Benin,  Togo and Gambia take the first steps into the soggy sea bed to  personal freedoms.

After ratification and domestication; we must move to the next  important stage: that of educating the masses on its benefits,  without forgetting to bring on-board our dear fathers, brothers,  husbands and sons. Some of the opposition being waged against the  Wako Draft Constitution is because it promises equal inheritance  rights to women, especially married women. One would think that the  Draft is introducing new concepts into our legal jurisprudence, yet  the Succession Act has been around since 1981!

Most women have refused to enforce their rights, even when assured  that the law is on their side. Others do not want the incessant  fights over meager family resources with hostile male relatives;  visits to infamous land offices make many cringe. They prefer to hide  behind the mask of traditions as they denounce their shares in favour  of their brothers.

Men fear losing control over their mothers, sisters, wives and  daughters. They subscribe to the primitive belief that the only way  to subjugate and subdue a woman is by denial of basic rights and  freedoms; and application of gender-specific violence; rape and  physical assault being the most popular today. In our mother's days,  denial to basic and secondary education was the weapon of choice, and  being forced to resign from paying jobs in favor of 'staying-at-home – to-take-care-of-the-children' edicts. Even today's educated man wants  to confine his woman to that perpetually smoky room called the  kitchen (after work, that is!).

Dissenters are deserted, attacked, maimed and killed with impunity.  Those lucky enough to escape and fend for themselves are given cold  treatment by a society that brands them prostitutes, husband grabbers  and social failures. Any property they acquire in their single state  will be grabbed or inherited by their estranged husbands, brothers,  uncles and fathers. Any children they leave behind, especially girl  children, are mistreated, forced to leave school and become house  girls, or married off to total strangers who profess kinship to their  parents. Sometimes they are shunted off to rural areas where they are  forced to undergo abhorrent traditional rites. Would it not be better  for governments to facilitate the fostering of such children so that  they can continue to live in the manner and style they were  accustomed to when their mothers were alive?

That is why advocacy groups must do more than just lobbying for  adoption of international legal instruments; they must help women  from rural areas apply them to improve their lots and those of their  children. Atieno from Ahero, Wanjiku from Waithaka, Kalekye from  Katse and Naliaka from Narok must be facilitated, both materially and  intellectually, so that she is aware of her basic human and women’  rights and how these can be enforced at the national, regional and  international courts of justice. Let us gang up and apply the shock  therapy to disgorge men from their entrenched prejudices; let us wean  them from the present retrogressive and chauvinistic mindset that has  been passed from generation to generation.

In his play, ‘Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare introduces a  character called Angelo. He is the law enforcer who brokers no- nonsense deals when it comes to matters of justice. He refuses to  temper justice with mercy and holds that the law must be obeyed to  the letter - at the beginning of the play, anyway. What happens later  is for the curious to find out. He is famously quoted as  pontificating that 'we must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting  it up to catch birds of prey till custom finding it harmless makes it  their perch and not their terror'.

Our advocacy skills and efforts must translate to visible changes in  the lives of our people; they must not remain mere 'open sesame' to  donor funds; let us canvass for enactment of laws, but let us not  leave them to be mere scarecrows that are set up to frighten birds of  prey, and…men!

* A. N. Kithaka is an Advocate in Kenya.

* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org

Supporting organisations of the campaign for the ratification of the  Protocol on the Rights of Women

African Centre for Democracy And Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) www.acdhrs.org/
Akina Mama wa Afrika www.akinamama.org/
Association des Juristes Maliennes http://www.justicemali.org/ajm.htm
Cellule de Coordination sur les Pratiques Traditionelle Affectant la  Sante des Femmes et des Enfants
Coalition on Violence Against Women www.covaw.or.ke
ECOTERRA International http://www.ecoterra-international.org
Equality Now-Africa Regional Office http://www.equalitynow.org/english/index.html 
FAHAMU http://www.fahamu.org
FAMEDEV-Inter-African Network For Women Media, Gender and Development
FEMNET - African Women's Development and Communication Network  www.femnet.or.ke
Foundation for Community Development, Inter-African Committee on  Harmful Traditional Practices (IAC)
Oxfam GB http://www.oxfam.org.uk/
Sister Namibia
Union Nationale des Femmes de Djibouti
Voix de Femmes http://www.voixdefemmes.org/
University of Pretoria Center for Human Rights http://www.chr.up.ac.za/
Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternatives
Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) http://www.wildaf.org/ 

Resources

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/16days/home.html
Peace Women http://peacewomen.org
Akina Mama wa Afrika http://www.akinamama.org/
Equality Now http://www.equalitynow.org/english/index.html
FEMNET http://femnet.or.ke
Feminist Africa http:/www.feministafrica.org

Blogs

Feminist African Sisters http://feministafricansisters.blogspot.com/
Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman http://madkenyanwoman.blogspot.com/
Black Looks http://okrasoup.typepad.com/black_looks

Further Reading

Women Building Peace http://www.international-alert.org/publications/121.php 
Trafficking in Women and Children in Africa http://www.unicef-icdc.org/publications/ 
African Experiences of Transnational Feminism www.feministafrica.org/2level.html

Pambazuka News Special Editions on the Protocol

Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa: A Pre-condition for Health  and Food Security http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?issue=190
The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Red, Yellow and Green                                                        www.pambazuka.org/index.php?issue=213
Challenges of Domestication: The Protocol To The African Charter on  Human and People’s Rights on The Rights of Women in Africa www.pambazuka.org/index.php?issue=222

Pambazuka Profiles on the Protocol

Land Rights - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=30397
Women and Sustainable Development - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=30299 
Women in Armed Conflict - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=30122
Female Genital Mutilation - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=30050
Trafficking in Women and Children - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=29740 
Female Refugees - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=29873

Events

Nigeria – Baobab Women http://www.baobabwomen.org/upcomingevents.html
South Africa – Women’s Net http://womensnet.org.za/16Days/calendar.shtml
Agenda in Durban, South Africa Contact editorial@agenda.org.za
Kenya – COVAW http://www.covaw.or.ke/
Ghana – Ark Foundation http://www.arkfoundationgh.org/news/home.htm
International Calendar http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/16days/kit05/calendar.html