Thursday, November 3, 2011


Thirty years after the adoption of CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), many women and girls still do not have equal opportunities to realise rights recognised by law. In most countries, women are denied the right to own property or inherit land. They face social exclusion, ‘honour killings’, FGM (female genital mutilation), trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage, among others.
Women in Africa face dual legal systems wherein customary laws on inheritance, property ownership favour the men over the women and patriarchal traditions which consider men as heads of the family. Cultural marginalisation severely limits women’s education opportunities, which results in high illiteracy levels and a lack of qualifications and skills. These factors block women’s participation in politics, decision making and leadership positions. It is often notable that traditional and religious practices relegate women to traditional households roles.
Violence and discrimination against women are social epidemics and despite the progress made by women’s rights movements in identifying, raising awareness, and challenging impunity for women’s rights violations, serious discrimination continues to target women in Africa. In conflict-ridden areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Darfur region in Sudan, women are raped as a weapon of war with no impunity.
In the past years, there has been some encouraging progress regarding gender equality in Africa. Some states have made considerable advancements in protecting women from sexual violence and encouraging women to participate in politics and election. Most have gender policies or some kind of national women’s mechanism, such as a Ministry of Gender or Ministry of Women’s Affairs. There are aspects of gender equality in many constitutions and some countries have passed other laws on different aspects of women’s rights.
Despite growing numbers of women’s parliaments, women’s participation in politics is still far from adequate in Africa. However, according to the UN MDG’s (Millennium Development Goals) 2011 report, Sub Saharan Africa has registered an increase from 13 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2011, with North Africa also seeing a similar increase, with 3 percent in 2000 up to 12 percent in 2011.
There has been some recent progress regarding women’s political participation with Ethiopia, Madagascar and the United Republic of Tanzania recording improvements in 2010. Women’s representation in parliaments in Sub-Saharan Africa is now higher than in South Asia, the Arab states or Eastern Europe. Rwanda has proven to be a regional leader in terms of gender main-streaming, access to legal aid and women’s political participation with 51% of females holding parliamentary seats; the highest in the world.
In April 2011, The president of Mali appointed Cisse Mariam Kaidama to be the country’s new prime minister. Kaidama is the first woman to take on the top job in Malian politics. In July 2011, Angola took a step forward for women’s rights by enacting a Law to criminalise domestic violence and offer protection and support to victims and their families. Kenya and Guinea-Bissau have become the latest countries to make genital mutilation illegal by passing a law prohibiting the practice, and Equatorial Guinea ratified the Maputo Protocol and so became the 31st country to do so.
Most African countries have ratified CEDAW (with the exception of Sudan and Somalia), and so far, 31 out of 53 countries have ratified the Maputo protocol with the latest being Equatorial Guinea. Last year the African Union declared 2010-2020 as African Women’s Decade. The theme of this year is “Health, Maternal Mortality and HIV/AIDS”. This decade is a promise from African governments and the African Union to promote women’s rights and achieve gender equality in Africa.
The African Women’s Decade is quite significant and unique. It officially puts women at the centre of every initiative or work that will be undertaken in Africa by the African Union, and its member states in the next 10 years. By placing women at the centre of it all, African women and girls will have an opportunity to flourish and become advocates and leaders. However, there is a need for African Governments to back up their commitments with actions. We need to empower African women and girls with the tools they need to become agents of change. In 10 years, we need to look back at the African Women’s Decade and be proud of what we have achieved as individuals and as a global community.
(Enough with the CEDAW talk move from talks to action, big conventions and meetings will alone in the cities will not solve women issues. you need to be involved on the ground with locals and activists from the community to get things done!)

Ambassador Lucy S. Mashua, President of Mashua Voice for the Voiceless, International
Assisting and advocating for U.S. refugees and women’s rights
Global Ambassador for Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Chairperson of the Worldwide Campaign Against FGM
Leading in lobbying for HR 2221:The Girl's Protection Act sponsored by Rep. Joseph Crowley and Rep. Mary Bono Mack.