By Jeffrey Moyo
JOHANNESBURG (IDN) – Twenty-nine year old Ruramai Gwata had no reason to celebrate the International Women’s Day observed on March 8 every year. She lay in hospital nursing her wounds following a severe assault by her husband over a domestic dispute.
While licking her wounds two months later, as the world commemorated Mother’s Day, Gwata was plagued by agonising memories of how her two children witnessed her abuse by her husband.
Jobless Gwata, though a qualified jobless teacher, is by no means a rare exception in Africa. Because of the fate of women like Gwata the continent’s bid to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 by accomplishing gender equality and empowering all women and girls by the year 2030, threatens to remain a pipe dream.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in today’s world. It is a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ human rights and to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
With this in view, the European Union (EU) and the UN are embarking on a new, global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The Spotlight Initiative will respond to all forms of VAWG, with a particular focus on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.
Notwithstanding the perturbing reality on the ground, African countries have pledged to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Almost all countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; more than half have ratified the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. Other milestones include the African Union’s declaration of 2010–2020 as the African Women’s Decade.
According to UN Women, although Africa includes both low- and middle-income countries, poverty rates are still high. The majority of women work in insecure, poorly paid jobs, with few opportunities for advancement. Democratic elections are increasing, and a record number of women have successfully contested for seats. But electoral-related violence is of growing concern.
Independent development expert Mabel Chiluba, based in Zambia’s capital Lusaka, says the crisis faced by Africa’s women and girls who are downtrodden, calls for urgent attention from the continent’s leaders.
“Gender equality by 2030 needs serious action to eradicate the many core causes of discrimination that still inhibit women’s rights in private and public spheres. For example, discriminatory laws need to change,” Chiluba told IDN.
True to Chiluba’s observation, countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria and Mozambique continue to lag behind the rest of the world on women’s participation in development efforts.
“We remain imprisoned in the mediaeval era, where women are still oppressed, all this due to deeply entrenched, discriminatory views about the role and position of women and girls across African societies. As women, we have been relegated to inferior positions resulting in unequal power relations between us and men,” a Zimbabwean feminist and director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group, Catherine Mkwapati, told IDN.
According to Mkwapati, “Even in workplaces, Africa’s traditional practises which undermine women are still pervasive, subsequently perpetuating various forms of violence against women,” says Mkwapati.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Education for All Global Monitoring Report, covering the period 2000-2015, underlines the veracity of her view. Fewer than half of the world’s countries had achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education when the report was released in 2015.
The report also found that the gender equality gap in secondary school had been reduced but remained wide, with the highest numbers of gender disparity occurring in the Arab States and sub-Saharan Africa, where no country had met the gender equality goal.
But there are exceptions such as Rwanda, which is reported to beat France and the United States in gender equality. According to the Global Gender Report 2017, in terms of closing the gap between men and women, at 86 percent Rwanda has one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world while in the U.S., for example, that figure stands at 56 percent.
However, the Global Gender Report attributes Rwanda’s high rate of female workforce participation to the country’s devastating genocide of 1994. Subsequently, over two decades ago, around 800,000 Rwandese were slaughtered in the space of just three months. In the wake of these horrendous events, women made up between 60 percent and 70 percent of the surviving population. They (Rwandese women) had little choice, but to inherit the roles once played by men, according to the Report.
In populous Nigeria, gender inequality is still influenced by different cultures and beliefs and in most parts of that country, women are considered subordinate to their male counterparts, especially to the North of the West African nation. And, Nigeria’s huge male population still firmly believes in the country’s customs which despises women.
“In Nigeria, we generally believe that women are best suited as home keepers, working in the kitchen and nothing else or more than that,” Nwoye, Ikemefuna, a Nigerian businessman told IDN.
Apparently with an eye on practices that have left African women subjugated, the then Acting Head of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, said during the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels in June 2013: “When it comes to protecting rights, Governments are called on to review national legislation, practices and customs and abolish those that discriminate against women. Laws, policies and programmes that explicitly prohibit and punish violence must be put into place, in line with international agreements.”
But despite pro-gender calls from organisations such, African countries such as Mozambique seem to be hit hard with gender disparities, with statistics showing that six out of every 10 Mozambican women are ill-treated both physically and emotionally. The Mozambican Association for Women, Law and Development (MULEID) is also worried about the increased rate of violence against women, which is contrary to the previous strategies that have been taken to stop all violence against women.
In fact, Mozambique could just be a tip of the iceberg. According to USAID, Tanzanian women and girls remain among the most marginalized and underutilized citizens in sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzanian women and girls must have greater access to and control over resources, opportunities, and decision-making power in order to sustainably reduce extreme poverty, build healthy communities, and promote inclusive growth, says USAID.
Tanzania is one of two initial priority countries under Let Girls Learn, a whole-of-government initiative to improve enrolment and retention in educational programs for female adolescents. While primary school enrolment among girls and boys is nearly equivalent in Tanzania, less than 20 percent of women age 20-24 have completed secondary school and 20 percent have had no education at all. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 May 2018]
Photo: UNICEF’s youngest Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Almellehan in Chad. Credit: UNICEF UK.