Friday, July 9, 2010

Saying No to Child Marriage

Throughout the world, the problem of early, forced marriages of children is considered to be a violation of basic human rights. It has been estimated that 49 countries have a significant child bride problem.

Here is an overview of the problem of child brides and solutions to the issue of early marriages.

Saying No to Child Marriage

Breaking out of the tradition to marry young is difficult. These girls do not often receive support from their families to say no to marriage.

Additionally, cultural, economic, and religious aspects of the communities when they live make it nearly impossible for the girls to break free from marrying early.
The Problem of Child Brides and Forced Marriages

* Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East: In the rural villages of these countries many young girls are rarely allowed out of their homes unless it is to work in the fields or to get married.

These uneducated girls are often married off at the young age of 11. Some families allow girls who are only 7 years old to marry. It is very unusual for a girl to reach the age of 16 and not be married.

· In Afghanistan , it is believed that between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced marriages.

· Even though the legal age to get married in Egypt is 16, and in India and Ethiopia, the age is 18, these laws are quite often ignored.

* England and the United States: The issue of child brides has also reached other countries such as England and the United States where secret illegal weddings are being performed.

The awareness of early forced marriage and sexual abuse of young girls in the United States was increased by the April 2008 rescue of numerous children living on a ranch owned by a polygamist sect in Texas.
United Nations Report on the Violation of Basic Human Rights of Child Brides

According to a report issued by the United Nations, these early marriage unions violate the basic human rights of these girls by putting them into a life of isolation, service, lack of education, health problems, and abuse.

The UNICEF paper states: "UNICEF believes that, because marriage under the age of 18 may threaten a child's human rights (including the right to education, leisure, good health, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination), the best way to ensure the protection of children's rights is to set a minimum age limit of 18 for marriage.

UNICEF is opposed to forced marriages at any age, where the notion of consent is non-existent and the views of bride or groom are ignored, particularly when those involved are under age."

A forced marriage is a marriage that is performed under duress and without the full and informed consent or free will of both parties.

Being under duress includes feeling both physical and emotional pressure. Some victims of forced marriage are tricked into going to another country by their families. Victims fall prey to forced marriage through deception, abduction, coercion, fear, and inducements.

A forced marriage may be between children, a child and an adult, or between adults. Forced marriages are not limited to women and girls, as boys and men are also forced to marry against their will.

A forced marriage is considered to be domestic violence. As one of our readers (A.C.) pointed out, "From an international perspective forced marriage is considered a form of trafficking in persons and is a severe human rights violation."

Victims of forced marriages often experience physical violence, rape, abduction, torture, false imprisonment and enslavement, sexual abuse, mental and emotional abuse, and at times, murder.


“No marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity and in the presence of the authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses, as prescribed by law.”

Poor health, early death, and lack of educational opportunities lead the list of problems attributed to child marriage.

* Child brides have a double pregnancy death rate of women in their 20s.

* In developing countries, the leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is early pregnancy.

* Additionally, from having babies too young, child brides are at an extremely high risk for fistulas (vaginal and anal ruptures).

* The babies of child brides are sicker and weaker and many do not survive childhood.

* Child brides have a higher risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

* These young girls are at an increased risk of chronic anemia and obesity.

* Child brides have poor access to contraception.

* These young girls have a lack of educational opportunities.

* Being forced into an early marriage creates a lifetime of poverty.

* Statistically, child brides have a higher risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and murder.

Education is the most important key to helping end the practice of forced child marriages. Many believe that education may prove to be more successful in preventing child marriages than banning child marriages.

* Education of the parents is just as important as education of the children.

Education will broaden their horizons and will help convince parents of the benefits in having their children educated.

* It is important to provide education involving more than reading, writing, and math.

Teaching these young girls life skills, including reproduction and contraception information, how to have fun and how to play in sports, is proving to be a positive way to change the lives and futures of these adolescent girls.

* By providing more educational opportunities, India has been able to cut child marriage rates by up to two-thirds.

Friday, July 2, 2010

WOMEN NEWS: From The Gambian News Papers

Seminar on gender-based violence ends

Friday, July 02, 2010
The Point:
The Network on Gender-Based Violence, the Gambia, a joint local and Finnish initiative aimed at combating violence against women and girls in the Gambia recently held a one-day seminar on the theme: "Galvanising support and partnership in the fight against Gender-based violence" at the Liaco Atlantic Hotel in Banjul.

The seminar is a platform, which seeks to bring together NGO's and public institutions involved in women's empowerment, as well as to provide co-ordination and discussion of gender issues in the country. It among others seeks to bring about greater respect for the rights of women and girls and zero-tolerance for gender based violence.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mrs. Haddy Mboge Barrow, the Volunteer Part-time Co-ordinator of NGBV said that when gender-based violence is addressed from all angles, the possibility of prevention becomes a reality.

"The Gambia joins the rest of the world to come up with potential responses within the state and civil society," she said.

Mr. Babucarr Ngum, the Chairperson of the network said that the Network believes that when the players are many in the fight against gender-based violence and the chorus is louder, they can be able to find solutions to gender-based violence in the Gambia.

Mrs. Fatou Mbye, chairman of the Women’s Council, gave a speech on behalf of the Vice President Madam Isatou Njie Saidy.

"Gender-based violence has profound implications on health but ignored.

Gender-based violence is usually invisible behind closed doors. It is not reported, not seen as a big problem but only seen as family matters," she said.

She added that the Women's Act 2010 is a clear manifestation of the Gambian Government’s effort to end Gender-based violence in the Gambia.
Author: Isatou Dumbuya

Rape suspect acquitted, discharged
Friday, July 02, 2010

The high court in Banjul on Monday acquitted and discharged Abdoulie Jallow who was charged with rape, and was on trial for two years at the Bundung Magistrates' Court and later at the Special Criminal Court in Banjul.

The high court acquitted and discharged the accused person, Abdoulie Jallow, following a no-case-to-answer submission by his defence counsel, Badou SM Conteh.

Abodoulie Jallow was first arraigned at Bundung Magistrates' Court before Principal Magistrate Kumba Sillah-Camara.

The case was later transferred to the Special Criminal Court, which was established to try persons who commit such offences.

The prosecution had called in three witnesses, but the accused person did not open his defence, since his counsel, lawyer Conteh decided to file a no-case submission, on the grounds that there was not substantial evidence against him.

Justice Ikpala, the presiding judge, subsequently acquitted and discharged the accused person, after ruling on the no-case submission.
Author: Sainey M.K. Marenah

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rwanda's Children of Rape

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Thousands of women were also raped. Sixteen years on from the genocide, Tim Whewell finds the horrors of those months have left their mark on a new generation.

Like 20,000 other Rwandan teenagers, Diane Kayirangwa was born out of the murderous chaos that killed so many in her country in 1994.

Her father was an unknown member of the Interahamwe - the ethnic Hutu militia licensed by the extremist government then in power to eradicate the Tutsi minority.

Her mother, Anastasie, was one of the Tutsi women targeted. She survived - but only just.

"I was raped on three occasions in different locations and by many different people," Anastasie says. "With the exception of one person, I didn't know who any of them were."

Anastasie Kayirangwa
There wasn't even a moment when I didn't love her. I've loved her ever since she was born
Rape victim Anastasie, speaking about her daughter

To compound her trauma, Anastasie was forced to leave her native village after she was threatened by neighbours who had killed the rest of her family.

Since then, like many other rape victims, she has been unable to find a husband. Instead, she provides for her daughter by buying and selling goods in her slum on the edge of the Rwandan capital Kigali.

But, despite all that she has endured, Anastasie says she has never regretted her decision 16 years ago to keep her daughter.

"There wasn't even a moment when I didn't love her. I've loved her ever since she was born," she says.

"My family gave her horrible nicknames like 'hyena'. But I've never wanted anything bad to happen to her."

A difficult bond

One of the most difficult moments, Anastasie recalls, was explaining to her daughter about the circumstances of her birth.

"Diane had already asked me. I told her when she was about 12 years old. She was grown up. I told her when we were alone," she says.

"It pained her. She cried, she stood up and she moved here and there because of anger."

I didn't see him as my child. I didn't love him at all
The mother of a boy born of rape

But Anastasie managed to convince her daughter that she loved her enough for two parents.

"[Then] she asked me if she was Hutu," Anastasie continues. "I told her that she was not Hutu, she was, rather, Tutsi because she was being cared for by me, because I was persecuted because of my tribe. But today we are all Rwandans because the issue of tribes is over."

For another mother and victim of rape, who does not want to be named, forming a bond with her child was not quite so easy.

After her son was delivered amid the squalor of a refugee camp, her first thought was to get rid of him down a latrine.

"I didn't see him as my child. I didn't love him at all," she says.

"In him, I saw the image of spears. I saw machetes. I saw very bad things," she continues.

'I've changed'

Like all children born of rape during the Rwandan genocide, her son will soon turn 16. But he doesn't yet know the circumstances of his birth and knows nothing of his mother's struggle.

Market in Rwanda
Many women make ends meet by buying and selling goods

But now, thanks to the support of other survivors of rape, his mother has learned to separate her son from the hatred she feels for those who raped her.

"I saw him as a killer, a son of a killer - but, of course, he was innocent, it wasn't him who did these things. I found other women who had similar problems as me. I didn't know that there were others who suffered the same. I thought I was alone," she says.

"So now I've changed. Now he sees that I'm close to him. We go out together. We walk around in Kigali."

However, she knows that one day she will have to tell her son about what happened. But for now, she has great ambition for him.

"I would like to get a sponsor to help him to get education so that when he grows he will be able help himself and others," she says.

Whether Rwanda's children of rape are able to escape its stigma will be, perhaps, a measure of how far the country itself has managed to put its violent past behind it.

For her part, Anastasie is confident her daughter Diane will not be defined by the identity of her father.

"A proverb says, 'Upbringing is better than being born'. Besides, she is a child born in a different Rwanda. I hope that her future will be good," she says.

"Memories of 1994 are not brought back by Diane. 1994 is no longer prevailing in me. Instead of remembering 1994, I think what my children would eat - their education. 1994 is no longer in me."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Key facts About Female genital mutilation

* Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
* The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
* Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
* An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
* It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.
* In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.
* FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by health care providers.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.

* Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
* Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
* Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
* Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

No health benefits, only harm

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:

* recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
* cysts;
* infertility;
* an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
* the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.

Who is at risk?

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

Between 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, about 92 million girls age 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.
Cultural, religious and social causes

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

* Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
* FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
* FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
* FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
* Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
* Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
* Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
* In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
* In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
* In some societies, FGM is being practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Africa: Annual Conference on Women in Political Leadership in Africa

Participants at the Annual Conference on African Women in Politics held on the 7th – 9th June 2010, organized by the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)have called on governments to, among other things, strengthen legal and policy frameworks in their countries by aligning them with international and regional principles and standards of democracy in particular those supporting equal participation and representation of men and women in political leadership.

Communiqué from the Annual Conference on Women in Political Leadership in Africa

We, the participants gathered in Lusaka, Zambia on the occasion of the Annual Conference on African Women in Politics held on the 7th – 9th June 2010, organized by the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in collaboration with the Zambia Association for Research and Development (ZARD), the Zambia Non – Governmental Coordinating Council (NGOCC) and the Zambia National Women’s Lobby;
Having come together in the spirit of sisterhood and guided by our common agenda of promoting respect, protection and fulfilment of women’s rights and women’s empowerment as essential elements for the achievement of sustainable development in Africa;
Recognizing that the leaders of our countries represented at the Conference namely Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia and South Africa have at the international, regional and national levels made various commitments to promote women’s rights and in particular the right to equal participation and representation of men and women in leadership and decision making at all levels;
And taking cognisance of the fact that by making these commitments through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and by endorsing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) of 1995 and the 2000 Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the state parties have the primary responsibility to ensure the fulfilment of all the rights entrenched therein;
Appreciating that the African Union as the main standard setting organ on the Continent has in the last 10 years taken leadership through its supreme body the Africa Union Heads of states and government Summit to adopt two key human rights instruments namely the Protocol to the Africa Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, 2003 (the Protocol on Women’s Rights) and the Africa Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, 2007 (Democracy Charter) that require member states once they become party thereto to take measures and actions to promote the achievement of gender parity in leadership and decision making at all levels;
Further Acknowledging with appreciation that many African countries have taken a number of commendable steps, measures and actions at the national and local levels to implement some of these commitments that have led to increased numbers of women in national parliaments and local government councils and several occupying key political leadership position;
Concerned that half of the countries represented at the Annual Conference have not ratified the Protocol on Women’s Rights which specifically requires state parties in Article 2 (d) to combat all forms of discrimination against women that hinder or obstruct their full and equal participation by taking corrective and positive actions in those areas where discrimination against women in law and in fact continues to exist;
Noting with concern that despite of the measures and actions taken to promote gender equality and women empowerment none of the countries represented at the Annual Conference has achieved gender parity in decision making structures and the key democratic institutions like parliaments at national and sub- regional levels and neither at the local government or administrative levels;
Greatly Concerned that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which sets out standards for the promotion, nurturing, strengthening and consolidation of democracy and good governance in Africa has not come into force more three years since its adoption in January 2007 and more importantly noting that if the Democracy Charter was to be fully enforced by all African countries it will greatly contribute to achieving the objectives and principles of the Constitutive Act of the African Union particularly Articles 3 and 4 which emphasize the significance of good governance, popular and equal participation, the rule of law and human rights;
Determined to promote and strengthen women’s participation in building strong democratic societies in Africa as one of the strategies for reducing wars, civil conflicts and insecurity in Africa;
Convinced of the need to entrench a culture of democracy as a way of life across Africa;
Reaffirming our commitment to work together with African leaders and governments, women in politics, and our partners operating at different levels, to promote the Africa Union standard of gender parity in leadership and decision making structures as an indicator of good governance and sustainable development in Africa;
Urge key actors mentioned below to urgently take the following measures and action:
African Governments
1. Strengthen legal and policy frameworks in their countries by aligning them with international and regional principles and standards of democracy in particular those supporting equal participation and representation of men and women in political leadership.
2. Aim to achieve universal ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and its full implementation by the year 2015 as part of the framework for the achievement of the goals of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the global agenda for development articulated in the Millennium Development Goals;
3. Ratify the Africa Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance as a clear demonstration of their political commitment to achieve universal values and principles of democracy, good governance, human rights and the right to development;
4. Ensure that the political environment at local, national, sub- regional and continental levels is conducive for both men and women’s participation in the democratic processes of their countries by promoting a culture of peace and democracy, and securing a level playing field that is free from any form of discrimination, threats and intimidation;
5. Take preventative measures to protect all citizens, most especially women active in mainstream politics from all forms of violence, sexual harassment and intimidation;
6. Apprehend, adjudicate and subject all perpetrators of political related violence to appropriate punishment according to the law including those engaged in violence instigated by state security agents against political opponents;
7. Take corrective measures and affirmative actions to address the gaps and obstacles that hinder women’s equal and full participation in political leadership and decision making focusing attention to the need to overcome social norms, prejudices and practices that negatively portray women in political leadership.
8. Ensure that electoral laws in place make it an obligation for political parties to adhere to the gender parity principle in appointing or electing representatives to the governance bodies and choosing party candidates at different levels, development or review of their party constitution and manifesto, and the equal involvement of members in the party affairs;
9. Promote the use of ICTs to ensure citizens’ access to critical information on the democratization processes in order to facilitate citizens’ involvement and participation giving attention to information needed by different categories of women, the youth and special interest groups.
10. Condemn the killings of innocent civilians, the atrocities and human rights violations in the Darfur Region in Sudan affecting large numbers of innocent women and children and fully support the implementation of the Africa Union decisions made on Darfur particularly the recommendations made by the High Level Panel on Darfur and the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) adopted on the 29th of October 2009 at its 207th Meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria. The AUPSC decisions specifically focus on the urgent need to restore peace, justice, security and reconciliation among the people of Darfur and Sudan as a whole and the need to ensure that the peace process remains peaceful, inclusive and expeditious.
11. Support the implementation of the Plan of Action submitted by the Chairperson of the AUC to the HOSG Summit in January 2010 in order to achieve the goals of the 2010 Year of Peace, Security and Stability in Africa including building the momentum for achieving concrete results on the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia.
12. Continue to put pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to fully implement the Global Partnership Agreement, avoid the use of excessive force and abuse of human rights when dealing with political opponents and above all respect the rights of women and children and punish all those in its ranks that abuse women’s and children’s rights with impunity;
Governments in the SADC and East African Community
13. Take all measures to achieve the universal ratification of the SADC Gender Protocol by the launch of the Africa Women’s Decade which is scheduled to take place in October 2010.
14. Ensure that the countries in the East African Community that have not ratified the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa rise up to the occasion to accede to this Protocol and embark on its domestication and full implementation for the benefit of all the people within the Community.
Political Party leaders
15. Make amendments to the Party Constitution to incorporate the democratic values and principles particularly those that support equal representation and participation of men and women in the affairs of the party.
16. Ensure that women leaders within the Political party have equal access to the resources of the party.
Women in Politics
17. Recognize the progress made in the last ten years in changing the landscape of leadership in Africa and learn from what has worked for women to deliver on the common agenda of promoting peace, equality and development;
18. Build and strengthen networks within countries and across borders through which peer support and solidarity, learning and experience sharing and access to the much needed resources (including information, material and financial resources) can be enhanced;
19. Speak out strongly against any form of violence in the public or private and that which is instigated by state that is directed to any woman in politics irrespective of her party affiliation.
20. Join hands with African women’s rights activists to celebrate the successes of courageous African women politicians that are currently occupying or held in the past high ranking political positions and effectively used their presence and power to strategically promote the women’s rights agenda of transforming society by dismantling patriarchy, its cultures and practices and all forms of oppression and discrimination against women;
21. Enhance skills and knowledge on the strategic use of the media and ICTs for organizing successful campaigns, maintaining linkage with the people and the issues affecting the constituency, organizing on common issues of interest and concern to women irrespective of party affiliation, and engaging with civil society actors to secure their support and technical input on issues where they have demonstrated expertise and experience.
22. Reach out and encourage young gender – sensitive women with leadership qualities and potential to join political parties and be active in shaping the policies, manifestoes, and practices of the political parties.
23. Recognize the role of civil society and the women’s rights movement in mobilizing women as a constituency to support and propel the 50/50 campaign and take steps to create or strengthen strategic linkages and partnerships with the key actors, networks and organizations;
24. Explore and take advantage of insurance schemes and other social security arrangements available to create personal safety nets as a strategy for minimizing the risk of women taking part in mainstream politics;
Sub – regional and Regional Organizations
25. Profile women in high ranking positions including among others the first female president H.E Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf of Liberia; the former vice president of Uganda Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe; the Vice president of Zimbabwe Joyce Teuri Ropa,Mujuru; the two former vice presidents of South Africa, Pumzile Mlambo Ncquka and Bleka Mmakota Mbete; the vice president of the Gambia, Isatou Njie-Saidy; and the Vice president of Malawi, Joyce Hilda Banda.
26. Facilitate and remain engaged with the process of establishing an Africa Women’s Fund whose main function will be to provide financial and technical support to women in politics particularly those vying for the presidency to organize their election campaigns, rally the support of women as a strategic constituency for their leadership and develop and build strategic partnerships;
Africa Union Commission
27. Put more pressure on member states to ratify the Protocol on Women’s Rights in order to achieve Universal ratification by the Women’s Day celebration in 2013 as a milestone to mark the end of the first three years of the Africa Women’s Decade (2010 – 2020).
28. Call upon all countries that have or have had elections at any level or a referendum in 2010 which have not ratified the Africa Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance to take all necessary steps to complete the ratification process so that the Africa Democracy Charter comes into force in 2010, the Africa Year of Peace, Security and Stability;
29. In addition to suspension issue sanctions against any country in the Africa Union that illegally changes its political leaders and government and where human rights violations occur as a result of the chaos the AUC should undertake thorough investigations and all members states put pressure on the concerned leaders and government to restore democracy, the rule of law and punish perpetrators of such violence.
30. Accelerate the process of establishing the Africa Court of Justice and Human Rights, streamlining its functions, jurisdiction and engaging its staff team in addition to the Court Judges so that it is operational by the end of 2010 and in position to adjudicate cases where governments fail to make those accountable for human rights violations during elections, referenda and other democratic processes in their countries.
Partners, the private sector and friends of women in Africa
31. Support the efforts of Regional women’s organizations and national initiatives to establish a Special fund for African women aspiring to be candidates in public offices – presidential and parliamentary - to ensure that we deliberately address the resource limitations that female candidates face.

32. Create mechanisms through which younger and upcoming female politicians can benefit from leadership training and mentorship available through government and party training programmes and those provided by regional and national civil society organizations in Africa involved in women’s leadership development;

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gambia: Gender-Based Violence Immoral - Interior Minister

The Minister of Interior Ousman Sonko has described gender based violence as both immoral and criminal and a serious violation of the rights of women and children.

He said as law enforcement officers, they have a primary responsibility to prevent gender-based violence, to ensure that victims are supported, and protected, and perpetrators arrested and brought before the law.

Minister Ousman Sonko made these remarks on Wednesday 6th January 2010 at the end of a two day sensitization workshop for forty security officers at NaNA.

The Workshop organized by the Gambia Police Force in collaboration with the African Centre was aimed at sensitizing security personnel on the Women Protocol. Minister Sonko who was deputized by the Police Commissioner of Kanifing Division Yaya Fadera said the Gambia has signed and ratified all major international and regional legal instruments such as CEDAW and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of women in Africa known as the Maputo Protocol. All these he said are geared toward putting in place the legal framework for the protection of women and children from discrimination, abuse, violence and exploitation.

"It is your responsibility, as the guardian of the law, to ensure that these legislations are enforced adequately and to the letter," he remarked.

Minister Sonko added that if the security officers can protect women and children or give them the support they require, the battle against gender-based violence would be half won.

The Interior Minister noted that his ministry will continue to bolster the capacity of its security forces, especially the Gambia Police Force, to enable them achieve their mandate of protecting lives and maintaining a violent free society. "We will have zero-tolerance for sexual assault against women and girls. Perpetrators will have no place to hide," he said.

A representative of the Inspector General of Police, cadet Sireh Jabang said the Gambia Police Force has the primary responsibility to protect lives, properties and prevent crimes. She said their duty is to make sure that they detect criminals, apprehend them and bring them before the law.

The head of the Child Welfare Unit ASP Yamoundow Jagne Joof said it is their responsibility to prevent, protect, support and care for children. She tasked the security officers to take up the challenge when it comes to child protection, noting that it is not easy dealing with such cases.

She urged the people to shy away from the culture of silence and report cases. She also urged the security officers to listen to cases keenly and prosecute them accordingly.

The Director of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, Hannah Forster said they discover that women face violence in the society.

She described the Instruments of the Protocol as important, noting that it will enhance the work that they do (security officers) in their various departments.

The Director of Tango Ousman Yarboe also noted that the sensitization on the protocol is important to the security officers.

We take any report of rape or sexual assault seriously and will see you to offer you support as soon as possible and in private. We aim to be polite, patient, sensitive and non-judgemental. In most cases of rape and sexual assault, the victims, no matter what their sex, prefer to talk about their ordeal with women. If that is what you want, we will do our best to make sure that a female officer is at any meeting.

We can tell you about local police and legal procedures. If you want to contact the police, we can come to the police station with you. Where possible we can try to make sure that you are interviewed by a female police officer if that’s what you would prefer. If you want us to, we can give you a list of local lawyers and interpreters. However, only you can decide whether or not to take legal action - we cannot make this decision for you. Remember that if you choose not to report the crime immediately but change your mind later, forensic and other evidence may be lost. Also, in some countries, you must report the crime before returning to the UK if you want it to be investigated.

We can help you to deal with the local authorities to arrange a medical examination, where possible with a female doctor if that is what you would prefer. Depending on local conditions and laws, we can also arrange for you to see a doctor who can give advice on sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS, and on pregnancy or abortion.

If you want us to, we can contact your next of kin or other family and friends.

If you want, we can give you information on what professional help is available locally and in the UK, both for you and for your family. We can also consult our London-based police adviser, who can consider using the services of a sexual offences trained officer from your local police station to advise and help you.

We have a leaflet called Rape and sexual assault overseas with more information. You will find details on our travel website, under ‘Our publications’.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


According to the 1993 Population and Housing Census, the Gambia has a population of 1,038,145 and estimated 49.9% of these were females.

Over the years, Gambian women have lagged behind men. This is mainly due to cultural and religious reasons, which have made them believe that they are inferior. This is evident in the special treatment accorded to boys over girls, this continues throughout their lives.

Women have very little decision-making power even regarding their health and that of their children. This has contributed to the high fertility rate of 6.0. Women start childbearing at early ages of 15 � 16 and continue up to 40 � 45 and at short intervals, thus the reason for the maternal mortality rate of 1,050 per 100,000 live births, one of the highest in the sub-region.

As their counterparts in the sub-region, Gambian women are engaged in formal and informal employment, domestic chores, community work, childbearing and rearing during their lifetime, their womanhood is only defined by their latter role. They receive recognition for this single role and are not given the required support in it.

The empowerment and the status of women in the Gambia and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status is a matter of concern to individuals, government and non-governmental organisations.

Concern about the situation of women in the Gambia has drawn attention chiefly to the daily threats to their lives, health and well-being, as a result of over worked and their lack of power and influence.

One issue that was and is still clear by all indications in Gambian society is the opposition at all levels to equality in sharing power and decision-making with women. While decision-making is male dominated and is largely done by men, whether in offices in the home or elsewhere, equality of opportunity is yet to become a reality.

The integration of women as equal partners in all aspects of development has been a major issue since the 1970s. The United Nations declared 1975 as the International Women’s year, devoted to promote equality between men and women and to fully integrate them into development.

The achievements of the women’s year and decade resulted in the ratification of the convention on the Elimination of the All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by most countries including the Gambia. With the declaration of the International Women’s Decade (1975 � 1985), Gambian women began to gain visibility in terms of their participation in socio-economic development as well as in their decision-making capacity.

This period saw the setting up of the National women’s Council and Bureau by an Act of Parliament in 1980 to advise government on women’s issues and concerns.

An important development in the Gambia from 1985 to date has been the translation of commitment to women’s concerns into definite action through programmes and projects. Attempts have been made to uplift the status of Gambian women as called for in the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies, the Beijing Platform of Action and the Cairo Programme for Action.

National Policies have now placed high priority on women and their role in the development of the Gambia. It is for instance the policy of the Agricultural sector to increase the productivity and production of women as they form the majority of the people working on the land as well as being the main food producers in the Gambia. The Health sector is on the trial of eradicating diseases within which the active participative role of women is indispensable.

It is also the policy of the Department of State for Education to increase opportunities for women through the enrolment of girls in primary and secondary education as well as the creation of a trust fund for the retention of girls in school.

The National Population Policy has clearly underscored that improving the status of women also enhances their decision-making capacity at all spheres of life, especially in the area of sexuality, reproduction, maternal and child health. It is the goal of the first national Policy for the Advancement of Gambian women to improve the quality of life of all Gambians, particularly women through the elimination of all forms of gender inequality by concrete gender in development measures.

The vision of the National Family Panning Policy is to promote the health and welfare of all Gambians and enhance the status of women, enabling them to fully participate in socio-economic development and to create an enabling environment that will enable couples and individuals to choose the desired family size to improve their reproductive life.

The Gambia’s development policies are based on the rationale that broad-based development in general and economic development in particular cannot be achieved without the active participation and involvement of women. Furthermore, the role of women as child bearers and nurturers in the society gives them the very important task of shaping the attitudes and outlooks of future generations of men and women at a very early stage.

With the realizations that government alone cannot meet all the challenges of development, the latter has created an enabling environment for other partners and actors in the development scene such as NGOs, to complement governments efforts.

In a developing country like the Gambia, collaboration between NGOs and government has been able to focus on the development needs of the country while reinforcing each others roles in the drive to fulfill the objectives of growth and women’s access to the productive process in many different ways, and several NGOs focus exclusively on impacting the status of women.

Since its establishment in 1980,the National Women’s Council and Bureau has been fully supportive of strides made by local women’s NGOs working towards the empowerment of women and improvement of the status of women.

In addition to the above, the government has responded to the call to women’s empowerment at decision making levels by setting up a Department of State for Women’s Affairs, appointing the first female Vice President in West Africa, ten women Secretaries of State in five years, a female Secretary General, Accountant General, Auditor General and also ratifying the National Women’s Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Emotional abuse is often minimized, yet it can leave deep and lasting scars.

Noticing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse is the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the following warning signs and descriptions of abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out. There is help available.

Understanding domestic violence and abuse

Domestic abuse, also known asspousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.

Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.

Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused—especially verbally and emotionally. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.

Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.

Signs of an abusive relationship

There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

Overall status of women in Africa

Overall status of women in Africa

African women have always been active in agriculture, trade, and other economic pursuits, but a majority of them are in the informal labour force. In 1985, women's shares in African labour forces ranged from 17 per cent, in Mali, to 49 per cent in Mozambique and Tanzania (World Bank, 1989). African women are guardians of their children's welfare and have explicit responsibility to provide for them materially. They are the household managers, providing food, nutrition, water, health, education, and family planning to an extent greater than elsewhere in the developing world. This places heavy burdens on them, despite developments such as improved agriculture technology, availability of contraception, and changes in women's socioeconomic status, which one might think would have made their lives easier. In fact, it would be fair to say that their workload has increased with the changing economic and social situation in Africa. Women's economic capabilities, and in particular their ability to manage family welfare, are being threatened. 'Modernization' has shifted the balance of advantage against women. The legal framework and the modern social sector and producer services developed by the independent African countries have not served women well.

Most African women, in common with women all over the world, face a variety of legal, economic and social constraints. Indeed some laws still treat them as minors. In Zaire, for instance, a woman must have her husband's consent to open a bank account. Women are known to grow 80 per cent of food produced in Africa, and yet few are allowed to own the land they work. It is often more difficult for women to gain access to information and technology, resources and credit. Agricultural extension and formal financial institutions are biased towards a male clientele' despite women's importance as producers (this has spurred the growth of women's groups and cooperatives which give loans and other help). Women end up working twice as long as men, 15 to 18 hours a day, but often earn only one tenth as much. With such workloads, women often age prematurely. Harrison correctly observes that: 'Women's burdens - heavy throughout the third world - are enough to break a camel's back in much of Africa' (Harrison 1983).

Female education affects family health and nutrition, agricultural productivity, and fertility, yet there is a wide gender gap in education. Lack of resources and pressures on time and energies put enormous constraints on the ability of women to maintain their own health and nutrition as well as that of their children. As a result, women are less well equipped than men to take advantage of the better income-earning opportunities that have emerged in Africa. Although food and nutrition are women's prime concerns in Africa, and they are the principal participants in agriculture, independent farming by women has been relatively neglected. Women's family labour contribution has increased, but goes unpaid.

In industry and trade, women have been confined to small-scale operations in the informal sector; however vibrant these operations are and despite the trading empires built up by the most successful female entrepreneurs, women's average incomes are relatively low. Women are also handicapped in access to formal sector jobs by their lower educational attainments, and those who succeed are placed in lower grade, lower paid jobs. Elite women who wish to improve their legal and economic status must expect to lose honour and respect (Obbe, 1980). There is often sexism in job promotions and unpleasant consequences if women stand up to men. There is often more respect for male professionals (even from women themselves) than there is for female. Women often suffer employment discrimination because they need to take time off for maternity leave or when a child is sick. Career women often have to work harder at their jobs to keep even with their male counterparts. Despite all these obstacles, women continue to move into different professions, including those traditionally seen as male jobs, such as engineering and architecture. Women can be found at senior levels in many organizations in many countries. They are also taking up various different professions, such as law, medicine, politics, etc. These women may be in the minority now, but things are changing all over Africa.

Social attitudes to women are responsible for the gender differences in both the education system and the labour force, as we will see below. Differential access to educational and training opportunities has led to low proportions of women in the formal sector and their subsequent concentration in low paid production jobs with limited career prospects. So, although women play an important role in African society, they suffer legal, economic and social constraints.

African women and education

Women's participation in national educational systems is again biased due to the sociocultural and economic environments. There is also a lack of genuine political will to ensure that girls are given equal access to education in Africa. More than two-thirds of Africa's illiterates are women. Women are regarded as inferior to men and are not expected to aspire as high as men, especially in what are considered as 'male' fields (engineering, computing, architecture, medicine, etc.). It is largely assumed that educating women would make them too independent; in other words, they would not do what they are expected to do - look after the house, bring up children, and cater to their husband's needs.

In poor countries, extending access to education and training is often difficult when the cultural and monetary costs are high or the benefits are limited. When families face economic problems they prefer to invest their limited resources in the education of boys rather than provide what is considered as 'prestigious' education for girls who would eventually marry and abandon their professions anyway. Nevertheless, girls are increasingly getting some limited education, and the focus of concern is gradually shifting to providing access to the same range of educational opportunities open to boys. In poor families, boys are often given first claim on whatever limited educational opportunities are available, although the global policy climate today is more supportive of measures designed to expand the educational horizons of girls than it was twenty years ago.

Even when parents can be persuaded of the value of sending their girls to school, there remains the problem of helping the girls to complete their studies. Drop out rates in the primary grades are higher for girls than for boys in many African countries. In Tanzania, for instance, half of the school dropouts each year are girls of 12 to 14 years who have to leave school because of pregnancies. Such early pregnancies are often blamed on the absence of family life education and the imitation of foreign life styles.

Very few schools allow pregnant girls or young mothers to complete their education. The other half of the Tanzanian pupils who drop out do so for a variety of reasons, including poverty, traditional norms, increases in school fees and deterioration in the quality of learning. Child marriages are also very common in Africa: although the law in many countries does not allow girls under 16 to be married, parents marry their daughters at an early age so they have one less mouth to feed.

Differences in national and regional educational patterns are in part due to differences in population pressures and resource availability, but they have also reflected differing policy priorities. But there have been signs, in recent years, of a growing international consensus on the importance of investing in education for the quality of life in society and for national development generally (UNESCO, 1991). Table 12.1 shows that, in Africa, as in South Asia and the Arab states, the general literacy rate for women is much lower than for men, and that the gap is not expected to narrow rapidly. The differences between these three regions and the rest of the world may be due to differences in enrolment levels, government expenditure on education or the general sociocultural and economic environment.

The enrolment ratios for both men and women also show some differences (see Table 12.2). Although the number of females who have been continuing on to the secondary level in Africa has increased, and the gap between male and female enrolments is narrowing, the increase in the number of women continuing to tertiary education has been minimal. The figures for Africa are the lowest in the world. As mentioned earlier, in most developing countries, the opportunities for girls to advance beyond the first level of formal education are still significantly less than for boys.

Overall status of women in Africa

Public expenditure on education in Africa is, in dollar terms, the lowest in the world; not surprising considering Africa's economic situation. However, if we consider expenditure as a percentage of GNP, there is not that much difference between all of the developing nations. Women's enrolment rates are lower in Africa, but the female literacy rate is similar to that for women in the Arab states and South Asia. Such discrepancies might be due to differences in government policies or in the sociocultural environment in these countries.

No statistics are available for the number of women who attend computer science courses in Africa, but it is known that few women in tertiary education are in technical courses. Table 12.4 presents figures from a project carried out by the ILO in association with the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics in Africa, and summarized by Leigh-Doyle (1991). These figures show the poor enrolment ratios for women in technical programmes.4 There are marked differences between countries, in both women's polytechnic attendance and in their enrolment in technical programmes in particular. The share of women in all polytechnic courses ranges from 40 per cent in the Gambia to just 2 per cent in Zambia. One striking observation is that 30 per cent of all those attending polytechnics in Ghana are women, yet only I per cent of those attending technical programmes are women!

Overall, the figures for women attending technical programmes are low in most of these countries. When the author was teaching computer science to final year degree students at the University of Zimbabwe four years ago, there were only four female students out of a class of 30. The figures for female enrolment ratios in many of the other universities and polytechnics offering computer science or related courses in the East and Southern African states the author has visited were not very much different - around 10 per cent. The female enrolment ratios in some of the private sector training programmes were much higher, nearly 40 per cent, although many of these women were from the ethnic minorities. Although no figures are available, a number of women are also trained privately by their employers in various areas of IT and a few privileged women also obtain their 'computing' qualifications abroad, mainly in the USA or the UK. These numbers are small although they may not be insignificant.

Overall status of women in Africa

If the figures are to be believed, the 10 per cent female enrolment in African institutions is not that much different to some developed countries such as the UK. The Women in Information Technology (WIT) Foundation of UK found that female enrolments in university computer science courses had dropped from 25 per cent in the 1970s to 10 per cent in 1991 (Classe, 1992). This is very low compared to 45 per cent in the USA and 56 per cent in Singapore, and the figure is difficult to believe from my experience of such courses at universities and polytechnics in UK. The reasons for such a drop, if there is one to begin with, are not clearly stated.

It has often been said that, if there were more female teachers and lecturers who could act as a role model to girls, there would possibly be an increase in the number of girls attending such establishments, especially from the Muslim community. However, we can see from Table 12.5 that there are very few female staff in many of the African polytechnics. The number of women teaching technical programmes varies from country to country. In Nigeria and Tanzania, a large proportion of the female lecturers are teaching technical programmes whilst in Malawi the figure is much lower.

Statistics show that the overall share of females in vocational and technical education in thirty-nine sub-Saharan countries increased by only one percentage point in the period 1970 to 1983, from 27 to 28 per cent of all participants (World Bank, 1988). Few employees in the modern economic sectors in Africa are women, and their participation is linked to their level of education. In industry, women generally hold low skill, low paid jobs with limited opportunities for promotion. Very few women are managers, and although more women are now in senior scientific and professional positions, they still represent a very small proportion of those employed in this category. Science and technology has generally been dominated by men, and women everywhere have found it difficult to make it to the top. The differences in the numbers of women working in technical fields can be ascribed to a variety of causes, rooted in the culture and history of each country.

A number of studies have been done on women's under-representation in the scientific and technical fields worldwide, by ATRCW (1986), Harding (1987), Lockheed and Gorman (1987), Byrne (1988), Anker and Hein (1985), Leigh-Doyle (1991), etc. Some of the factors which they state influence women's participation (not in order of importance) are: prejudices about women's abilities and attitudes; their roles; their behaviour and aspirations; culture, politics and society; absence of role models; macho image of science; parental expectations, beliefs, attitude and home environment; teacher attitudes and behaviour; curriculum; career guidance; employer attitudes; lack of education and training facilities; lack of quotas; lack of exposure to technically oriented subjects; group pressures at home and at school; classroom interactions between girls and boys; lack of school books and resource materials; and lack of confidence to try new things. This list is long, and further research would be required to find out exactly which factors influence women's participation in technical fields in Africa.

Overall status of women in Africa

The under-representation of women in technical education, training and employment is not unique to Africa. The situation in Africa must be seen in the context of the serious economic and developmental problems facing many African countries (Leigh-Doyle, 1991). This, together with the societal attitude to women in general, is responsible for the gender differences both in education establishments and in the workforce. Differential access to educational and training opportunities have led to low proportions of women in the formal sector and their concentration in low paid production jobs with limited career prospects.

However, as elsewhere in the developing world, things are slowly changing for women in Africa. More women are joining the formal sector of the economy (especially the public sector), more girls are continuing to higher education and joining technical courses, more women can be found in the management hierarchy, more women are moving into professions so far dominated by men, and more women are becoming self employed. In the years to come, we will see many changes, although the poor economic situation in Africa will not provide many job opportunities. There will be more competition for jobs and women may lose out, especially where there are domestic and family demands placed on them.