Of stereotypes and the ‘unsound mind’ clauses

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Recently, during my studies I delved into the concept of stereotypes and their effects, albeit from a gender perspective. This academic encounter has become an important one to both my personal and professional frames of reference. I have discovered that my prior use and appreciation of the term stereotype was presumptuous, without depth and assumed familiarity. I had nonchalantly used the term often, in writing and conversation without fully appreciating the intricacies of this concept.

Quite worrying one might say, coming from a professional working on human rights, justice and equality issues – but I believe that my nonchalance is common among many of us. We tend to have a general over familiarisation with issues that form part of the realm in which we work and operate without necessarily appreciating the rudimentary theories underpinning particular terms or concepts.

So I think I deserve some credit for acknowledging my deficiency, and urge that we do not rush to deem as catastrophic such inadequacies in all circumstances because it is impossible to know everything about everything, even in your most familiar of territory. To be expected to know and fully understand each and every detail about a subject is a naïve expectation on the part of peers and an arrogant unintelligent assertion on the part of any such declarants. The universally renowned great mind Michelangelo, is remembered for his famous quote “ancora imparo” reportedly made at the age of 87 which means ‘I am still learning’ – well, so am I. So I ask for your indulgence as I share some of my learning on how stereotypes perpetuate inequality and marginalisation – you might just also learn that we all are still learning and need to keep learning.

I have learnt that stereotypes are a component of stigma. They assign negative attributes to socially salient differences forming what social identity theorists call in-group and out-group categorisation. People tend to stereotype as a means of screening people into either the in-group (us) or out-group (them) which in eventuality determines whether a group is accepted or rejected.

This categorisation (stereotyping) of other(s), provides people with a feeling of comfort and confidence based on what they are accustomed to, for predictability and personal security’s sake. Whilst it may be argued in some quarters that categorisation is useful in, for example, target marketing or planning of community and development projects among other mass planning purposes; unfortunately the cumulative effects of general categorisation and consequent stereotyping in most circumstances reinforce and perpetuate inequality.

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Respecting the rights of urban refugees in East Africa through a human rights approach to urbanisation

michael_addaneyAuthor: Michael Addaney
Student (MPhil Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

 

 

Gertrude Mafoa QuanAuthor: Gertrude Mafoa Quan
Candidate Attorney; LLM (Multidisciplinary Human Rights) student at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

 

 

The city is the new refugee camp…
~ International Rescue Committee

Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) defines refugee as ‘a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence due to a well-founded fear of persecution base on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution’. Due to contextual issues, article 1 of the 1969 Organisation for African Unity’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Convention) added a second paragraph to the 1951 Convention to incorporate people that have been displaced due to liberation wars and internal upheavals.

Meanwhile, there is no internationally recognised definition for urban refugees. However, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) defines an urban refugee as a refugee who satisfies the international requirements for obtaining a refugee status and has self-settled in a city or town. Recent decades have experienced rapid population growth with most cities witnessing urban sprawl. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in 2009 that an estimated 58 percent of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities.

Despite it being mostly rural region, UN Habit has projected that Sub-Saharan Africa and for that matter countries in Eastern Africa will have more than half of its population residing in urban areas by 2026. Characteristically, there has been increasing flow of refugees to urban areas in this region too. According to official UNHCR 2015 statistics, four Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia) host more than 1.5 million refugees. These refugees are mostly from 9 countries (Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo).

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No woman should die while giving life: Maternal mortality – the unfinished business of the MDG era

DuniaMekonnenTegegnAuthor: Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn
Human rights lawyer, Ethiopia

Maternal mortality is one of the shocking failures of development and a dreadful social injustice. According to recent UN official figures, 536,000 women die every year during pregnancy and birth. This is one death every minute. Out of the 536,000 maternal deaths, 99% are experienced by women in developing countries. The highest maternal mortality rates are in Africa; with a lifetime risk of 1 in 16. Maternal death is often the result of policy decisions that directly or indirectly discriminate against women. Maternal death is also often an indication of inequalities between men and women in their enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Below I illustrate how other rights are either implicated by or essential in combating maternal mortality.

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Call for a corruption-free Africa: A rights based approach

DuniaMekonnenTegegnAuthor: Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn
Human rights lawyer, Ethiopia

Corruption is a threat to human rights in that it erodes accountability and results in impunity. Given the interdependence of human rights, the impact of corruption on the whole spectrum of human rights; economic social and cultural rights as well as that of the civil and political rights is significant. It fundamentally distorts the machineries necessary for the realization of human rights namely good governance and rule of law.

Corruption undermines a government’s ability to deliver goods and services. It results in discriminations in the use and enjoyment of human rights. It further undermines the ability of individuals to access justice and corrode their role as active participants in decisions that affect them within the public service. Corruption has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups such as women, children and the poor as it decreases funds available for the provision of basic services like education, health and social services that these groups are mostly dependent on.

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In defence of these “disgusting and unnatural”


Benjamin_NgaruAuthor: Benjamin Ng’aru

Legal Assistant, Local Authorities Pensions Trust; Volunteer Programmes Assistant, Legal Exchange Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

On Monday 25 February 2014, Uganda’s long serving president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 (previously referred to as Kill the Gays Bill”). The Long Title thereof provides that this “Act [is intended] to prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters.” Museveni has also, on record, called homosexuals “disgusting and unnatural” persons. The legislation has since received widespread condemnation from human rights organisations and leaders across the globe.

Whereas homosexuality was, since the colonial era, outlawed with the introduction of the British colonial rule and justice system, the new legislation is an all time low. Section 2(2) of the Act provides for a mandatory life sentence for persons convicted of “homosexual acts”. Section 1 of the Act has a wide margin of what constitutes “homosexual acts” such as “the touching of another’s breast, vagina, penis or anus, … however slight …. with any part of the body or through anything”.

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