Violence against women and girls in Africa: A global concern to ponder on International Women’s Day and beyondPosted: 8 March, 2018
Author: Kennedy Kariseb
Doctoral candidate, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
It has been four decades since the United Nations (UN) observed for the first time International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March 1975. Although there are traces of celebration of this day, dating as far back as 1909, its formal initiation came in the wake of the first World Conference of the International Women’s Year that took place in Mexico City, Mexico. Its object, as aptly argued by Temma Kaplan, is to mark ‘the occasion for a new sense of female consciousness and a new sense of feminist internationalism’.[i]
In a sense, 8 March is meant to be a day of both celebration and reflection for women the world over: a celebration of the gains made in enhancing women’s rights and the overall status of women globally, while reflecting and strategising on the voids and shortcomings still persistent in the women’s rights discourse. The occasion of the forty-third celebration of the IWD clearly marks an opportunity for feminist introspection on the broader question of violence against Women (VAW) and its regulation under international law. This is because while VAW is not the only form of human rights abuse women suffer, it is one in which the gendered aspect of such abuse is often the most clear and pervasive.
It is opined by some in Kenya that the regime of former President Moi hardly broke constitutional law. For the most part, it rather, applying provisos and rigid compartmentalised thinking, bended and stretched it absurdly. There may be some truth to this. Previously on this platform, I opined that Kenyan society is prone to absolutes, in that instance, equating legitimate use of force with its disproportionate immoral use in “law enforcement”. It would seem that the legal fraternity too suffers its own peculiar version of this Kenyan tendency to be rigid.
At a conference on transformative constitutionalism, Prof. Ambreena Manji noted that for Kenya to realise the aims of its visionary transformative constitution, we needed a certain conversion of the soul, not just the mind, of the Kenyan jurist. At this same conference, the Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr Willy Mutunga lamented the old judiciary’s reliance of “mechanistic jurisprudence”. Such judicial policy led to the dismissal of the late Wangari Maathai’s (later Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) 1989 case against government plans to build a 60 storey building on Nairobi’s Uhuru Park as she did not show what injury would befall her were the environment to be spoilt. In 1989 too, the High Court held that the Bill of Rights could not be enforced as the Chief Justice had not issued enforcement rules as obligated by the Constitution. In 1993, again, presidential candidate, Kenneth Matiba’s election petition ground to a halt as he was unable to serve the sitting president with suit papers personally.
The Marriage Bill (now Act) 2014 has elicited different reactions from Kenyans. Some mostly women, have argued that the law will allow men to engage in polygamous marriages. Some have hailed the law as consolidating the different types of marriages into one piece of legislation. However, the people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities have completely been left out of this debate. The law clearly discriminates and expressly denies people with mental disorders from exercising their right to marry. Section 11(2)(b) of the Marriage Act 2014 provides:-
Consent is not freely given where the party who purports to give it is suffering from any mental disorder or mental disability whether permanent or temporary…
The Act further provides in section 73 that if one suffers from ‘recurrent bouts of insanity’ then the partner is allowed to have the marriage annulled. This essay seeks to argue that the Marriage Act 2014 not only violates Kenya’s obligation under international law but also violates the Constitution of Kenya 2010 Article 27(4), which proscribes discrimination based on disability.
On 13 October 2013, leaders of African states will meet in Addis Ababa, under the African Union (AU) banner), to consider a possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). African leaders do not find favour with the ICC’s pursuit of Kenya’s “big men”- President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The AU draws links between the indictment of Kenyatta and Ruto with that of President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast. Having drawn such links, the AU is of the view that the ICC is a western plot to finish-off African leaders. What is striking of the AU’s ICC analysis is the complete lack of consideration for the victims, 99.9% of whom are Africans. It seems as though grave crimes against humanity are of much less importance when a few “big men” stand accused. What seems to be of extreme importance in the minds of African leaders is that, once again, one of their kind is wanted for crimes against humanity.
African heads of states are rarely united on any issue relevant to development of the continent, such as a common currency, the free movement of people and products, military interventions in war torn regions, etc. However, when it comes to protecting the likes of Bashir and Kenyatta, the AU is zealously united – without regard to the victims of atrocities.
On 15 March 2013 Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the United States (US) Court of Appeals Circuit in American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dismissed the CIA’s standard Glomar response to its expanded and clandestine programme to carry out targeted killings on suspected terrorist. Barely two months later, a High Court in Peshawar, Pakistan, held that drone strikes (and their continued use) “are a blatant violation of Basic Human Rights and are against the [United Nations] (UN) Charter, the UN General Assembly Resolution …and a violation of the sovereignty [of Pakistan]”. Whereas not fully specific on the human rights instruments violated, these judicial pronouncements point to an increasing dissatisfaction by the international community on the lack of a concise and regulated use of the “CIA’s angry birds”.
This note seeks to merely highlight possible violations of various rights including the right to life, right to fair trial as well as the right to privacy, which are all enshrined in the African Charter; and call upon the African Union (AU), through its various organs, to promote more transparency on the use of drones and foster the enactment of a continental regulatory framework to govern the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by western nations on African soil.
The use of drones in African’s airspace has been on a steep rise. The latest documented incident was on 27 May 2013 when Al-Shabaab allegedly shot down a UAS Camcopter S-100 near the town of Buulo Mareer, southern Somalia. The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that over 200 persons, mostly non-combatants, have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia since 2003. American drone support bases have been reportedly set up in Arba Minch (Ethiopia), Seychelles, Camp Lemonnier (Djibouti) and recently in Somali’s shell-crated international airport in Mogadishu. A 2012 study by Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law indicated that there were more civilians and innocent residents killed in the drone strikes than militants throughout the period of the drone program.