Violence against women and girls in Africa: A global concern to ponder on International Women’s Day and beyond

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.

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Banning female circumcision in The Gambia through legislative change: The next steps

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia.

There is nothing more powerful than a decision made at the right time, especially one which is a desideratum. So it was with the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. From the coastal village of Brufut, on the chilly night of 24 November 2015, President Jammeh declared a ban on FGM stating that it was a cultural and not a religious practice (that is not to say that the practice would have been justifiable if it was a religious practice, given its well documented harmful effects). The news was as unexpected as it was music to the ear. It was every campaigner’s wish, to see an end to FGM in The Gambia. This was swiftly followed by the passing of the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2015 by the National Assembly on 2 December 2015 to prohibit female circumcision. The amendment addresses one of the key deficiencies of the Women’s Act 2010 which was the absence of a provision on eliminating harmful traditional practices. The Amendment Act added sections 32A and 32B in the Women’s Act. With the enactment, The Gambia joined a number of African countries in adopting legislation as a reform strategy for ending FGM.

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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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It is time to take maternal mortality in Kenya seriously

Clara Burbano-HerreraAuthor: Clara Burbano-Herrera
Fulbright Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University (USA)

Maternal mortality rates reflect disparities between wealthy and poor women, and between developed and developing countries. [i] Frequently, whether women survive pregnancy and childbirth is related to their social, economic and cultural status. The poorer and more marginalized a woman is, the greater her risk of death. [ii] Ninetynine per cent (99%) of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, and most of these deaths are preventable. [iii]

While worldwide maternal mortality has declined – in 2013, the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was 210 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 380 maternal deaths in 1990 (a 45 per cent reduction) [iv] – unfortunately in Kenya maternal mortality has decreased very little, i.e., from 490 to 400[v] in the period between 1990 and 2013, compared to the Millennium Development Goal No. 5 (MDG) target [vi] of 147 per 100,000 births. [vii]

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Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation in Eritrea?

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation: 6 February 2015

February 6 – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – is dedicated annually to making the world aware of the harmful effects of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) and to promote its eradication[1]. FGM/C involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia; a deep form of discrimination against women and girls, it directly violates their right to health, and physical integrity. The practice is rooted in cultural and religious beliefs of communities who perceive it as a social obligation to control female sexuality and ‘preserve or protect’ a woman’s chastity.

The most common form of FGM/C in Eritrea is ‘infubulation[2]’. During the procedure, the child’s legs and hips are tied together to limit movement – often for several weeks afterward to allow healing. The age for circumcising of a girl varies amongst cultural groups, but can range from one month old to 15 years. A traditional circumciser commonly performs the act within communities; close relatives or neighbours can also act as circumcisers.

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The Zimbabwean government’s measures to address maternal mortality have little prospects of success

linettedutoitAuthor: Linette du Toit
LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa

It is a universal and timeless reality that women face the risk of death in the process of giving life. In recent years, this risk has been virtually eliminated for those who have access to the necessary prenatal care and emergency medical assistance. Contrary to the global trend, Zimbabwe has seen a stark increase in its number of maternal deaths and currently sits with a figure that is 50% higher than the sub-Saharan average.

This state of affairs is not surprising in light of the disintegrated nature of Zimbabwe’s public health system, which reached its lowest point in 2008. At that time, government policies led to the closure of public hospitals and a medical school in Harare. Basic resources and emergency care have not been consistently available and the government’s failure to remunerate healthcare professionals with set salaries left many of them with no choice but to leave the country. The continuing epidemic of deaths which could have been prevented indicates an alarming disregard for a variety of rights and obligations on the part of the Zimbabwean government. Questions arise as to whether the government is taking appropriate measures to address the plight of Zimbabwean women.

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