Introduction- The state of the women’s rights in Africa
Body FGM: how common it is in Africa
FGM: why is it practiced?
Right issues of women that arise from matrimony
Approaches to fighting the gender issue
The African continent has sadly seen little progress when it comes to the rights of women in several countries across Africa. This very reason could explain why the subject is brought into the spotlight quite often particularly looking into the African politics. Gender discrimination is still a trend in 34 countries that have been the focus of attention from researchers, and the problems remain quite serious specifically in the North of Africa. Generally speaking, four amongst 10 Africans are of the view that women are treated unfairly at workplaces and also in courts of the law. Amongst the 34 countries profiled, Nigeria and Egypt had strong economic systems and even in these countries, people believed that their government was doing very less to make the situation better with respect to gender discrimination.
Of all the violations of the women’s rights that are currently in practice in Africa, the idea of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) seems most unacceptable and incomprehensible of all. The World Health Organization defines FGM as the partial or complete removal of the female genitalia for purposes other than medical. The practice can be observed in many parts of the world at varying frequencies, but it is shocking how common it is in Africa. In many of the African countries, almost all of the girls are cut. In Somalia, the ratio stands at 98%, in Guinea at 96%, Djibouti 93% and as progressive as the country is deemed to be, the unjust act is forced upon 91% of the girls. Some countries have the practice so common in its culture that trained professional are providing the services of removing this female genitalia in the community. Even though the trend can minimize the risks that may arise out of the performance of the procedure ranging from infections to bleeding and pain, the practice can hardly be made acceptable to the logical mind.
Why this practice has not been put an end to is beyond the best of us, but those who have seen it happen day in day out consider it as a rite of passage into womanhood. Since virginity is a state that is valued in many of the cultures in the world, some can even believe that FGM could help a girl stay a virgin and keep her away from the illicit act of having sex outside of wedlock. Some of the communities that maintain FGM as part of their culture go as far as stating that since the female genitalia are unclean or by some logic non-feminine, removing them could make a woman more of a woman and sometimes, even more, pure.
After this arises the debate about the rights of women whenever they think of engaging in matrimony. A family bill that was proposed in Mali, a country in South Africa was shot down in court, and the consequences of that failure meant, even more, discrimination directed at a single sex. The bill would have raised the minimum legal age of marrying a girl off which was eventually turned into an impossibility; it sought to safeguard the rights of women concerning inheritances, and it sought to abolish marriages which allowed polygamy. Not only were the young girls deprived of all of these very basic rights under the law, but the abolishing of the bill also stifled the future progress the Mali could have been in rights of women. Another impediment suffered by the African community was when a case in the Nigerian Federal High Court was announced in favor of a woman who was seeking to nullify her marriage after a forced reunion.
The court declared that the matter was not a concern for Human rights rather an issue that had to be decided by the Sharia court. When giving proof of violation of women’s rights in Africa, the evidence is not scarce. Like for instance, a court decision in Uganda made the giving of dowry in marriage as a requirement laid down by the constitution. The right of a woman is further undermined when the law says that once a marriage is dissolved, the dowry becomes refundable. This is a practice that forces countless women into marriages where material possessions are kept at the forefront, and the actual values of a marital relationship are afforded no significant stance.
We can see quite clearly from this point where our Women’s rights efforts are directed within the continent of Africa versus the efforts that are made in the western community. So while the African women are being encouraged to come forth in the field of politics, the very
basic rights within the family and the community lack attention. So while a woman may enroll herself in an election, she holds no real power when it comes to owning assets and making decisions concerning marriage. The western approach is, however, being carried forward in a very different dimension. The issues that are in focus are more important and are being studied on a very minute scale. Under this approach, the issues that are of more consequence are problems like the gender wage gap and the right to decide on abortions. This is where the efforts towards women’s rights in Africa require attention. Before a woman is empowered to stand as a political leader, she should be empowered as a daughter, an employee, a wife and a member of the community.
A woman is a figure in our lives on who rests the fate of the entire community. It is a woman who teaches the basic value to the child who is later to serve the country; it is the same woman who lends support to the husband who sets out to earn the living for the entire family. A woman in Africa has quite insignificant rights in the community compared to the roles that she is expected to fulfill. This is why women’s rights are important, and this is why women are important. It is the time that we get our priorities in order.
Boseley, Sarah. What is female genital mutilation and where does it happen? 06 February 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/06/what-is-female-genital-mutilation-where-happen>.
Goitom, Hanibal. Women’s Rights in Africa: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. 1 November 2010. <http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2010/11/women%E2%80%99s-rights-in-africa-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/>.
Mars, Monica. African women are making progress in the battle for equal rights. 28 March 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/mar/28/african-women-progress-equality-afrobarometer-report-2014>.