The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women from which the Beijing Declaration came forth, was an international turning point on the participation and visibility of women worldwide. The declarations were embraced by participating governments and later ratified as best practices by others. Key among them was the determination to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.
The declaration also states “…empowerment and advancement of women, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, thus contributing to the moral, ethical, spiritual and intellectual needs of women and men, individually or in community with others and thereby guaranteeing them the possibility of realizing their full potential in society and shaping their lives in accordance with their own aspirations”.
The fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 10 to 21 March 2014. Among the resolutions, was the reassertion of the Beijing Declaration. The Commission also reaffirmed that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other relevant conventions and treaties, provide an international legal framework and a comprehensive set of measures for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls and promotion of substantive gender equality.
Despite these notable achievements, the visibility of the African woman in the socio-political and economic scope over the last couple of years has gone to the dogs. Women continue to face obstacles, and in some cases, dealing with retrogressive oppressive policies and law.
While some African countries continue to face serious political crisis or situations of armed conflicts, women continue to be the main targets of violence, discrimination and stigmatization. They are used as spoils of war, their very bodies turned to war themselves.
Women in positions of power lack support, sometimes ignored and their voices drowned by dissidents who deem their opinions valueless. Women, despite comprising the highest population in the world, lack conducive platforms to skew impactful policies, economically, politically and socially.
In March 2012 Amina al-Filali who was 16 years old, was forced to marry a man who had allegedly raped her. After seven months of marriage to the 23-year-old man, she committed suicide. Her parents and a judge had forced the marriage to ‘protect the family honour’.
Article 475 of Morocco’s penal code, first proposed by the country’s Islamist-led government sanctions the exoneration of a rapist if he married their victim. Needless to say, Amina’s death sparked an international outcry that made lawmakers amend the law this March.
As if on cue, Mozambique has proposed a similar kind of amendment on a bill, propagated by the majority male parliamentarians. Article 223 of the Penal Code states that a rapist can avoid prosecution for his crime by marrying his victim – even if she is a child. The amendment is to be tabled in parliament.
The ramifications of such a law are horrific. Instead of freeing and protecting rape survivors from their attackers, the law would essentially serve them up on a silver platter. The law does not punish proven rapists, deter potential rapists, or protect survivors and other women; it actually rewards rape and punishes the victim.
Uganda passed the Anti-pornographic Law under the façade that it is aimed at eliminating “sexual crimes against women and children including rape, child molestation and incest”. This law criminalizes “dressing into cleavage-revealing blouses (‘tops’) that excite sexual cravings in public, unless for educational and medical purposes or during sports or cultural events”. This law, was again, drafted and propelled by male lawmakers, and the women parliamentarians did not, and have not objected to its enactment.
The list is not, cannot even be exhausted, but these are just some of the many. WHERE ARE THE WOMEN VOICES IN AFRICA? Have we again, let down our guard and retreated to the background as the gains made are trumped upon in the name of “African-ness, culture, tradition, religion”? Have we AGAIN, lost control to all aspects of our health, in particular own sexuality, our fertility, that is basic to our empowerment?
We need to draw from the determination to the full enjoyment by women of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and take effective actions against violations of these rights and freedoms. These include backward, draconian, heteronormative and patriarchal policies and laws that are persistently increasing the burden of poverty on women and creating structural barriers to our wellbeing.
That amendment bill in Mozambique should be scrapped to oblivion, and you can contribute to that, in your own way. Write to a lawmaker, blog, sign petitions and tell someone about it. Speak out against oppression, against bigotry, embrace self-freedom, self-thought and unapologetically live by it.