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Features

Twenty years of promoting women’s rights in Africa: What next?

Norah Matovu Winyi

2008-12-08

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/52567

As President- Elect Barrack Obama was announced the next President of the United States of America, African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) was approaching the climax of celebrating its yearlong 20th anniversary. FEMNET was set up in 1988 by a group of women who had the conviction about the strength of numbers in any transformation or change process. We are very lucky to witness the historical moment of President – Elect Obama’s election victory. There was a lot of crying, jubilation, hugging among people from different communities here in Kenya after the world listened to his inaugural speech. This election is not only significant in the lives of Americans it is for all people in the world. We want to see things change for the better – to have a more peaceful world where the main providers of development aid and humanitarian assistance are not the main producers and distributors of military arms especially small arms that have caused a lot of havoc in all regions in Africa.

When the founders of the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) resolved to set up the network 20 years ago they had a dream. They wanted to see to it that every woman in Africa is able to live in dignity, enjoy life free of violence and deprivation and be equal partners in the development of our dear continent Africa and in directing its affairs. They were convinced that the more women from different parts of Africa remained in contact with one another, the more they would learn from each others’ experiences, provide support for one another and build a strong women’s movement for the development of Africa.

It is indeed commendable that our founder members took action and today we have a very strong, well respected and reputable Network of women organizations in Africa. This is a very good cause for celebration of 20 years achievements. The network has mobilized women at all levels to take action to transform their lives. It has raised issues affecting African women at regional and international levels and lobbied to ensure that these issues are part of the mainstream agenda. Where the issues required special attention FEMNET and its members have demanded for it. The Network has also played a critical role of documenting African women’s experiences and sharing them widely through seminars, dialogues and meetings, publication of reports, newsletters, journals, email and though its website.

As we start on the journey of the next 10 years FEMNET is fully aware that the terrain has changed fundamentally since its inception in 1998. There are more actors on the continent working at different levels and on various women’s rights issues. There are multiple women’s networks that are either issue –focused or working in particular sub- regions or countries on selected issues. There are many more women organizations with varying capacities and composition working at country level that may not necessary be strategically linked with other women groups within the same countries. National women’s network and umbrella bodies have taken on slightly different roles as more and more women are able to organize and lobby for their concerns through different configurations in country, across sub - regions and in some cases covering a considerable part of the continent. This is an indication of success that many more women are mobilized and involved in the change and development processes in Africa. Many have taken the stand to challenge the patriarchal systems that have kept women in subordinate positions for far too long and create spaces for women’s organizing and activism.

On the other hand there are many more actors to link up with who are not necessarily well coordinated. This is a big challenge as it requires investment of many woman-hours to just attend to the communications received on a daily basis. As the bigger actors become more sophisticated in their strategies there is a growing gap between the activists working at the grassroots level and those operating at the regional and international levels. Though the issues of concern remain the same the approaches of the grassroots activists and those operating more at the regional and international levels seem to be so different and divorced from each other.

In this Special issue of Pambazuka you will find a story on a dialogue FEMNET held during the AWID Conference in Cape Town, South Africa from the 14th – 17th of November 2008. The women activists operating at the grassroots levels strongly expressed their concerns about the disconnection between women’s grassroots activism and the advocacy work at regional and international levels. They recommended that strategies must be devised specifically by FEMNET to minimize this gap.

Another story in this Special issue shares about the ceremony at which the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development flagged off the three buses that are involved in the 2008 Men Travelling Conference (MTC). This is an annual event organized by FEMNET in partnership with the Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN – Kenya) as part of the 16 days of activism against gender – based violence (GBV). The members of MEGEN (majority are men) go out in different parts of the country to mobilize people to say No to GBV. They use drama, music, printed materials and informal discussion fora to share the message of the MTC.

The flagging off ceremony was held a Mathare North Social Centre. Mathare is a densely populated community. The three hours we spent with the members of this community made it very clear that as women feminists and activists we urgently need to get back to the basics if we are to build a critical mass of people to support the change we want to see in our societies and communities during our lifetime. Theorizing and intellectualism is good and necessary for reaching out to our governments and other intellectuals. However we need more foot soldiers, visionary leaders, more Mother Theresas who are willing and committed to spend less time in board rooms and more quality time in the field, with the people.

We have to inspire people to take action in order to realize their dream of having better services, access to clean and safe water sources, proper drainage and sanitation systems, clean and safer environments, better roads and planning of our cities and townships, more women leaders, better health facilities and services, communities free of violence.

Declarations and resolutions adopted in five star hotels have not resulted in the change we desire to see. The hit-and-run strategies that many organizations are engaged in will not and cannot bring about transformation of our continent and the improved status of women in Africa. It is time to change gear and get back to the basics.

It is on this premise that FEMNET for the next 10 years will lead by example to enable activists to get back to basics. We shall continue to advocate and facilitate communication on issues that are of concern to women specifically for purposes of inspiring action. We shall commit more time and resources to bridge the gap between the board room work and activism and women’s grassroots organizing. This will be done by strengthening our network in the region and collaborating with other networks and regional organizations working on the promotion of women’s rights in Africa. We shall provide platforms for activists operating at different levels in the region to engage more often. We shall mobilize resources to support the documentation of the experiences of women’s grassroots organizing to ensure that these experiences inform our lobbying and advocacy work at the regional and international levels.

* Norah Matovu is the Executive Director of FEMNET.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/




Comment & analysis

The war in Congo: What is at stake for women?

Carlyn Hambuba

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52569

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been caught up in conflict for more than a decade, with devastating effects on its civilian population especially women and children. Rebel militias led by General Laurent Nkunda and Congolese army troops are fighting for control of the mineral-rich Eastern Province. Proceeds from the sale of minerals are being used to fund the activities which prolong the conflict. Thousands women and children have been displaced from their homes as a result of the recurrent war in Congo.

As the war in Congo drags on, African women are grappling to find ways of stopping sexual violence in the war zone. The AWID international Conference held from 11th to 14th November 2008 provided an opportunity and space for women in the great lakes region to meet and find ways of address Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Congo. The discussion spearheaded by Eastern African sub Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) under the theme "The role of women in Peace process in the Great Lakes Region." The outcome of this meeting was the formation of a working group tasked with visiting the DRC. The aim of the visit will be to highlight the situation in the DRC with special emphasis on issues relating to abuse of women. The working group comprises Women's NGOs in the Great Lakes Regions namely: African women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Urgent Action Fund, Women and Law in Development, EASSI and individuals committed fight SGBV in Congo.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been caught up in conflict for more than a decade, with devastating effects on its civilian population especially women and children. Rebel militias led by General Laurent Nkunda and Congolese army troops are fighting for control of the mineral-rich Eastern Province. Proceeds from the sale of minerals are being used to fund the activities which prolong the conflict. Thousands women and children have been displaced from their homes as a result of the recurrent war in Congo.

As the war in Congo drags on, African women are grappling to find ways of stopping sexual violence in the war zone. The AWID international Conference held from 11th to 14th November 2008 provided an opportunity and space for women in the great lakes region to meet and find ways of address Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Congo. The discussion spearheaded by Eastern African sub Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) under the theme "The role of women in Peace process in the Great Lakes Region." The outcome of this meeting was the formation of a working group tasked with visiting the DRC. The aim of the visit will be to highlight the situation in the DRC with special emphasis on issues relating to abuse of women. The working group comprises Women's NGOs in the Great Lakes Regions namely: African women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Urgent Action Fund, Women and Law in Development, EASSI and individuals committed fight SGBV in Congo.

The war in eastern Congo has persisted with women and children being the worst affected. The conflict is being fueled and funded by a struggle for mineral resources that are used in the manufacturing of cell phones, laptops and other electronics. As a way of expressing solidarity with the women in Congo DRC, African Women in the Great lakes region will undertake a visit to the region. The visit will be funded by Urgent Action Fund.

In the eastern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced and too frightened to return home. The conditions for women and girls are particularly troubling: Many of them have been raped by militia men or soldiers from the national army.

According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), since war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 more than 5 million people have died, most of them from lack of access to food and health care. And though the conflict officially ended in 2003, fighting has continued, mainly in the country’s eastern provinces. Many others have fled to neighboring countries such as Uganda and Zambia for safety. Today, countless people remain in camps far from their homes. Congo is at a critical point in its history. Despite recent successful elections, government structures remain fragile. The country has relapsed into conflict and chaos.

The humanitarian situation in eastern Congo is among the worst in the world, despite the fact that the country held historic elections in 2006 which allowed people to vote freely for their leaders for the first time. While the elections were an important development for the country, they could not fix all of Congo’s problems. Underlying issues such as disarmament of militias, army reform, and the illegal exploitation of Congo’s mineral wealth continue to cause difficulties.

However, the success of Congo's reconstruction hinges on this district, where the root causes of the conflict – including unequal access to land and unfair sharing of revenues from natural resource exploitation – persist. Without an integrated approach involving national and international institutions and international partners, chaos will not seize in Congo and thousands of women continue to be risk of contracting HIV/AID through sexual and Gender based violence.

There was cautious optimism for peace in North Kivu after the "Goma agreement" was signed on 23 January 2008. The agreement followed negotiations between the government, renegade general Laurent Nkunda and Mai Mai militias, and included a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops from key areas and the creation of a UN "buffer zone". Militia fighters were to be given amnesty for insurgency or acts of war, but not for war crimes or crimes against humanity. However, the Rwandan Hutu FDLR was not invited to talks and in March the Kinshasa government threatened to forcibly disarm the rebels.

The deal was aimed at ending fighting which had resumed between the insurgents of Laurent Nkunda and the national army in December 2006. Since then, over 370,000 civilians have been displaced in the province. Following the failure to integrate Nkunda's troops into the army, the crisis worsened after May 2007. Fresh outbreaks of fighting have resulted in renewed violence against civilians, including the widespread use of rape as an instrument of war. UN attempts to impose a ceasefire and appoint a special envoy to mediate were unsuccessful.

The various groups have, despite the truce, clashed frequently since the deal was signed, with both Nkunda’s CNDP and the Mai Mai PARECO faction withdrawing from commissions monitoring the deal (Nkunda later rejoined). The UN recorded at least 200 ceasefire violations in the six months between January and July, with August reports suggesting groups were rearming. The humanitarian situation has barely improved. The Congo Advocacy Coalition reported that an additional 150,000 have been displaced since the agreement was signed.

The 2006 national and provincial elections liquidated the RCD politically. Strengthened by his election, Kabila held discreet talks with Nkunda, facilitated by Rwanda, and concluded an agreement for the progressive integration of Nkunda’s troops into the regular armed forces, a process locally known as mixage, with the understanding that they would not have to leave the province until the general security situation improved significantly. But neither Nkunda nor Kabila was able to contain their hardliners opposed to the settlement.

Afraid to become the victims of revenge killings and lose everything they had illegally acquired during the war, Goma-based Tutsi leaders accused Nkunda of betrayal and threatened to stop supporting him. Kabila’s hardliners attacked him over the perceived preferential treatment given to the Tutsi in the army integration process and used the public outcry over the massive human rights violations and displacement of civilians caused by the operations against the FDLR to undermine the agreement’s legitimacy.

Over the past three years, ending the North Kivu conflict has been repeatedly postponed in favour of efforts to consolidate the transition and secure Kabila's election. But North Kivu has been the epicentre of Congo’s violence since the conflict began more than fifteen years ago. Now is the time to address this major gap in the Congolese transition and end a crisis which is causing immense suffering and continues to carry wider risks for Congo and its neighbours.

Congo's present conflict stems from a rebellion started four years ago by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, who claimed the country's transition to democracy had excluded the Tutsi ethnic group. Despite agreeing in January to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, he resumed fighting in August. Nkunda alleges the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping slaughter half a million Rwandan Tutsis in 1994.

There's virtually no government control over the eastern Congo and much of the conflict there is a scramble at the local level and at the regional level for access to land and the mineral wealth. Congo is awash with gold, diamonds and metals such as cassiterite and coltan which is used in electronics. The area around the eastern provincial capital city of Goma, from which thousands of people fled and government soldiers retreated this week after Nkunda and his forces besieged it, is particularly mineral-rich.

There are several paths to the international market — with most minerals bound for Asian factories where they are used in the manufcture of electronics and devices such as mobile phones and portable music players, according to Colin Thomas-Jensen of Enough Project, a Washington-based human rights organization that carries out field research into various African conflicts including Congo. "Basically, the rebels control the mines. They are selling them to middlemen who sell them to the next buyer and it goes up the chain," he says. He adds, "There have been instances where minerals are simply backpacked ... taken to a small airstrip and taken out of the country by a small plane and presumably sold to a small dealer across the border."

The international value of Congo's raw materials is demonstrated by a $9 billion deal between Congo's state-owned mining company and a consortium of Chinese companies to extract 10.6 million tons of copper and 626,000 tons of cobalt in return for improving infrastructure.

During the 1998-2002 war, current President Joseph Kabila and his father Laurent, who was then president, sold off copper and diamond mining rights to Zimbabwe and Angola in exchange for their support. At that time, the government held the west of the country, while rebels led by Uganda and Rwanda controlled the northeast and east.

Congo isn't unique in having rebels or armed groups exploiting natural resources to fund their campaigns: Nigerian oil, West African diamonds and Afghan opium have all been key revenue sources for warlords.
Global Witness undertook research in the eastern area of Congo — in north and south Kivu which includes Goma in July and August. The group said it uncovered substantial evidence of armed militias opposed to Nkunda working side by side with units and commanders of the Congolese national army, know by its acronym FARDC, in the exploitation and trade of minerals there.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French initials FDLR, was "foremost among the armed groups active in the mineral trade," they said. The extremist Rwandan Hutu militia accused of orchestrating neighboring Rwanda's 1994 genocide has fought against Nkunda's rebel forces.
"In South Kivu there was almost an unspoken complicity between FARDC and FDLR," said Parsons. "We found them operating mining sites and operating side by side. Many of the national army are sympathetic and possibly supplying arms to the FDLR." Global Witness found they were involved in trade as well as exploring and mining the ore. "They have really consolidated their economic business," said Parsons. "They have systems entrenched for doing business. Unless their concessions are dealt with, the soldiers, the rebel groups have little reason to leave these areas where of course they are associated with human rights abuses."
Parsons said Global Witness was trying to get companies in Congo and around the world to ask questions about the source of minerals and to get paper records.

Conclusion

It is clear that conflict in Congo that continues to erode women’s dignity stems from failures of the Congo peace process on army integration, economic governance and transitional justice. The illegal exploitation of natural resources continued unabated, and in the process human rights abuses have also continued as tyrannies fight to have control of natural resources. Today, DR Congo is caught in an epidemic of appalling sexual violence. 45,000 people die each month, mostly from hostilities and the crippling effects of widespread displacement in the country’s eastern provinces. Women and girls are routinely subjected to atrocious acts of sexual violence and torture. The war in Congo what is at stake for the women in that country as men continue to fight for minerals? Something needs to be done as matter of urgency to address abuse of women in Congo.

References

1. http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-resolution_1325/congo_2964.jsp
2. http://www.oxfamamerica.org/whatwedo/emergencies/congo/background
3. International Rescue Committee: http://www.theirc.org/special-report/congo-forgotten-crisis.html?gclid=CJLDgfOGnJcCFQOeFQodOV6--w
4. Congo: Consolidating the Peace, Africa Report N°128, 5 July 2007
5. Congo: Staying Engaged after the Elections, 9 January 2007
6. Securing Congo's Elections: Lessons from the Kinshasa Showdown, Africa Briefing N°42, 2 October 2006
7. Escaping the Conflict Trap: Promoting Good Governance in the Congo, Africa Report N°114, 20 July 2006
8. Congo's Elections: Making or Breaking the Peace, Africa Report N°108, 27 April 2006

* Carlyn Hambuba works for the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in Nairobi-Kenya as a Communications Officer.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


South African farm workers trade union and gender violence

Asa Ericksson

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52570

If men want to join Sikhula Sonke, a women-led trade union for South African farm workers, they must sign a declaration saying that they will refrain from violence against women. Union members have also vowed to intervene within their communities whenever violence against women occurs.

Wendy Pekeur, Secretary-General of Sikhula Sonke, explains that these and other innovative strategies, which do not focus squarely on labour issues, but address major social needs of the members, are part of the success of the small but growing union. For many of Sikhula Sonke’s 4 000 members, a large part of them women seasonal workers or unemployed women, violence is often a part of life.

“Women are very dependent on men in the farmlands. Most women are employed as seasonal workers, and depend on substituting for male farm workers, whereas most men have a full-year employment. Women therefore often only access housing through a man. This is one reason why women tend to stay on in violent situations, because otherwise they will lose their housing.”
If men want to join Sikhula Sonke, a women-led trade union for South African farm workers, they must sign a declaration saying that they will refrain from violence against women. Union members have also vowed to intervene within their communities whenever violence against women occurs.
Wendy Pekeur, Secretary-General of Sikhula Sonke, explains that these and other innovative strategies, which do not focus squarely on labour issues, but address major social needs of the members, are part of the success of the small but growing union. For many of Sikhula Sonke’s 4 000 members, a large part of them women seasonal workers or unemployed women, violence is often a part of life.

“Women are very dependent on men in the farmlands. Most women are employed as seasonal workers, and depend on substituting for male farm workers, whereas most men have a full-year employment. Women therefore often only access housing through a man. This is one reason why women tend to stay on in violent situations, because otherwise they will lose their housing.”

While Sikhula Sonke is working to address the root causes of the problem by negotiating for women farm workers to have equal working conditions with men, and challenging the patriarchal systems on the farms, they also use direct action.

One method is to target presumptive members of the union: men who want to join Sikhula Sonke need to agree that the union’s leadership should be primarily women, and they also must sign a declaration saying that they denounce domestic violence, and wear the white ribbon in membership meetings.

“We can hold the men accountable if they do perpetuate violence. So far, two men have lost their membership for breaching the declaration by using violence against women,” Wendy Pekeur explains.

The lack of effective law enforcement mechanisms is another major challenge for women members, which Sikhula Sonke is trying to address through collective action.
“When you look at crime in rural South Africa, most of it is perpetrated against black women, and the most common crime is violence against women, and one of the most common types of crime is violence against women. But if you look at the task force which the police set up in these areas, it is around stock theft”, says Wendy Pekeur.

This lack of priority given to violence against women, coupled with the inaccessibility of the farms, result in police response to violence against women in farms being rare. In the last general meeting of Sikhula Sonke, members therefore passed a resolution saying that as communities, they will take joint responsibility and act collectively when violence against women occurs.

It is really powerful to see how people can support women. The community then takes action by complaining to the farmer. As a result – the man can be evicted. If the housing contract is in the name of the man, we also start a negotiation process to see if we can have the contract transferred into the woman’s name instead.”

A resolution from the last general meeting to stop shebeens - illegal drinking spots - on the farms was another important aspect in reducing violence against, and improving the lives of women, Wendy Pekeur explains. Alcohol abuse is rampant on farms, and the Western Cape province, where Sikhula Sonke is based, has the highest rate of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world.

Other work which the union does to strengthen women’s economic position also intertwines with the prevention of violence work – such as work on land rights, promotion of food gardens, and assisting women in obtaining exemption from paying school fees for their children if they do not have the means.

“We operate on the basis of trying to make the personal political. But it is not easy, and we do not have all the answers. It can be very challenging, for example when a woman does not want to lay charges or a man looses his income through the process. We do however try to build relationships with other organisations working on violence against women, and with the role of men, who can support us in this”, she says.


* Asa Ericksson works for the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


Fighting HIV/AIDS in the Malawi Police force: One woman's story

Carlyn Hambuba

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52571

Malawi is a land-locked country in southern Africa. With a population of between 11.5 to 12.5 million and is among the poorest countries in the world. Like many other sub Saharan countries, Malawi is grappling with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Women are most affected by the pandemic - out of 809, 833 persons living with HIV in the country, 473, 000 are women.

The civil service is the worst hit sector in the country. The Malawi police service has a high HIV prevalence rate among its service women; an update on the Malawi National Response to HIV/AIDS indicates that 32 percent of female police officers are currently infected with HIV.

There has been marked success within development organizations that are able to design HIV/AIDS mainstreaming strategies in an effort to prevent, and mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS. These lessons along with the strategies employed by a handful of dedicated individuals have the potential to make real change in ho Malawi and other African countries address HIV/AIDS.

As the world commemorates World AIDS Day, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) celebrates the role of dedicated women in Africa who work tirelessly to fight HIV/AIDS. Eluby Jere, a policewoman based in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre, is one such person who has worked hard, with little recognition.
Malawi is a land-locked country in southern Africa. With a population of between 11.5 to 12.5 million and is among the poorest countries in the world. Like many other sub Saharan countries, Malawi is grappling with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Women are most affected by the pandemic - out of 809, 833 persons living with HIV in the country, 473, 000 are women.

The civil service is the worst hit sector in the country. The Malawi police service has a high HIV prevalence rate among its service women; an update on the Malawi National Response to HIV/AIDS indicates that 32 percent of female police officers are currently infected with HIV.

There has been marked success within development organizations that are able to design HIV/AIDS mainstreaming strategies in an effort to prevent, and mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS. These lessons along with the strategies employed by a handful of dedicated individuals have the potential to make real change in ho Malawi and other African countries address HIV/AIDS.

As the world commemorates World AIDS Day, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) celebrates the role of dedicated women in Africa who work tirelessly to fight HIV/AIDS. Eluby Jere, a policewoman based in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre, is one such person who has worked hard, with little recognition.

For the past five years Eluby has been mobilizing men and women of Malawi's Police force to take an active role in the fight against HIV/AIDS. She encourages men and women in uniform to go for HIV testing by telling her own story as a woman living with HIV/AIDS. Since 2003, she has reached out to 3974 people. However, the role women play in caring for people living with HIV and orphaned children is rarely recognized or monitored and these women therefore remain unsupported.

Eluby Jere like many other caregivers in Africa experiences stigma and discrimination. Studies show that home-based carers experience considerably more stress than those working in the medical environment, and without adequate training, mentoring and support. In response to this need, caregivers have formed groups and networks to provide mutual support and to build their own capacity. Through these groups and initiatives, caregivers are engaging in peer learning, training and empowerment to negotiate with local government authorities and decision makers to access funds and gain access to decision-making structures. Less progress has been seen on this last score, with older carers remaining largely invisible in the HIV response.

African governments and funders need to realize that caregivers play an important role in assisting people who are HIV-Positive to access basic services, food, clean water and medication. as such they need to support there efforts through providing adequate funding for home based care programmes.

Home-based caregivers are first-line responders to AIDS and are well versed with its affects in their communities including knowledge on the types of interventions that are working.

The Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, bilateral and multilateral funding agencies, and national AIDS authorities should prioritize attention to care and caregivers as they need to be recognized as valued stakeholders through giving them a formal place in decision-making bodies, including Country Coordinating Mechanisms.

Many governments have failed to integrate care into their national budgets and make funds inaccessible to caregivers. Macro and micro funding policies must be strengthened to ensure that funding becomes accessible to the caregiver. To ensure progress, an official role for home-based caregivers to act as monitors and evaluators of AIDS programs should be established at the community level. In addition, a small percentage of funding should be earmarked to directly support community-led responses to AIDS, particularly those driven by women. Donor accountability is essential if global goals on HIV prevalence reduction are to be met. Donors must ensure that the caregivers have everything they need in order to carry out their work safely and efficiently.

Currently 2.8 million people in Malawi have undergone HIV testing. In 2007 and 2008 alone the country tested over 1 million people. The highest risk group is the 15 to 24 age-group; however it is interesting to note that the infections are increasing in the highly knowledgeable groups. Sex workers top the chart with an HIV prevalence rate of 70 percent.

The number of Malawians living with HIV in rural areas is estimated at 630 000 compared to the urban areas at 179,745. Out of this number, 89, 055 are children below the age 15.

As a way of scaling up HIV testing and counseling services the country in 2006 introduced the HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) week which was the first of its kind in the world and has since been described as a success. Last year, 187,000 people got tested during HTC week, of which 53 percent were female and 47 percent were male. Another HIV Testing and Counseling week was held in November 2008.

Barely a week after the Malawi government withdrew a much needed cash handout to HIV/Aids infected civil servants, the Malawi Police Service released alarming statistics showing that the force at risk of being wiped out.
With soaring food prices coupled and low wages, experts say Malawi's ability to realize the Millennium Development Goals will be greatly hampered by loss of skilled people and declining health care budgets.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV/AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 22 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007 and approximately 1.9 million additional people were infected with HIV during that year. In just the past year, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people in this region. More than eleven million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

The extent of the AIDS crisis is only now becoming clear in many African countries, as increasing numbers of people with HIV are falling ill. In the absence of massively expanded prevention, treatment and care efforts, it is expected that the AIDS death toll in sub-Saharan Africa will continue to rise. This means that the impact of the AIDS epidemic on these societies will be felt most strongly in the course of the next ten years and beyond.The social and economic impact is already widely felt, not only in the health sector but also in education, industry, agriculture, transport, human resources and the economy as a whole.

In many parts of Africa, as elsewhere in the world, the AIDS epidemic is aggravated by social and economic inequalities between men and women. Women and girls commonly face discrimination in terms of access to education, employment, credit, health care, land and inheritance. These factors put women in a position where they are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. In sub-Saharan Africa, around 59% of those living with HIV are female.

In many African countries, sexual relationships are dominated by men, meaning that women cannot always practice safe sex even when they know the risks involved. There is need to empower the African woman who is at greater risk of HIV AIDS with knowledge on how to protect herself from HIV/AIDS. African governments need to ensure that women like Eluby Jere of Malawi are provided with the necessary information and support.

The role of Women in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa can not be over emphasized. It is clear that women are the force that sustains the continent and hence at the centre of the HIV/AIDS response. It is also evident everywhere the epidemic is taking a toll; there are gallant women engaged in prevention, care and support. In sub-Saharan Africa, women as mothers, as primary care givers and economic providers will continue to depend on subsistence farming, petty trading and other sectors of informal economy to support families and communities. It makes sense then that support for these women should be central to whatever strategy for the future and meeting MDG 3 target by 2015.

One of the most important ways in which the situation in Africa can be improved is through increased funding for HIV/AIDS. More money would help to improve both prevention campaigns and the provision of treatment and care for those living with HIV. Developed countries have increased funding for the fight against AIDS in Africa in recent years, perhaps most significantly through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. There is need for African governments to ensure that funds committed to fight HIV/AIDS benefit African women especially those at community level who need antiretroviral drugs for themselves and their unborn children.

References

1. How are different countries in Africa affected?
2. National AIDS Commission of Malawi (2000) “National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework 2000-2004
4. What will be the impact of HIV-AIDS on women and children?
5. World AIDS Day 2008 Statement by, The Huairou Commission, GROOTS International along with partners at CORDAID, the World YWCA and Help Age International.
6. Case Study of the Malawi Police Service

* Carlyn Hambuba works for the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in Nairobi-Kenya as a Communications Officer.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


Men from Southern and East Africa mark 16 days of Activism in style

Asa Ericksson

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52572

During the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence, 114 gender activists from Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda, the majority of them men, travelled to remote areas of Kenya by bus, urging people from all walks of life to take action on gender violence.

In a country where close to 1 in 2 women has experienced violence, responses were varied and complex – with many people coming out to report cases or explaining how they take action to curb violence, and others pledging never to give up on their power over women.

As 36 activists disembark from a bus branded with messages on the role men can play in ending gender violence, people around the central market place in Machakos town turn to watch, interrupting their normal business. The group quickly gets organized, forming a circle, and moving around dancing and singing, while hundreds of curious people, gather around them – and the scene is set. The Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN Kenya) drama group, with assistance from Malawian and Zambian activists, does its first skit, on the theme of gender-based violence.

As they perform, people trading at the market place, people coming to do their shopping and passers-by join the show, laugh, get surprised, comment loudly on the happenings, or just look on quietly. Afterwards, one of the leaders introduces the group, and talks about gender-based violence, what it entails, what people’s rights are, and how survivors can seek redress. Many stay on to discuss issues on a one-on-one basis with members of the group, all easily identified in their red t-shirts with messages on domestic violence, after the session is over. Several people report on cases of gender-based violence, which the Rapid Response Team of MEGEN, are tasked to follow-up, then the group gathers to move on to the next destination.

The market place session is one of the strategies utilised during the “Men’s Travelling Conference” (MTC), that has been organised by FEMNET, through its project Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN) since 2003, during the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence. This year, the MTC lasted for 5 days, with buses carrying a total of 114 activists travelling on 3 different routes from Nairobi: to the Western and Nyanza provinces, to Coast province and to Central province. The team included gender trainers, counsellors, police officers and artists. The aim of this initiative is to extend the discussion on gender-based violence during the 16 days of activism beyond conference halls, TV-shows and newspapers, which rarely reaches to grassroots men and women residing outside of the major urban centres.
During the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence, 114 gender activists from Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda, the majority of them men, traveled to remote areas of Kenya by bus, urging people from all walks of life to take action on gender violence.

In a country where close to 1 in 2 women has experienced violence, responses were varied and complex – with many people coming out to report cases or explaining how they take action to curb violence, and others pledging never to give up on their power over women.

As 36 activists disembark from a bus branded with messages on the role men can play in ending gender violence, people around the central market place in Machakos town turn to watch, interrupting their normal business. The group quickly gets organized, forming a circle, and moving around dancing and singing, while hundreds of curious people, gather around them – and the scene is set. The Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN Kenya) drama group, with assistance from Malawian and Zambian activists, does its first skit, on the theme of gender-based violence.

As they perform, people trading at the market place, people coming to do their shopping and passers-by join the show, laugh, get surprised, comment loudly on the happenings, or just look on quietly. Afterwards, one of the leaders introduces the group, and talks about gender-based violence, what it entails, what people’s rights are, and how survivors can seek redress. Many stay on to discuss issues on a one-on-one basis with members of the group, all easily identified in their red t-shirts with messages on domestic violence, after the session is over. Several people report on cases of gender-based violence, which the Rapid Response Team of MEGEN, are tasked to follow-up, then the group gathers to move on to the next destination.

The market place session is one of the strategies utilised during the “Men’s Travelling Conference” (MTC), that has been organised by FEMNET, through its project Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN) since 2003, during the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence. This year, the MTC lasted for 5 days, with buses carrying a total of 114 activists travelling on 3 different routes from Nairobi: to the Western and Nyanza provinces, to Coast province and to Central province. The team included gender trainers, counsellors, police officers and artists. The aim of this initiative is to extend the discussion on gender-based violence during the 16 days of activism beyond conference halls, TV-shows and newspapers, which rarely reaches to grassroots men and women residing outside of the major urban centres. Kennedy Odhiambo Otina, Coordinator of the project, explains:

“MTC is a unique approach targeting people in their locality, instead of us inviting people to attend a workshop. When we meet people in market places, it doesn’t remove them from their day-to-day business but gives them an opportunity to participate in the proceedings, and also relate to practical examples in their surroundings as we discuss issues of gender-based violence. In most cases we use vernacular language to bring the point’s closer home. We use that secure space to challenge gender stereotypes.”

While FEMNET, through the MEGEN project, coordinated the event, it also attracted regional participants from Malawi, Zambia and Uganda. Organisations sending their representatives to the activity included the Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre, The Zambia Women’s Lobby, the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, The Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) from Uganda, UNCHR, and the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). Apart from skits and discussions in market places, the 3 teams met with Administration officials, such as District Officers, Local Chiefs and District Children’s Officers, Senior police officers and representatives of other NGOs and CBOs, and sought information on rampant cases, encouraged them to act on cases of gender-based violence, and provided information about the Sexual Offences Act of 2006, with which many officials are still not well-versed.

The 3 different teams also organised seminars with community members and officials – bringing together between 40 and 400 people - to provide facts on gender-based violence, and prompt discussion, particularly on the role men can play in ending violence and promote equality. “One of the things we found en route was that although senior police officers are quite clear on how to respond to issues of gender-based violence, police officers of lower ranks are often quite ignorant. This makes the process of seeking justice quite tricky; since the people charged with the responsibility of supporting survivors are not in the know. One of the proposed follow-up activities we have identified is therefore a training of police officers, which UNCHR has committed to support”, says Kennedy Odhiambo Otina.

The slogans on the red t-shirts which were worn by participants saying “Real Men Don’t Abuse Women”, proved to be provoking. Whereas some men came up to team members saying “I am one of you. I also do not believe in using violence or controlling my wife”, others got angry: “What are these “Real Men”. Women must be beaten,” a drunk man at a restaurant shouted at the group.

While travelling around the country and meeting with key officials, many innovative strategies on how officials as well as ordinary people try to promote gender equality and denounce gender violence also emerged. In the town of Voi, 6 hours drive South-East of Nairobi, the District Children’s Officer for Taita-Taveta, George Migosi, received representatives from the bus in his office – where bags containing food items were stored. The food is to be collected by single mothers, as an alternative form of child maintenance from absent fathers who claim not to have money, he explains.
“I tell the men who claim they cannot pay maintenance for their children, that as long as you are eating, the child should also do as much. You cannot be excused from paying unless you are dead”.

The hope is that the MTC will inspire action, and sharing of innovative ideas, stretching beyond the 16 days of activism, as MEGEN follows up with community seminars and assistance to survivors who reported cases during the event.

As was pointed out by Dr James W. Nyikal, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development during the launch of the MTC 2008 - every one has a role to play in ending the social acceptance of gender-based violence, and this work continues throughout the year.

“The perpetrators of violence are people who live among us, sometimes even known to us but often we choose to look away and only act when damage is already done, particularly to our kith and kin. We must also speak out when our neighbours are affected. We must protect our community by being our neighbour’s keeper.”

* Asa Ericksson works for the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


The necessary nexus between sustainable development and human rights

Rachel Kagoiya

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52568

Development must be people-centered! This was the specific re-assertion by the over sixty representatives from various governments, civil society organizations, NGOs and development partners attending the 2008 Civil Society Development Forum (CSDF) in Geneva last month. And in the words of Mr. Liberato C. Bautista, President of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), “the nexus between human rights and sustainable development is not so much as a venue for consensus-making, for such venues have been amply convened, and in many occasions, failed to stir imaginations. The nexus matters because at the junction where human rights and sustainable development meets, they coalesce, they collaborate, they cross-fertilize and they become one”.

The Forum reviewed progress and further developed the recommendations and conclusions outlined in the 20-point Outcome Document resulting from the CONGO New York meeting convened in June 2008. These recommendations will subsequently be submitted to the ECOSOC Bureau and the United Nations Secretariat (UN/DESA) as well as feed into discussions at ECOSOC, including into ECOSOC's reporting to the UN General Assembly. Ultimately, these recommendations will be valuable instruments for assisting us in civil society and non-governmental organizations in shaping our own strategies and in contributing to discussions and debates around development at regional and global fora.

As Africa continues to experience profound transformations, be it political, economic, cultural, social, or technological, we are witnessing the wider populace getting more and more aware of their basic human rights. In many cases where their rights have been denied or disrespected, we have seen men and women, young and old, come out to confront their government leaders and demand for their rights. For instance, a number of countries have experienced some form of ‘citizen-pressure’ for broader participation and inclusiveness in political and economic decision-making, thus opening up political spaces where citizens are demanding for social justice, good governance, equity, accountability, human rights and democracy. Such demands have given birth to new ways of ‘doing’, ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ that is totally different and altering the status quo.
Development must be people-centered! This was the specific re-assertion by the over sixty representatives from various governments, civil society organizations, NGOs and development partners attending the 2008 Civil Society Development Forum (CSDF) in Geneva last month. And in the words of Mr. Liberato C. Bautista, President of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), “the nexus between human rights and sustainable development is not so much as a venue for consensus-making, for such venues have been amply convened, and in many occasions, failed to stir imaginations. The nexus matters because at the junction where human rights and sustainable development meets, they coalesce, they collaborate, they cross-fertilize and they become one”.

The Forum reviewed progress and further developed the recommendations and conclusions outlined in the 20-point Outcome Document resulting from the CONGO New York meeting convened in June 2008. These recommendations will subsequently be submitted to the ECOSOC Bureau and the United Nations Secretariat (UN/DESA) as well as feed into discussions at ECOSOC, including into ECOSOC's reporting to the UN General Assembly. Ultimately, these recommendations will be valuable instruments for assisting us in civil society and non-governmental organizations in shaping our own strategies and in contributing to discussions and debates around development at regional and global fora.

As Africa continues to experience profound transformations, be it political, economic, cultural, social, or technological, we are witnessing the wider populace getting more and more aware of their basic human rights. In many cases where their rights have been denied or disrespected, we have seen men and women, young and old, come out to confront their government leaders and demand for their rights. For instance, a number of countries have experienced some form of ‘citizen-pressure’ for broader participation and inclusiveness in political and economic decision-making, thus opening up political spaces where citizens are demanding for social justice, good governance, equity, accountability, human rights and democracy. Such demands have given birth to new ways of ‘doing’, ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ that is totally different and altering the status quo.

The coalescing of human rights and sustainable development

The achievement of sustainable development in Africa goes hand in hand with the realization of human rights because the two are mutually reinforcing. One cannot help but imagine a time when “everyone [in the 192 member countries of the UN] enjoys living a life entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

In giving invaluable impetus to the advancement of human rights, last year on 10th December, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon launched a year-long UN system-wide advocacy campaign to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This year-long commemoration aimed at raising awareness of the Declaration and its relevance to people around the world and will culminate on 10th December 2008, during the Human Rights Day. The motto of this campaign has been “Dignity and Justice for All of Us”.

Sadly, with the almost daily litany of human rights violations around the world, real dignity and justice for all is far from being achieved. One of the principal human rights challenges that Africa face is that of human security. Security for individual and collective citizens is at the core of the enjoyment of basic human rights and for sustainable development. Over 18 countries in Africa are either experiencing or have just experienced armed conflicts, civil wars and other violent crises. This impacts not only the stability of these countries involved, but also their neighbors and the entire sub-region. Those most affected by the insecurity and violence are women and children, with thousands getting killed, displaced, brutally tortured, or sexually violated and exploited and millions left with long-term psychological trauma. For sustainable peace and development, it is important that countries support holistic reconstruction programmes with priority being given to the rehabilitation of the traumatized individuals, and not just the country’s infrastructure. Women in post-conflict countries must be fully engaged in the peace processes and reconstruction efforts, as effective change agents.

Gender-based violence is another grave violation of human rights facing millions of families and communities in several African countries and impacting on their social and economic progress. The ability to live free of violence and discrimination is the right of every human being, yet this right is violated on a massive and systematic scale. Women and young girls are the most affected with the UN giving estimates of “at least one out of every three women likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime”. Political will and increased resources are required from all development actors to prevent and eradicate violence. Communities, particularly men and young boys need to be mobilized, sensitized and educated on their roles in ending gender based violence and promoting peaceful societies.

And perhaps the greatest challenge is the increasing levels of poverty. It is now estimated that over 400 million people in Africa are living in abject poverty. As a result, people lack access to basic human needs such as of food, water, health care, education, decent dwellings, environmental protection etc.

Yes we can! Can we?
The clock is tickling. The year 2015, which has been set as the time frame for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and eradicate extreme poverty, is fast approaching. We need to engage in various development strategies right from promoting good governance and gender equality to investing in alternative economic upliftment programmes. However, it is not as if we do not know what needs to be done, since this is clearly spelt out in the various global, regional and national instruments and conventions. So it is time to put the text and words into practical action.

For example, we know research is useful, particularly evidenced and policy-oriented research. The numerous researches done over the years on issues related to gender equality and women’s rights has shown how gender relations are inscribed in laws and norms, traditional and cultural practices, social relationships and institutions. Fortunately, most of these research findings, coupled with intensified advocacy strategies by women’s rights advocates and the sharing of case studies/ lessons learnt have informed international instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Protocol of the Rights of Women in Africa, the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. Therefore, in terms of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment governments and all other development actors should focus on implementing such instruments not only at local levels but also in regional and global arenas. These instruments have required compliance by all stakeholders in order to realize women’s empowerment across social, political, economic and cultural domains. Yes we can! we just need to start getting things done. Reinforce what is working on the ground, learn lessons from those that have stalled and come up with new and unique innovations. It will start with me, and you and all of us.

* Rachel Kagoiya is a documentalist at the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


SADC gender protocol: Regional activism gains extra momentum

Rachel Kagoiya

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52574

Following the unveiling of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development in August 2008, Rachel Kagoiya reviews the new responsibilities for governments across the region to ensure women occupy 50 percent of all government positions by 2015. The author also discusses women’s prospects under the SADC Free Trade Agreement, and argues that moves towards the freer cross-border movement of goods must be implemented in a way that is of genuine benefit to the region’s majority female traders.

A tremendous achievement has been made by our sisters and brothers in southern Africa. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development came into force in August 2008. Hailed by gender rights activists as a major breakthrough in protecting and promoting opportunities for women, both politically and economically, the long overdue gender protocol was signed at the SADC summit in South Africa. The protocol outlines 25 articles setting goals ranging from equal access to justice and education to constitutional protections for women’s rights. It will go a long way towards the protection of women in the region, who like many others around the continent bear the brunt of social injustice like the lack of access to clean water, poor healthcare, and access to economic opportunities or adequate protection before the law.

We believe that the gender protocol will kick start a turn of events in women’s rights and their participation in economic development, not only in southern Africa but in the entire continent. The protocol calls for 50 percent representation by women at all levels of government by 2015, a benchmark that already aligns with the 50 percent parity within African Union structures. It further calls for member states to put in place legislative measures which guarantee that political and policy structures are gender sensitive. It also calls for governments in the region to prohibit all forms of gender based violence, including marital rape. On health issues, the protocol calls for necessary steps to be taken to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS among women, men, girls and boys, including persons with disabilities, and particularly stresses the importance of female-controlled methods to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. By and large, the protocol sets specific targets and timeframes for achieving gender equality in all SADC countries as well as effective monitoring and evaluation. Member states will be required to submit national reports to the SADC summit every two years on progress made in implementing the protocol, including the development of national plans of action.

The time to act is now. SADC members must take on the implementation and domestication of the gender protocol, for instance in ensuring that the recently launched SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) is gender inclusive, taking into account the special needs of women involved in cross-border trade. According to a regional study by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), some 70 percent of informal cross-border traders in SADC countries are women. The study shows that although the trade is informal, it has a number of positive implications on the regional national economies. Although the SADC Trade Protocol has been criticised for being gender blind, the need to consider the gender dimensions of trade is outlined in the gender protocol. Article 17 of the draft protocol focuses on economic empowerment and encourages state parties to, by 2015, adopt policies and enact laws which ensure equal access, benefits and opportunities for women and men in business, taking into account the contribution of women in the formal and informal sectors.

The establishment of the FTA could potentially address some of the challenges that informal cross-border traders face, challenges such as excessive customs charges, cumbersome registration processes in obtaining trader's licenses, and the numerous checkpoints at border posts that frustrate most traders. Interviews with cross-border traders in SADC have revealed that the majority of traders do not know about the trade protocol and do not understand the implications it may have on trading activities. Even if informal traders were armed with information on the trade protocol, measures set out to facilitate trade would be more likely to benefit established companies than they would small traders. For example, the SADC Certificate of Origin, which validates whether or not goods qualify for duty-free entry into member states has little relevance to small traders because the document specifically requires that in cases where the producer is not the exporter, the latter should furnish the exporter with a written declaration to the effect that the goods qualify as originating in the member states. Small traders, the majority of whom are women, often deal in several product lines in small quantities and therefore making it unfeasible to acquire a certificate of origin for each product line.

Ms Deborah Walter from Gender Links in South Africa notes that the launch of the Free Trade Area presents several local and regional opportunities: ‘yet for women to benefit from increased opportunities through the production and marketing of goods and provision of services, they need access to capital, advanced technical skills, and legal protection creating environments that encourage women’s participation in entrepreneurship and business. For the impact of privitatisation and decreasing government revenues to be minimized, there must be recognition of the dual role that women play in the home and in the workplace.’

The gender protocol should complement the SADC Free Trade Agreement and advance the cause of women to benefit from the regional trade agreement and promote a better life for women in Africa. Africa will only develop when the status and lives of women are transformed.

A key factor in successful implementation is close collaboration between all actors from governments, development partners to civil society organisations including women’s rights organisations, and community-based organisations. FEMNET sends our congratulations to the entire SADC team for adopting the gender protocol and we look forward to engaging and supporting them in ‘implementing legislative and other measures to eliminate all practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women, men, girls and boys, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education or physical integrity’.

* For an electronic version of the SADC gender protocol, simply visit this link.
* Rachel Kagoiya is a documentalist at the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/


Levelling through links: Empowering grassroots voices

Carlyn Hambuba

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52575

Emphasising the centrality of consolidating links within the women’s movement in Africa, Carlyn Hambuba underlines the importance of involving grassroots women to ensure their voices be heard. With grassroots women increasingly sensitive to their own needs for representation, the author urges NGOs to refrain from simply speaking on behalf of others and to work towards the effective incorporation of local women into development debates.

From 14–17 November 2008, close to 2,000 women's rights leaders and activists from around the world met in Cape Town, South Africa, at the 11th Association for Women’s rights In Development (AWID) international forum to discuss the power of movements.

The AWID forum was both a conference and a call to action. Delegates to the forum participated in four days of plenary speeches, interactive sessions, workshops, debates, and creative sessions geared to powerful thinking on gender equality and women's human rights. Delegates also participated in informal caucuses, gala events, cultural activities, and social and political events geared to global and regional networking and alliance building.

The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), a pan-African women’s organisation working for the promotion of women’s human rights organised a lunch-hour interactive discussion session at the forum. The theme for discussion was ‘Building better linkages and ensuring more effective strategizing between activists at the grassroots level and those doing advocacy work at regional level’.

FEMNET hosted the discussion as a way of stimulating debate between grassroots level activism and its interconnectivity with regional advocacy work, with a focus on Africa. Women’s movements cannot be sustained without the inclusion of women at the grassroots level.

The aim of the session was to identify gaps and look for a way forward: how to find linkages when everyone is so busy doing work on their respective levels? How to avoid that women’s organisations fighting for policy changes at a national regional or global level fight for issues which grassroots women do not see the importance of, such as women at the regional level fighting for legislation around abortion, when grassroots women would rather prioritise the fight against poverty?

The session’s keynote speaker was Esther Mwaura from GROOTS Kenya, a network of community-based women’s organisations and individuals. Esther became involved after the Beijing International Women’s Conference in 1995, where she encountered grassroots women who had travelled to the conference and were given a space to speak on their issues, in front of high level officials. She realised that there was a lack of space back in her home country, Kenya, for grassroots women to articulate their needs as part of a movement. She therefore initiated GROOTS in order to deal with the fragmentation of grassroots women, and strengthen the link between them. GROOTS now works in 85 countries. In Kenya, 2,500 local women’s projects are part of the organisation.

The idea behind GROOTS International came about in 1985 through a process initiated by six prominent women’s activists attending the Nairobi United Nations World Conference that year. The six women reacted to the fact that the majority of women experiencing the problems being discussed at the conference around issues of economic empowerment, lack of water and sanitation and so forth were not actually represented at the conference. The women recognised the need of supporting grassroots women in collectively identifying their needs in relation to the challenges they are facing, and wanted to partner with grassroots women.

Esther Mwaura criticised NGOs for doing a lot of networking amongst themselves without supporting grassroots. She did however warn participants that this would have to be done cautiously to ensure that women first have a strong base at the local level before they are brought to the district, national, and international ones.

She used the example of money for HIV/AIDS, where women at the grassroots are bearing the brunt of the work but receiving very little of the money to support their work. Members of GROOTS are now involved with mapping how the funding can reach them at grassroots level.

DIALOGUE BETWEEN PARTICIPANTS

Participants were asked to reflect on the gaps identified between the different levels of activism. The following were key observations by the participants.

One key issue which was raised was lack of translation of documents into local languages to enable women at the community level to grasp issues discussed at the national level. Grassroots activists challenged activists at the regional level to ensure that all vital information would be made available in local languages if the women at grassroots are to participate and benefit from it.

They also called for NGOs at the national or regional policy level working to advance women’s human rights issues to ensure that they constantly engage communities so that ownership is felt by women at the grassroots level. What is important is to form relationships with policy makers, and also to access their advisors. The issue of language and literacy levels are important. You don’t need grassroots women to speak English to influence development. It is better to empower them so that she can do strong constituency level work. Many of these women have realised the need to educate themselves. It is just a question on how we mentor these women. All policies are actually meant to empower people at the grassroots level.

An important point is that NGOs should never be the ones building links or representing with local government agencies on the ground. But we still do it; we go and speak on behalf of the community with district officers and development officers. We must step out and let the grassroots women themselves negotiate with the district officers and development officers. Activists at regional level need to create relationships with existing networks and consult with open doors between organisations and networks, and leave space for the grassroots women to do what they can do at the grassroots level.

Participants at the dialogue identified five key issues which can help us build a better linkage in the African women movement:
• Dialogue
• Literacy (functional/literary)
• Getting the real issues from grassroots women – be sure to include their views!
• Share information between the levels – create communication strategies
• Assess different areas of capacity building for women in Africa.

Lastly participants implored FEMNET as a pan-African organisation to be practically involved in assessing the different areas of capacity of women’s movements and groups and also help in unifying the women’s movement in Africa. The discussion was intended to provide input for FEMNET to strengthen its work in bridging the gap between different levels of activism.

At the end of the discussion it was clear that African women activists need to be more inclusive by opening up spaces for voices from the community in order to build strong partnership, and by empowering those they often speak for and encouraging them to speak for themselves. It is important for the elite activists to share strategies with women at the community level who have little experience in the women’s movement in Africa. The power of the women’s movement in Africa lies in building strong linkages between activists at the regional level and those doing work at community level.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
* Carlyn Hambuba works for the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in Nairobi-Kenya as a Communications Officer.


And what about Somali women?

Nada Ali

2008-12-09

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/52573

With examples of the considerable risk of sexual violence faced by Somali women from a range of military organisations including the Somali Transitional Government, Ethiopian troops, and local militias, Nada Ali argues that much more needs to be done to ensure that those vulnerable within some of the African continent’s most conflict-torn areas receive adequate protection from abuse. The UN Security Council’s formation of an international commission of inquiry focussing on sexual violence, Ali argues, represents a key step if perpetrators are to begin to be effectively held to account.

‘They broke into the house and I panicked and ran and took shelter under the bed,’ said 15 year-old Malka (not her real name), describing the day the Somali Transitional Government forces came to her house. ‘I came out from under the bed and tried to escape but…I was hit from behind with the butt of a gun… I last remember a man holding my neck as another climbed on top of my body. I woke up to yelling and the cries of my mother…I was not taken to hospital because of the fear of stigma by my mother… I have been robbed of the only thing of value a woman possesses. I feel a reject now.’

The 16 days of activism against gender violence between the International Day Against Violence Against Women and 10 December, International Human Rights Day (which will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), should be opportunities to highlight the achievements of the African and international women’s and human rights movements, such as the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security and this year’s Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict situations.

Unfortunately, though, urgency demands that we turn our attention to the horrific violence against women in conflicts going on right now around the African continent. One such situation, shamefully ignored by the international media and policy makers, is the brutal armed conflict in Somalia. Escalating fighting between Ethiopian and Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces on the one side, and insurgent groups on the other,[1] has had a drastic effect on women and girls like Malka who face rape and other forms of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and limited or no access to essential healthcare or justice.

Since early 2007 hundreds of thousands of Somalis, including women and girls, have fled their homes in Mogadishu and other locations in fear of their lives. But Somali women also face the risk of rape and other SGBV at the hands of Ethiopian troops, Somali transitional government forces, and unidentified militias who take advantage of the growing lawlessness.

There is increasing evidence of a high prevalence of SGBV in south-central Somalia, despite the stigma and silence that usually surrounds rape and sexual assault. However, the voices of the victims and survivors themselves speak loudest. Their stories tell of violations by all sides. A teenage girl who was kidnapped by unidentified militiamen in Mogadishu told Human Rights Watch researchers in July: ‘[One of the kidnappers] held me by the neck and covered my mouth. I could not breathe. He repeatedly raped me. After a while the other one joined him. The first one raped me for more than an hour while the others were outside playing music in the car. Then they later joined to rape me in turns, including the driver. They raped me up to late evening. I bled profusely.’

A young man told Human Rights Watch that Ethiopian soldiers raped his mother and sisters in Mogadishu following fighting between the transitional government forces and insurgent groups: ‘Some Ethiopians and government soldiers came to our house… The Ethiopians came in one by one and started raping [my sisters] and I was sitting there helpless.’

These women and girls have little access either to essential healthcare or to justice. Where could Malka turn after her attack if she had been ready to report it since the attackers were government forces?

The same would seem to be true for many other rape victims and survivors in other areas of south-central Somalia. Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death at the age of 14 in October in Kismayo, a city controlled by the militant Al-Shabaab faction of the insurgency. She was reportedly arrested and convicted of adultery when she tried to report a rape to the authorities. Aisha’s horrific death is likely to discourage rape victims from reporting rape or seeking justice from the Islamist insurgents, who control an increasing swathe of territory.

Malka’s testimony also demonstrates that because of fear of the stigma, rape survivors or their families may not seek services to address the physical and psychological scars that result from SGBV – assuming that healthcare and counselling services exist. In fact, aid workers and human rights activists in Somalia have been the targets of violence themselves in unprecedented numbers in 2008, leaving many civilians without assistance at a time when Somalia is on the verge of the worst famine since the early 1990s.

The United Nations Security Council should establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate the worst crimes against Somali civilians and identify those responsible, with particular attention to sexual violence. The secretary general should address the situation in Somalia in his June 2009 report to the Security Council on SGBV in conflict situations[2] and should suggest strategies to minimise the susceptibility of women and girls to such violence in Somalia and elsewhere.

United Nations and other humanitarian agencies working in Somalia – or with Somali refugees in the region, particularly Kenya – should ensure that women and girls have access to healthcare, counselling, and timely access to Post-Exposure Prophylaxis to prevent the transmission of HIV to rape survivors.

Most importantly, Somali women’s groups, with support from donors, can play a central role by documenting abuses and changing community attitudes toward survivors.

There is no easy solution to the Somali crisis, or to the wave of attacks by people who know they face no punishment. But regional and international policy makers can help to face the situation by addressing the flawed international policies that have immeasurably worsened the situation. Developing new approaches that prioritise accountability and human rights would be a step in the right direction.

* Nada Ali is the Africa Women’s Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/

[1] For a comprehensive analysis of the Somali conflict see Human Rights Watch’s new report, ‘So Much to Fear: War Crimes and the Devastation of Somalia’.
[2] Paragraph 15 of Security Council resolution 1820 requests that the Secretary-General submit a report to the Security Council by 30 June 2009 on the implementation of the resolution in the context of situations which are on the agenda of the Council, utilising information from available United Nations sources. The resolution requests that the report includes an analysis of the prevalence and trends of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict, proposals for strategies to minimise the susceptibility of women and girls to such violence, and benchmarks for measuring progress in preventing and addressing sexual violence. UN Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008), adopted by the Security Council at its 5916th meeting, on 19 June 2008, S/RES/1820 (2008), available here.





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