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For a better world

In honour of International Women’ Day (8 March), a global examination of the problems and issues facing women in the last few years is presented. In order for these issues to be eradicated, progressive women need to work alongside progressive men for a better world

8 March 2013 marks the 102nd anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), first established by the German socialist and activist, Clara Zetkin in 1911. If she were alive today, what would she make of the conditions and achievements of women around the world? It is unlikely she would hail her compatriot Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female Chancellor, who is zealously committed to neo-liberal capitalism that has created the world’s current financial crisis of which the global working class are paying for. Zetkin sided with the working masses of the world. Zetkin would also have opposed Merkel’s support of the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as her removing barriers to laying off employees in addition to increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week.

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect not only on the achievements and celebrations of women but to focus attention on the remaining challenges facing women and progressive men around the world for a more humane, just, free and equal world between women and men. It is a time to reflect on gender, however, these days most people associate ‘gender’ with ‘women’s issues’ as a sphere that somehow does not affect men but only women. Yet, do men not have mothers, sisters, wives, partners, aunties and grandmothers? A great deal of attention in the use of the term ‘gender’ is focused on women or girls. Yet, there is now a need to consciously rethink how we can refocus this discourse to seriously examine how we socialise and condition our male children specifically and young men generally into notions of becoming an ‘adult male’ and more fundamentally challenging negative notions of ‘masculinity’ in our society. Somehow the present focus on ‘gender’ fails to adequately address these issues.

The focus of this article will hence be on some of the realities facing women around the world today and ways forward for a more humane world.


In December 2012 there was an international outcry when a 23 year old Indian woman by the name of Jyoti Singh who was studying to qualify as a physiotherapist was violently gang-raped by six men on a bus in India’s capital, New Delhi on 16 December 2012. Such a heinous crime caught the world’s attention for her attackers repeatedly raped her, penetrated her with a metal bar that caused major internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore. The crime led to a national debate about the treatment of women across the Indian subcontinent and the inability of law enforcement to protect them. The Indian government swiftly established five fast-track courts in the capital to deal with crimes against women. Since the brutal murder of Jyoti Singh other equally brutal murders of women and girls in India have taken place.

Yet, ‘A study by US scientists has concluded that an average of 48 women and girls are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The study, in the American Journal of Public Health, found that 400,000 females aged 15-49 were raped over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007.’ [1] Across the globe rape has long been seen as a weapon of war in the patriarchal construct of the world. Killing, maiming, burning, raping, destroying women who are considered the property of other men is about power and conquest. In the eastern Congo, particularly ‘in war-ravaged North Kivu, where an average of 67 women out of 1,000 have been raped at least once’ [2], are the highest numbers of rape victims. The Congolese authorities acknowledge that the increases in rape figures are a result in better reporting. However, the report, entitled ‘Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, also pointed out that sexual violence also existed outside of the conflict area of eastern Congo.

The daily rape of women in the DRC, since war commenced in 1998, has not received as much world attention as that of the 23 year old Indian woman nor the equally barbaric murder and rape and mutilation of 17 year old Anene Booysen in February this year that caused an outcry in South Africa. [3] As we go to press, the Unemployed People’s Movement based in South Africa recently issued a press statement, in which it was announced that ‘on Thursday night, 28 February 2013, Thandiswa Qubuda passed from this world. She had spent six weeks in hospital, brain dead, after she was savagely raped and beaten’ in the town of Grahamstown on 20 January 2013.

South Africa is known for its high incidence of rape of women. It seems to compete with the eastern Congo in the unenviable characterisation as the rape capital of the world. The contradiction of South Africa having a progressive constitution in regards to promoting the rights of women yet having one of the world’s highest occurrences of rape of women and gender based violence requires interrogation. Misogynistic attitudes prevail in a deeply patriarchal culture. Such a culture is endorsed by the polygamous President Zuma in a television interview in August 2012. Zuma commented on his daughter Duduzile getting married and openly expressed his happiness for his daughter. However, further comments were more controversial. He said: ‘I was also happy because I wouldn't want to stay with daughters who are not getting married. Because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It's actually not right. That's a distortion. You've got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.’ It seems Zuma equates womanhood with motherhood and that a single woman is somehow inadequate and problematic. Zuma’s traditionalist and patriarchal views on gender are wholly incongruent in a progressive democracy.

Lesbians in South Africa’s townships have been the target of a vile practice known as ‘corrective rape.’ In 2008 Eudy Simelane, who was a former South African international women’s footballer was gang-raped, stabbed and beaten in Kwa Thema township, near Johannesburg. [4] Up to 2011, 31 known cases of such ‘corrective rapes’ have come to light. [5] Lesego Tlhwale from the African gay rights group ‘Behind the Mask’ explains that some men consider lesbian relationships an affront to their manhood and that ‘It [rape] is a warped sense of entitlement and a need to protect their manhood.’ [6]

Another horrifying incidence in South Africa has been the rape of ‘gogos’ (Zulu for grandmothers) in the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa. The first time this was brought to my attention was during a trip to Cape Town in July 2012. I listened to a mesmerizing radio debate on the issue of what to do with men who raped gogos? Some callers lamented that the death penalty was no longer permissible within South Africa’s constitution for they believed that execution was warrantable for such crimes.

The US also has a high incidence of rape. According to American activist Rebecca Solnit ‘there is a reported raped very 6.2 minutes’ in the US and ‘one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.’ [7] Furthermore, she writes: ‘We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a patter. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.’ Solnit correctly points out that ‘though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and very violent death, every assault is terrible. But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.’ [8]

Whilst there are cases of rape that come into the public domain, we need to remember that many women around the world who are raped do not reveal that they have been physically raped. In the UK, the Independent newspaper published an article with the apt headline ‘Unreported Rapes: the silent shame.’ [9] In March 2012 a report by a group called Mumsnet revealed that in the UK ‘One in 10 women has been raped, and more than a third subjected to sexual assault, according to a major survey, which also highlights just how frightened women are of not being believed. More than 80 per cent of the 1,600 respondents said they did not report their assault to the police, while 29 per cent said they told nobody – not even a friend or family member – of their ordeal.’ [10] Women are reluctant to come forward on account of negative social attitudes to rape and sexual assault victims.

Many victims believe the media, legal system and society in general are indifferent to their plight. [11] Women are often blamed and held responsible for the rape. Often remarks are made on the type of clothing a woman wore; whether she consumed alcohol; was at a bar; her behaviour etc. The focus is on the woman and not on the perpetrator. It creates the myth that women are responsible for men’s sexual behaviour. The recent comments made by a few male figures have reinforced views that delegitimize the seriousness of rape as a crime. For example, in August 2012, the Scottish MP, George Galloway, who has been a supporter of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who since December 2012 has been subject to a European Arrest Warrant in a response to a Swedish police request for allegations of rape and sexual assault, downplayed the allegations. Galloway said that Assange was guilty of ‘bad sexual etiquette’ when Assange began to have sex with a sleeping woman who had, in his view, previously consented. According to Galloway, Assange’s actions were ‘not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it.’ His comments led to the resignation of the Respect Party’s leader, Salma Yaqoob. [10] In the US the Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed that ‘legitimate rape’ rarely causes pregnancy, saying that the female body has ways ‘to shut that thing down.’ The Republican Congressman was seeking to clarify his views on abortion in cases of pregnancy arising from rape during the November 2012 elections.

In the patriarchal world view of Todd Akin there is seemingly ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘illegitimate rape.’ Such victim-blaming attitudes are prevalent in the developed world as they are in the developing world and need to be challenged head on.


Equally pernicious to the occurrence of rape has been other forms of gender based violence (GBV) meted out to women in several well known cases that caught the international headlines in recent years. Most prominent was the case of 15 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus on 9 October 2012. Around the age of 12 she had begun writing a blog detailing her life under the rule of the Taliban in the Swat region of Afghanistan and voicing her passionate belief in the education of Afghan girls. Needless to say she came to symbolize the very antithesis of fundamentalist hatred of educated girls and women, and particularly as the Taliban had often banned schools in the region.

Prior to the case of Malala Yousafzai that received a great deal of Western media focus in 2012, was the case of Afghan Aesha Mohammadzai who was married at the age of 12 and fled an abusive marriage around 2010. Her Taliban husband and his in-laws found her and cut off her nose and ears in a brutal punishment. Her shocking image donned the front page of Time Magazine as a potent image of the brutal repression of Afghan women. [13]

A spurned suitor, Majid Movahedi threw acid in Ameneh Bahrami's face in 2004 in Iran after she refused his offer of marriage. She is now wholly facially disfigured. Sharia law in Iran allowed Ameneh the right to retributive justice – that is for her to pour acid into the eyes of her attacker. At the very last minute Ameneh Bahrami decided to pardon her attacker as a result of her own soul searching and pressure from international human rights groups. [14] In the UK in April 2011, Tina Nash was knocked unconscious by her partner who then gouged out her eyes with his fingers. Nash is one of millions of women globally who live with domestic violence. She is now blind. [15] The darkness that engulfs her life must now shed light on the seemingly invisible and silent issue of domestic violence around the world which must lead to its eradication.

Female celebrities who are deemed to be role models also inadvertently inspire and send out mixed messages to their followers. The famous singer Rihanna was beaten and choked by her equally famous singer boyfriend Chris Brown on 8 February 2009 in his rented Lamborghini. He then left her bloodied and alone on the pavement. Her badly bruised face was leaked by the police. He was given a restraining order, five years probation and six months of community service. In 2012, to the disgust of many, he managed to perform twice at the Grammy awards and took home an award for the best R & B album. Rihanna continues to stand by her man, for in an interview for the March 2013 issue of Rolling Stone magazine Rihanna said: ‘He made a mistake, and he’s paid his dues.’ [16] The violent behaviour of Chris Brown has continued in further subsequent violent brawls and assaults. Rihanna is not only a role model but her private life that reveals her subjection to domestic violence normalizes violence for some men to be perpetrators knowing that their partners will tolerate such behaviour.

According to an editorial in the UK based Guardian: ‘Worldwide, more women between the ages of 19 and 44 die from domestic violence than any other cause - even road accidents or cancer.’ [17] The global campaign ‘One billion rising’ led to mass events around the world to highlighting violence against women and girls on 14 February 2013. A placard by one young girl read: ‘One Billion Rising. Strike. Dance. Rise. Strike and Rise Against Rape’. [18] The idea was instigated by the playwright and activist Eve Ensler. The day was a call for one billion women and men who respect and love women to walk out of their jobs, schools, offices, homes and strike, rise and dance in 205 countries around the world. [19] However, whilst this one-off event contributes to awareness raising, the challenge is to sustain the work that needs to be done to tackle the causes of GBV which are complex and rooted in our phallocentric capitalist society in which social and cultural attitudes, views, and values consider men to be superior to women.

Uprooting the negative lyrics and attitudes that prevails in a particularly reactionary genre of Hip Hop among youth is vital to this struggle. There is a need to challenge the language and images of women in not only this type of Hip Hop (i.e. of women being referred to as ‘whores’ and ‘bitches’) but Hip Hop graffiti and MTV and music DVDs also collaborate in demeaning depictions of women of African descent. Often such women are represented as scantily clad, butt shaking women who are objectified and Europeanised for men to possess. Examples of such reactionary genre of Hip Hop that fails to educate and conscientise are the artists 50 Cent and Lil Wayne and Future, along with others. In February this year – a month celebrated in the US as ‘Black History Month’ several African American commentators attacked Lil Wayne and Future for their utterly disrespectful lyrics in a song called ‘Karate Chop.’ [20] In the song, the artists sing that they are going to ‘pop a pill’ then ‘beat that p*ssy like Emmett Till.’ In short, they audaciously brag about turning the horridly disfigured and damaged face of the 15 year old Emmett Till who was brutally lynched by racists for allegedly whistling at a white woman in August 1955. Emmett Till’s mother consciously decided to allow his casket to remain open for all to see the savagery inflicted on her son. The rappers consider the face of Emmett Till to be comparable to the female genitalia. The despicable dishonouring to Emmett Till, his family and women are expressed in such lyrics.

In the UK GBV by one famous individual rocked the nation. The late Jimmy Saville was a household name and knighted by the Queen. He hosted a popular BBC TV show called ‘Jim’ll fix it’ in which he fulfilled the dreams of young girls and boys. During 2012 it was unearthed that he had sexually abused many of the children he had come into contact with over the decades. Newspaper, radio and television discussions posed many pertinent questions such as how could BBC staff at the time have not known about his dark indulgences? How was it possible for Saville to conceal his rampant and devastating paedophile interest in over 400 young victims for decades, and go to his grave unconvicted? Needless to say many of the survivors and victims of Saville have had to live with the damage of his indulgences.

Another individual who thought he could have his sexual whims satisfied by a subordinate was an IMF chief. For decades the IMF which has been an institution that has continuously screwed Africa in terms of damaging economic policies, put in charge 63 year old Dominique Strauss-Kahn as its leader, who thought that being in a luxury Manhattan hotel suite in May 2011 entitled him to also screw Guinean housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo after she arrived to clean his suite. He insisted that what happened was consensual and a ‘moral failing.’ She states that he forced her to perform oral sex and tried to rape her. [21] The allegations led to his arrest; forced him to resign his IMF post and cut off his potential candidacy for the French presidency.

It is interesting that a subsequent allegation was also made against Strauss-Kahn by 32 year old Tristane Banon, who claims that Mr Strauss-Kahn wrestled her to the ground and tried to rape her during an interview for a book in February 2003. [22]

Another form of GBV in Africa itself is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FMG). Recently there have been successful efforts against this practice including the December 2012 UN Ban on FMG [23] adopted by 194 UN member states. The legislation ‘urges countries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, awareness-raising and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this form of violence. It calls for special attention to protect and support women and girls who have been subjected to female genital mutilations, and those at risk, including refugee women and women migrants.’[24] In 2010 the US introduced an important piece of legislation known as the ‘Girls Protection Act’ which would make it a federal crime to transport a girl to the US in order to perform FMG on her. [25] The important film ‘Africa Rising’ by the organisation Equality Now illustrates the valiant grassroot efforts to eradicate this harmful practice – for if the practice is to be eliminated work must be done at this level to raise awareness in both women and men to discontinue inflicting this practice on their girls. [26] As Ruth Njeng’ere reports there have been positive developments in Kenya, Somalia and The Gambia in terms of legislation being adopted and implemented to close legal loopholes. [27] Ultimately she cautions that to arrest the practice of FMG, legislation has to coexist with winning hearts and minds in a long term educational battle.

Meanwhile, how the practice was represented in the West in the artistic depiction by the male artist Makode Aj Linde caused huge controversy on 15 April 2012. Aj Linde is of mixed ancestry - both European and African. His ‘Venus Hottentot cake’ as it was dubbed by some or the ‘n—ger cake’ as a Swedish publication by the name of ‘Fria Tider’ referred to it, was intended to highlight the issue of FMG. It was a cake in the shape of an African woman’s body laid on a table, with the artist’s own head protruding from a hole in the table at the apex of the cake. The Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljerot was invited to open the festivities of World Art Day by cutting this cake. Each time she and others did so the artist would scream in simulated pain as they enacted a cliteroidectomy amidst embarrassed laughter that can be seen and heard on the video recording. The artist defended his work as art as seeking to raise awareness but it enraged some African women. [28]

The grotesque commodification and sexualized body of an African woman in the ‘Hottentot cake’ reproduced both the internalised racism of the artist and racist European feminism that sees African women as the pitiable object in need of salvation. Indeed, this act by the Swedish Minister was not one of ‘sisterhood’ but an orchestrated ridicule employing art as its medium. As African women writers such as Oyeronke Oyewumi and others have pointed out, there is a need to critique the implicit assumption in the Western defined concepts of ‘solidarity,’ ‘sisterhood,’ and ‘feminism’ that homogenises the experiences of all women. Race, ethnicity, religion, and class are important dividers among women nationally and trans-nationally. Fundamentally as Oyewumi contends, Western feminists have often in their adoption of the ‘white woman’s burden,’ considered FMG, child marriages in Africa, prostitution, polygamy, bride price etc., as campaigning issues in which the salvation mission of Western feminists conceals another form of epistemic imperialism of the African woman in which such feminists continue to exercise their race and class privileges. [29]


It is the assumption of whiteness as the norm and the experiences of white women being universalized in Western feminism that is a form of pernicious cultural imperialism. It extends to the international NGO (INGO) world that is also dominated by European women alongside European men. The implicit paternalism of these fields towards African women as a homogenous mass necessitates we critically question the nature of ‘sisterhood.’ For just as there can be no equality and justice between women and men when men consciously or unconsciously consider they are superior to women; discriminate against women in covert and overt ways, similarly in celebrating and reflecting on the meaning of International Women’s Day, requires us to consider relationships of power between different women within national boundaries and cross-culturally i.e. between European women feminists and African women.


It is also necessary to address the fear and harassment that pervades the lives of many women around the world. For example, since the ‘Arab Spring’ in North Africa, women in Egypt and Tunisia are considering whether the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism will undermine the freedoms of women in these countries. Many women in Afghanistan are afraid of the future with the retreat of international forces and agencies in 2014 for the vaunted promises of change pledged by the US and UK invaders has yet to materialise. According to a report in the UK based Guardian: ‘Half the female prison population are convicted of "moral crimes" – which include running away from violent husbands, fathers or in-laws. Federal law is universally ignored in the local courts, where nearly 90% of all criminal and civil legal disputes are settled, and where girls are bartered to settle family disputes and a man who kills his wife can expect a fine.’ [30]

Such fear also pervades communities where women are labelled and stigmatised as ‘witches.’ Recently in Papua New Guinea 20 year old Kepari Leniata was burned alive after being accused of sorcery on 6 February 2013. [31] In parts of the Pacific nation, and many parts of Africa, such as in Ghana, unexpected deaths and illnesses are blamed on women who are labelled as ‘witches’ and socially ostracised within the community. [32]

Meanwhile in the highly conservative monarchical kingdom of Swaziland in December 2012 the female police spokeswoman announced that women risked arrest if they were to wear mini-skirts or clothes that revealed their stomachs as according to a colonial law of 1889 this was deemed to be ‘immoral dressing.’ The crime is punishable with a $10 (£6) or a jail-term of up to six months if they failed to pay the fine. [33] In November 2012 women in the second city, Manzini protested against rape of a woman and they wore mini-skirts to make a point. The internalized views of blaming the victim are held just as fervently by some men as they are by some women. For instance, the female police spokeswoman said: ‘The act of the rapist is made easy because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women.’ [34]

In the UK a big news story of the Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard being accused of sexual harassment by several women within the Liberal Democrat Party in 2008, has recently rocked the party that is in a coalition government with the Conservatives. There is grassroots anger within the Liberal Democratic Party that the allegations were not given the serious attention they demanded when they transpired in 2008. As Naomi Smith, co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, which is a group on the left of the party, put it, if there is veracity in the allegations, it will reveal a ‘serious abuse of power.’ [35]

Sexual harassment of women is also prevalent in parts of Africa; in the workplace and particularly at secondary schools and universities. It is referred to as ‘sex for grades’ or ‘transactional sex.’ In countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Uganda and Malawi, young women are subjected to having sex with their male lecturers in order to academically progress. It is another serious abuse of power in which the tutor can refuse to allow the young woman to progress unless she relents. A 2011 report by ActionAid entitled ‘Destined to Fail? How violence against women is undoing development’ reports that ‘every year 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on en route to school.’

There is the sad and recent case of 48 year old Frances Andrade in the UK who took her own life a few days after testifying in the trial against her music teacher who is alleged to have sexually abused her as a child. She was accused of being a fantasist by the prosecution. Her tragic death in early February 2013 has raised debate as to how the UK courts handle such cases, particularly as the former solicitor general, Vera Baird QC has questioned why the police advised against Andrade receiving counselling on the basis that it may affect her evidence. [36]

In addition to fear, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, there are indeed other forms of silent violence against women.


Poor diet, inadequate healthcare, mothers dying while giving birth to life, HIV/AIDS and inaccessible access to anti-retroviral drugs have immense impacts on women. The highest regional rate of unsafe abortions per capita in the world at 31 per 1,000 women, aged 15 to 44 is in Caribbean and Latin America. [37] The consequence of this is that particularly poor rural and lower income women risk their lives in illegal back street abortions.

Since the 1990s the increase in suicides among Indian farmers has risen to shocking statistics i.e. 270,000 since 1995.[38] It has been fuelled by international food speculators manipulating cereal prices; farmers getting into escalating debt through the seductiveness of micro-financed loans; and GM companies such as Monsanto selling costly cotton seeds and fertilisers. As the Indian writer Vandana Shiva argues: ‘Monsanto's GM seeds create a suicide economy by transforming seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input which must be bought every year at high prices.’ [39] The impact of these suicides is felt primarily by women who become widows with even greater burden to provide for themselves and their children in the neoliberal economic environment that places profits before people.

Another silent violence against women has been the historical case of experimenting on the bodies of women of African descent and controlling their reproductive capacity that is horrifically captured in Harriet A. Washington’s ‘Medical Apartheid The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present.’ In December 2012 an Israeli documentary uncovered evidence of the Depo-Provera drug being used among Ethiopian Jews without their full consent or knowledge. Whilst in transit camps in Ethiopia, women were started on a course of contraceptive injections without being informed they had been given a form of birth control, and of any side-effects. On arrival in Israel they continued with the treatment. As to who initiated the policy, the Ethiopia government or the Israeli government and why is highly controversial. As result of an outcry the Israeli Health Ministry is carrying out an investigation. According to a BBC report: ‘The issue is extremely sensitive in Israel where the population of about 120,000 thousand Ethiopian Jews sometimes complains of discrimination. There have been several scandals in the past. In 1996, for example, the Israeli authorities admitted they had secretly disposed of blood donations given by Ethiopian Israelis because of fears about HIV/Aids.’[40]

There is also the damaging silence that continues in how many African women and women of African descent aspire to European notions of beauty in wearing weaves, false eyelashes and false nails. Implicit in the depictions of Naomi Campbell the so-called supermodel as the ‘black Bridget Bardot’ and Beyonce being whitened and going blonde, is that black/African women must resemble European women to be considered attractive. The phenomenon of skin bleaching among African women and women of African descent in the diaspora is symptomatic of this propaganda.

In May 2011, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, Satoshi Kanazawa wrote an article entitled ‘Why are black women rated less physically attractive than other women, but black men are rated better looking than other men?’ in the seemingly reputable ‘Psychology Today’ journal. It ignited a controversy. Accusations of the article pandering to racist pseudo-science led to the journal being quickly pulled off the shelves. However, the damage has already been done to many young women of African descent in reinforcing and manufacturing a black inferiority complex based on white supremacist aesthetics. The silent damage also extends not only to these young women of African descent but black/African males are likely to internalise such notions as well.

Then there are the silent anguishes of women around the world who experience the pain of losing their sons, brothers, husbands, killed brutally due to racism, or such males (and females) languishing in prison, death row, or juvenile detention centres or at Guantanamo.


There is much work to be done in counselling and healing the minds and bodies of women who have been raped and sexually assaulted as a result of war. There is also considerable work to be done in terms of men and male child soldiers from the on-going conflict regions such as the DRC and Central African Republic in terms of post-conflict work that will seek to reintegrate these individuals into society. Exemplary work in the radio shows that enabled young child soldiers to tell how they became involved in the war in Liberia and carried out atrocities is conveyed in the memoir of Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna. It is entitled ‘And Still Peace Did Not Come.’ Similarly the commendable work that Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee carried out with girl fighters in Liberia; women who were survivors of war in both Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as her setting up of an alliance of Christian and Muslim women who peacefully campaigned for an end to the war in Liberia are documented in her memoir entitled ‘Mighty be Our Powers.’ These two African women provide concrete examples through their own efforts of the practical work at grassroots level that needs to be done to address the psychological wounds of conflict; provide material assistance in terms of empowering individuals to become employable in societies in need of both psychological and socio-economic reconstruction.

In the fight against HIV/AIDS ‘there is a need for African men already involved in gender-equality advocacy work to forge collaborations and alliances between themselves and HIV-infected men, aimed specifically at encouraging other male colleagues to change their general attitudes and behaviour towards women.’ [41] There is a need to see and hear more progressive men campaigning alongside women against GBV; against rape as there was in the demands for swift justice for Jyoti Singh in India; speaking and acting against not only GBV but against covert forms of discrimination and inferiorisation of women and girls in all spheres of society. Programmes such as those organised by former perpetrators of domestic violence, such as Luke Daniels who has written ‘Pulling the Punches: Defeating Domestic Violence’ as a manual to be used in workshops with men who are doers of violence, point the way forward. The workshops that were held by the ‘One Man Can’ Campaign with confessed rapists in the township of Alexandria, near Johannesburg are profoundly needed. Dumisani Rebombo, a confessed rapist who led the workshop is correct in stating that men ‘must stand up and work with women’ in the battle against rape. [42]

There is a long way to go in combating the insidious forms of oppression that women live under around the globe. Patriarchy and imperialism in various forms continue to shadow the lives of women in the world today, despite the fact that the African continent – particularly, Rwanda and Uganda - continues to have the highest number of female parliamentarians compared to their counterparts in the so-called developed world. In 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first female head of state with much fanfare and was later joined by Joyce Banda in Malawi in April 2012. Whilst this is heralded as progress for women, there is a need to examine in whose interests do female leaders serve? Do they continue to serve neo-liberal capitalism and imperialism in similar ways to their male counterparts or are they seeking to genuinely transform the lives of the poorest people in their societies? Similar questions could be asked of 61 year old Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president who was inaugurated in February 2013. She hails from a conservative background with her father having occupied the Presidential Blue House as a military dictator in the 1960s and 1970s before he was assassinated.

To inspire us on this occasion of the 102nd anniversary of IWD there is the case of 32-year-old Yemini human rights activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee. Karman camped out in Yemen’s Change Square in early February 2011 in central Sana'a demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade rule. She has been jailed many times. [43] She will undoubtedly inspire the women of her country and women globally to fight for socio-political change in their societies, despite the seeming odds against them. Another inspirational case is the case of Hawa Akhter Jui, a 21 year old Bangladeshi woman, whose husband used a machete to hack off her right hand when she refused to give up her college studies in 2011. He blindfolded her and gagged her as he carried out the amputation. With quiet resolution, Hawa Jui has started to learn to write using her left hand. She said: ‘My right hand has been cut off, but I can use my other hand.’ [44]

Such women, alongside the billions of ordinary women around the globe seeking to better our world must be remembered on this day and every day.

* Ama Biney (Dr) is a scholar-activist and Acting Editor-in-Chief of Pambazuka News.

1. ‘DR Congo: 48 rapes every hour, US study finds ’ BBC News, 12 May 2011 accessed 15 February 2013.

2. accessed 16 Feb 2013 see also Accessed 16 Feb 2013
3. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
4. See
5. accessed 27 Feb 2013 see also
6. accesssed 28 Feb 2013
7. See Rebecca Solnit accessed 1 March 2013
8. Ibid, Solnit.
9. accessed 28 February 2013
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. accessed 28 Feb 2013
13. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
14. See accessed 26 February 2013
15. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
16. See accessed 28 February 2013
17. Guardian Editorial: accessed 28 February 2013
18. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
19. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
20. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
21. See accessed 28 Feb 2013
22. See accessed 20 Feb 2013
23. UN Ban on FMG accessed 1 March 2013
24. UN Ban on FMG accessed 1 March 2013
25. See accessed 1 March 2013
26. Africa Rising Film accessed 1 March 2013
27. Ruth Njeng’ere accessed 1 March 2013
28. Open Letter accessed 1 March 2013
29. ‘African Women & Feminism Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood’ edited by O. Oyewumi, Africa World Press, 2003, p. 25.
30. See accessed 3 March 2013
31. See accessed 3 March 2013
32. See accessed 3 March 2013.
33. See accessed 3 March 2013.
34. Ibid.
35. See ‘Clegg faces grassroots anger over response to harassment claims’ by A. Grice, The Independent, 2 March 2013, p. 12.
36. See accessed 3 March 2013.
37. See accessed 3 March 2013.
38. See accessed 3 March 2013.
39. See accessed 3 March 2013.
40. accessed 3 March 2013.
41. See ‘Towards a Theoretical and Cultural Analysis of Dangerous Masculinities in Contemporary Africa: Can We Reinvent African Patriarchies to Curb HIV and AIDS?’ by Ufo Okeke Uzodike and Christopher Isike in ‘Redemptive Masculinities Men, HIV and Religion’, edited by E. Chitando and S. Chirongoma, 2012, p. 50.
42. See accessed 3 March 2013
43. See accessed 3 March 2013.
44. See accessed 3 March 2013.