Rights of Women in Africa: Progress, Status Quo, or Retreat?

July 31, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

Ghislaine Sathoud

This article was translated into English by our Assistant Editor, Victoria Shockley. To view the original French version, click here.

July 31st is the date when Africa celebrates the International Day of African Women. At this time, it’s important to highlight the essential points concerning female emancipation in this region of the world.

Recall that this commemoration was established on July 31, 1962, at the initiative of two organizations: the Organization of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). It is also befitting to mention that the OAU, which was created in 1963, no longer exists. Its dissolution in 2002 gave birth to the African Union, an institution that works toward promoting the rights of women (among other objectives).

In regard to the principles laid down in the Protocol on the rights of women in Africa that the African Union adopted in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003, it can be said that the equality of the sexes found a voice, at least in theory, in this organization representing several countries of the African continent. Taking account of international laws on human rights and the implementation of diverse local initiatives should have positive, benign consequences on women. However, there is a need to ask a few questions related to this issue: what is the true situation of African women? What is their role in society? Are they integrated in the management of public affairs?

Continuous Challenges

Looking back on Africa at various points in the past, one can see that women occupied and still occupy only a marginal position. In the background, prejudice based on gender considerations nullified the efforts made by the organizations and individuals who want to improve the unequal status of women.

Of course, the status of African women is highly variable from one country to the other. But a constant remains: whether it’s during the pre-colonial era or during colonization and independence to the present day, women were and are still confined to play supporting roles. To take advantage of this forum offered on this special day, it is essential to take stock of the struggles for women’s rights. We note with great bitterness that there’s still a long way to go.

On the one hand, there are serious breaches of the rights of women, and on the other hand, there are legal texts that aim to protect women from gender-based discrimination. Our fight is not finished, neither in Africa nor the rest of the world; now is the time to mobilize. The icing on the cake is that governing bodies have recognized that gender-differentiated analyses are essential within their operational programs.

Despite the ever-increasing advances, inequality persists in generating frustration, which leads to disobedience. The women are too often marginalized and don’t benefit from the full and total enjoyment of their most basic rights. This is inadmissible! Say it together: we demand respect for our rights!

Working Towards a True Integration of Women

I can’t say it enough: the integration of women into decision-making bodies is essential for development. This recommendation is a leitmotif in the speeches of many organizations. Establishing a climate of peace and cohesion will be the “Open Sesame!” of countless doors, including that of social development.

The highly dramatic nature of violence in the public sphere makes one’s hair stand on end. The claim of women’s rights is a long-term battle that must be fought with determination.

In the same vein, discrimination has taken alarming proportions in the private sphere, where women must continue their resistance to not only preserve their achievements, but to win new victories. One example is the the sad condition of widows who undergo a criminal abuse imposed by their in-laws.

Let’s refer to a specific moment of African history – colonization. It’s no secret to anyone that the bravery of the Africans manifested itself in several ways. At that time already, female figures could be noted for their leadership; for example, Kimpa Vita, a brave African woman who valiantly participated in the fight against the colonial invasion. She worked towards the integration of women in the decision-making spheres. Today, women and men must work together for the improvement of the living conditions of the entire community.

Since the beginning of time, gender-based discrimination has always had a considerable negative impact on women’s emancipation; this discrimination threatens the balance of society as a whole.

Ultimately, most are of the opinion that it is time to abolish these antiquated practices. This recognition is in itself a sign of progress, a sign of the beginning of a collective awareness.

Today, the status of women in Africa plays between progress, stagnation, and decline – a constant dance. There are also other barriers along the route which leads African women to freedom. What will be the outcome of this great mobilization? The ongoing struggle will continue every day to fight injustice! Women are struggling to change the world, but as long as women’s rights are not respected, the denunciation of injustice will continue.

Ghislaine Sathoud is a female Congolese writer who has published multiple novels, five collections of poetry, a few essays, and eleven short stories. Ghislaine is a passionate advocate for human rights and is involved in a number of campaigns dedicated to improving the status of women.

Follow Ghislaine on Twitter: @GSathoud.

Visit Ghislaine’s website.

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, French-African Women Writers, Multicultural Writers, Women Writers Across Cultures

Comments (1)

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  1. Gill Wyatt says:

    A very interesting article, Ghislaine. I love your line, ‘The claim of women’s rights is a long-term battle that must be fought with determination.’ This is so true. Unless you keep going forward, you will slip backwards without even realising it. Keep going.

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