Women’s Rights in Samoa Samoa has had a long history of being considered a place where women’s rights have been hindered. Women’s voices in Samoa are often brushed aside when it comes to major issues such as domestic violence and politics. That being said, improvements on the basis of women’s rights in Samoa have occurred. U.N. Women has also worked to set up programs to support women’s equality in Samoa, which provides hope for the creation of more inclusive Samoan communities in the future.

The Samoan Woman’s Voice

Within the islands of the Pacific, where Samoa is located, the lowest rates of women’s participation in politics are found. Women within the Samoan culture are not encouraged to discover a sense of independent thought that they are willing to express. Because of this, women’s representation in governmental positions is a mere 10%. This minimum of 10%, however, will remain consistent due to an amendment of the Samoan constitution that was passed in 2013. The amendment states that women’s seats will be added into parliament if women are not elected, in order to ensure that at least 10% of parliamentary representation is women.

There are many cultural structures that greatly impact women’s rights when it comes to the expression of political opinions. One of these structures is the Matai councils that are in charge of local decision-making. Although women are allowed to join the Matai council, it is mainly considered a male council because of the low level of female members. The cultural family structures in Samoa also discourage women from reaching for political positions like becoming a Matai. Women mainly answer to their husbands within households so they feel a disconnect between having a desire for political power and their familial positions.

Violence Against Samoan Women

Only 22% of women that live in Samoa have not been a victim of some kind of domestic violence within their lifetime. Within the 78% of women who have experienced abuse, 38% said that the abuse was physical. Overlooked violence is one of the largest setbacks to obtaining more holistic women’s rights in Samoa. Women believe that the violence they face is not of importance. This can be justified by the fact that domestic violence was only reported to the police by 3% of women who experienced it.

3 Programs Improving Women’s Rights in Samoa

As many setbacks as there have been in gaining women’s equality in Samoa, U.N. Women has set up programs in order to empower women in Samoa.

  • The Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs: These programs work to ensure that women in Samoa can secure proper employment and are getting paid for the work they are doing. It also makes sure that women have access to assets and increased economic security.
  • The REACH Project: This program has worked to educate the general rural public of Samoa about general rights, including those of women. Although the goals of this program were extensive, one of them was to create equality of gender and to empower young girls for a better future. REACH accomplished its goals through the creation of sessions meant to increase awareness of rights and gender equality that citizens in rural areas could attend.
  • The Ending Violence Against Women Program: This program has created a fund in order to support women victims of violence within Samoa. It also works to change government policies that could support violence against women in any way. The information and support that this program gives to women who may not be aware of their right to speak up against violence against them is invaluable.

Overall, women’s rights in Samoa are progressing with the help of organizations like U.N Women fighting for the well-being and empowerment of women. Samoa has come a long way with regards to gender equality and the future looks hopeful for women in the country.

– Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Protecting African Women from a “Shadow Pandemic” During COVID-19By 2063, The African Union (AU) hopes to accomplish a “socio-economic transformation” across the continent where poverty is eradicated. This is impossible without achieving gender inequality. Although Africa has made significant progress toward this foreseeable future, progress is still painfully slow. Several countries’ progress is stagnant and only addresses the issue by “acknowledging” that girls’ and women’s empowerment is key to improving Africa’s economy. There are many factors prolonging the AU’s vision coming to fruition. Some of the significant factors are violence against women in Africa and the perpetuation of poverty in the continent. Now, with COVID-19, violence against women or the “shadow pandemic” in Africa is reported at a higher number than before, possibly undoing all the continent’s progress.

The Gender Gap and Violence against Women

Violence against women in Africa is primarily fueled by the “gender gap,” which is the difference in opportunities, status and attitudes between men and women. This gap fosters violence against women. Unfortunately, violence is so embedded within African culture that 51% of women’s reported beatings from their husbands are justified.

This attitude toward women promotes poverty because it denies basic human rights and support for mental and economic hardship. Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s population, yet only contribute approximately 33% of the continent’s domestic gross product (GDP). As a result, Africa loses approximately $95 billion each year due to the gender gap.

The “Shadow Pandemic”

Africa has called the violence against women an epidemic long before COVID-19. However, violence against women in Africa has been on an alarming rise since the start of COVID-19 and the subsequential lockdowns. The United Nations calls it a “shadow pandemic,” or “in the shadow of the pandemic.”

During COVID-19, countries across the continent have reported much higher cases of violence. In Kenya, nearly 4,000 girls became pregnant during the lockdown from sexual assault. The main issue is that women and girls have such low status in Africa. Women are seen as easily disposable objects for men’s use and pleasure. With the loss of jobs, decreasing resources and being contained inside homes for lockdowns, women are at the mercy of husbands, fathers or other males living in their homes.

Organizations Fighting to End Violence Against Women in Africa

Several organizations have risen up to end the violence against women in Africa. These organizations are working hard to protect and empower women with economic opportunities. Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are a couple of organizations that are doing tremendous work to lead Africa into their 2063 vision amid COVID-19.

Spotlight Initiative is a partnership between the United Nations and European Union, whose goals are to eradicate violence against women by 2030. It is the largest global initiative working to eliminate violence against women and girls. Currently, the Spotlight Initiative advocates for interventions for African women, such as integrating prevention efforts for violence against women in COVID-19 response plans and addressing gender gaps in legislation and policy on COVID-19.

Alliances for Africa (AfA) is an international African-led organization advocating for human rights, peace and sustainable development. Its vision is to contribute to eliminating the causes of poverty in Africa. The organization’s six focus areas are poverty, hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender inequality and clean water and sanitation. All of these focus areas are a part of the AU’s 2063 agenda mentioned earlier. AfA partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa to support 120 rural women farmers during COVID-19. Each woman could revive and sustain their production, have access to markets and stay informed on COVID-19 preventive measures.

Countries worldwide are struggling to manage the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, issues like violence against women have risen during the COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting millions of women around the world. In Africa, the “shadow pandemic” is a growing concern amid an unprecedented crisis. Organizations like Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are working to alleviate the “shadow pandemic” but there is still much to be done to end violence against women and achieve gender equality. African governments and humanitarian organizations must continue their efforts to save women from facing another epidemic amid COVID-19.

– LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Dalit Poverty
The Indian caste system is a hierarchical social system that Hindu Indians are born into. India adopted the caste system over 3,000 years ago. The system consists of four main categories including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Meanwhile, each group possesses hundreds of castes and subcastes. The Brahmins are at the top of the caste system and consist of intellectuals and teachers. The warrior and ruler class, the Kshatriyas, are next in the hierarchy. Below the Kshatriyas are the Vaishyas who are traders. Lastly, the Shudras are at the bottom of the caste system. These people do unfavorable jobs. However, a group exists outside the caste system that is below the rank of Shudras. These people are known as Dalits or the untouchables. Here is some information about Dalit poverty in India.

The Dalits

While the government officially banned the caste system in India in 1950, its remnants still remain socially. To this day, the caste in which one is born determines their social status, job and marriage under unofficial social guidelines that Hindu Indians follow. Dalits still experience segregation from other castes in many aspects of society including education, healthcare and worship.

Dalits are severely disadvantaged when it comes to education. In fact, only 10-20% of Dalits can read or write and only 2-3% of Dalit women are literate. With over 50% of the general Indian population being illiterate, the education disparity between Dalits and other castes is apparent. Dalit children especially struggle with inequality when it comes to their education. Segregated from the rest of the classroom, other students often bully or ridicule Dalit students because of their caste. Female Dalit students must also perform certain tasks around the school that other students do not have to do like cleaning the bathroom for instance.

Poverty disproportionately affects the Dalits, or untouchables, in comparison to the other castes even though India has disbanded the caste system. About half of the Dalit caste are living in poverty and 60% of Dalit children are chronically malnourished. Most of the Dalit caste work in low-paying jobs that other castes do not look highly upon. Since their jobs do not receive respect, employers underpay the Dalits for the work they do, thus causing the high poverty rate.

Violence, Poverty and COVID-19

Hate crime and violence against Dalit women is very high in contrast to violence towards women of other castes. A woman suffers rape in India every 20 minutes and a large majority of these cases are against Dalit women. In India, people often see Dalit women as inferior and weak in comparison to women of other castes. As a result, men of other castes who see Dalit women as inferior specifically target these women for these violent crimes.

Recently, the women of the Dalit community have been the victims of a surge of rape and murder in India. Authorities make little to no arrests regarding crimes against the Dalit people and the government has not addressed or made any attempts to help end this crisis of violence.

The untouchables are struggling with poverty and inequality, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The untouchables must perform certain jobs that put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Also, the untouchables have very little access to protective equipment while performing these high-risk jobs. The Dalits live on the outskirts of villages where they have limited access to healthcare resources, making the untouchables more likely to have complications or die from COVID-19.

The Dalit Foundation

Many NGOs are attempting to help the discrimination and poverty-stricken Dalit caste including the Dalit Foundation. Established in 2003, the Dalit Foundation’s main objective is to secure equality for the Dalit caste. The Dalit Foundation provides education, scholarships and empowerment to members of the Dalit caste. This foundation, among many others, strives to help end this discrimination against Dalits until the Indian government can provide equal rights for their Dalit community.

The enforcement and security of equal rights of all Indian citizens are crucial to helping the Dalits end their oppression and poverty. The Indian government has yet to enforce equal rights for the Dalits so they continue to experience violence and segregation. Once the Indian government protects the Dalit people, gives them equal rights and ends segregation, Dalit poverty should reduce and the Dalit people should be able to receive equal pay, work in jobs they desire, marry outside their caste and get a quality education.

– Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Papua New GuineaAlthough Papua New Guinea is a resource-rich area, almost 40% of its population lives in poverty. For women, Papua New Guinea is a dangerous place to live as the country is plagued by gendered violence and inequality and women’s rights are unprotected.

Women’s Rights in Papua New Guinea

Although the Papua New Guinea Constitution technically renders men and women equal, the traditional customs of the country and the patriarchal values that come with the vastly rural community make it difficult for this to actually implement itself within the country. Women’s rights in Papua New Guinea are shunted on a legislative and social level. In fact, not a single woman in Papua New Guinea is a member of Parliament. Moreover, women are not given the opportunity to be in positions of power due to a lack of access to education. In Papua New Guinea, only 18% of girls are enrolled in secondary school.

Gender-Based Violence in Papua New Guinea

Women in Papua New Guinea are subject to male domination and violence. It is estimated that Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world, for a country that is not a conflict zone. Moreover, the ruralness of Papua New Guinea leads to a lack of infrastructure and community programs to deter violence and provide sanctuary to women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. Women are often forced to return to their abusers due to the lack of these types of systems.

In 2015, Doctors Without Borders completed its Return to Abuser report in Papua New Guinea. Of the patients treated, 94% were female, with the most common form of violence being at the hands of domestic partners. From 2007 to 2015, Doctors Without Borders treated nearly 28,000 survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea. Doctors Without Borders shared that this abuse cycle continues because women and children lack the proper resources to leave their abusers, as many of them are dependant on the abuser and the abuse happens at home.

Intimate Partner Violence

In a United Nations multi-country study about Asia and the Pacific, researchers discovered alarming statistics about the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence. In Papua New Guinea, 80% of male participants self-reported perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against their partner in their lifetime. Additionally, 83% of male participants also reported having committed emotionally abusive acts against their female partners in their lifetime. Sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is an epidemic too. In the same study, 62% of males also reported that they had perpetrated some form of rape against a woman or girl in their lifetime.

Pro Bono Australia

Despite these statistics, women in Papua New Guinea are supported by female-focused programs, such as Pro Bono Australia. Pro Bono Australia is working to aid women in Papua New Guinea to learn more about business and communication. Up to 85% of women in Papua New Guinea make their livelihoods off of the informal economy, through selling goods and services at markets. Through Pro Bono Australia, more than 600 market and street traders in Papua New Guinea who are mostly women, are members of the provincial vendors association. Through this association, vendors educate themselves about the Papua New Guinea market and the Constitution. Moreover, they now can communicate with governmental leaders and local leaders about the status of the informal economy. From this communication, these women have also been able to communicate with their leaders about other issues within their communities. As a result of this program, the provincial vendors association has begun to petition the government for better sanitation, safe spaces, better shelter and reliable water.

The Future for Women in Papua New Guinea

The communication between a coalition of mostly females and the governmental structure of Papua New Guinea will give voices to those who have been voiceless, bring attention to the status of women within society and hopefully make strides towards resolving issues such as gender-based violence and women’s rights in general. As a result of this measure, there is hope that women’s rights in Papua New Guinea will continue to improve and that the resources for gender-based violence will expand.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Sudan
Public discourse surrounding political, human and women’s rights in Sudan is experiencing a major shift. Issues of political and social participation and freedoms have been at the forefront of Sudanese protests in recent years. Women have played a major role in breaking down norms and building up a new female identity.

The Protests

Sudan still faces major internal conflict due to the secession of South Sudan and the ensuing conflict in 2011. In recent years, the role of women and their rights has come into question for the Sudanese people. Women in Sudan have specifically felt subjugated due to legal regulations and celebrated when the country eradicated these laws.

A key facet of these issues is class. Upper-class women wear different clothes than poorer women in Sudan. This discrepancy is not only troubling but deeply rooted in socio-political inequity. BBC reported that “in recent years it was common to see rich Khartoum women wearing trousers in public—while those targeted by the morality police were often poorer women from the marginalized areas on the periphery of this vast country.”

The Reason

The Global Fund for Women outlines the varying causes for many of the protests in Sudan. Some of the protests took place at military headquarters. The protestors staged a sit-in and called for “civilian rule, women’s rights and an end to the nation’s civil wars.”

Some of the specific regulations that women want to change are in regard to their physical appearance. Some examples Sudanese would like to change include how they must dress or cover their hair. Breaking any of the current rules can result in harsh and demeaning punishments. GFFW reported that “thousands of women have been sentenced to floggings under the laws, with poor and minority women particularly affected.”

Violent Response

The protestors filling the streets are primarily women, an estimated 70%. These women come from many backgrounds ranging from students to housewives to street traders. This diverse group of females march the streets while chanting, clapping and singing. Amidst the clamoring for change, human rights violations also occur.

There was an increase in violent attacks during many of the protests in favor of women’s rights in Sudan and the ending of the civil conflict. There have been instances of rape, disfigurement and burnings. The military more subtly uses sexist language and insults as another weapon against those protesting for women’s rights in Sudan. Human Rights Watch asserts that this retaliatory violence “escalated following the Arab uprisings, the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s economic downturn and the proliferation of new wars in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.”

Looking Forward

The push for women’s rights in Sudan is progressing forward and incorporating the issues of class and poverty. The country now realizes that the need for comprehensive human rights laws (and specific laws protecting women) is urgent.

The women’s movement is strong but needs continued organizational support. There are few laws currently in place to protect women and children and this must change. Protests, as well as the documentation of human rights violations, are not enough. The government needs to create change and protect its citizens. Women, just like all other citizens, deserve human rights.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in PalestinePalestine, like many territories in conflict, engages in an ongoing struggle to secure the civil rights of its people. Women’s rights in Palestine is a particularly pressing issue, with women making up one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

What is Causing the Problem?

The Daily Sabah published a telling article by Najla M. Shahwan that discussed the major issues at hand. Shahwan outlined two of the major reasons why women’s rights are deprioritized in Palestine: “the Israeli occupation and internal patriarchal control.” These two causes, amongst others, are responsible for an unsteady landscape in which to protect the rights of Palestinian women and address their specific vulnerabilities. For example, areas that compromise women’s rights in Palestine are the agricultural sector, land ownership and the domestic sphere.

Israeli Arrest and Human Rights

The circumstances surrounding Palestine have always lent themselves to protest and tension between the Israeli military and Palestinians. Many Palestinian women see the devastating effects of a lack of access to basic resources like food and clean water. The armed conflict in civilian spaces also severely impacts them. This has led to various forms of dissent including protest and clashes with Israeli law enforcement. Unfortunately, Palestinian women that do get arrested and jailed in Israel “suffer unbearable living conditions in Israeli prisons, deprived entirely of basic human rights, including the right to privacy and the right to education,” according to the Daily Sabah.

Gender in Agriculture, Land Ownership and Recognition

Another example of a gendered issue in Palestine is land ownership as it regards agriculture and food security. Work and workers’ agency are both historically intersectional issues but have always included the subjugation of women. In Palestine, the UN reports that “although women contribute actively to the agricultural sector, less than 5 per cent actually own agricultural property.” This is compounded by the fact that, according to the National Cross-Sectoral Gender Strategy for 2014-2016, “the prominent role that women play in the agricultural sector is largely unrecognized.”

Violence Against Women

Violence against women and domestic abuse are of particular concern to Palestinian women. Palestinian women have advocated for protective laws and cultural shifts in the treatment of victims for a number of years. The problems facing Palestinian women are complicated by the regional division between Gaza and the West Bank, but both areas share goals for the protection of survivors.

Violence on Two Fronts

One of the primary trackers of abuses of women’s rights in Palestine is the United Nations. The UN works with its various commissions, including the refugee commission and the UNRWA, to collect data and shed light on these human rights abuses. The UN reports describe the issue of violence against women as a multifaceted issue. Both the Israeli military and internal domestic abuse are the major perpetrators of violence against Palestinian women. Women of all ages can be exposed to violence, but younger women (ages 25-29) are the group most vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a 2011 UN report the following statistics illuminated the scope of this threat:

  • Just under 40% of married Palestinian women are “subject to some kind of violence from their husbands.”
  • In Gaza, the number of domestic abuse cases within marriages jumps to around 50%.
  • Around 23% of women experienced violence while at work.

The Legal Side

Legal precedent is essential for the advancement of women’s rights. Currently, in Palestine, there is “no comprehensive domestic violence law.” Palestinian women’s advocates and organizations have been pushing for these types of legal protections, as well as family law protections, for over ten years, with little success.

Human Rights Watch reporter Rothna Begum explains that the type of law for which Palestinian women have been advocating for upwards of 10 years would accomplish 3 things:

  1. Train law enforcement on how to identify signs of domestic abuse.
  2. Secure proper training for investigations.
  3. Change social norms to make reporting accepted and protect reporters.

Another key element of women’s protection law to note is the presence of a victim’s “formal complaint.” Begum explains the importance of ensuring that the investigation is not contingent on a victim’s complaint by pointing to the following scenario: what if a woman does not voice a complaint? By ensuring that the investigation is based on evidence and not a complaint allows “prosecutors to pursue a criminal case in the absence of a formal complaint from the victim if they have evidence of abuse, which is critical as otherwise abusers or their families can pressure victims not to start or proceed with a complaint.”

Women in Palestine should have the platform to advocate for the equality and protections that they deserve. It is time to recognize women’s rights in Palestine. The most pressing issue is the establishment of women’s protection laws to ensure a basis for legal protection and a secure system for survivors. Geographical factors complicate the organizational abilities of this movement. However, with today’s networking abilities the movement will only continue to grow in size and in unity.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking and Violence Against Women in Africa
African women have experienced inequality in many aspects of life throughout history. Today, some of the largest risks African women face are human trafficking and gender-based violence. These risks are prevalent in underdeveloped areas where women are more likely to have lesser access to education and formal job opportunities. According to a 2005 article in the U.N.’s African Renewal, the majority of impoverished people in Africa are women. Thus, violence against women and modern-day slavery are two major consequences of poverty in Africa today.

Quick Facts About Human Trafficking in Africa

The largest group of human trafficking victims across the world are between the ages of 9 and 17. Most female trafficking victims fall within the 18-20 age group. According to the African Sisters Education Collaborative, 9.24 million people in Africa are currently victims of modern-day slavery. This is 23% of the world’s population of modern-day slaves. In addition, over half of all human trafficking victims in Africa are under the age of 18. The majority of African human trafficking victims are female. Moreover, sexual exploitation makes up over half of all human trafficking exploitation in Africa. The exploitation of victims frequently lasts for less than a year. However, some victims reported experiencing exploitation for up to 16 years.

History of Violence Against Women in Africa

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is a traditional practice that has occurred in at least 28 African cultures throughout history. Additionally, over 120 million women and girls are victims of genital mutilation across the world. Despite violating international human rights laws, FGM/C often goes unreported within African countries. This is due to its prevalence and importance in cultural traditions. According to the Translational Andrology and Urology article, a nonmedical practitioner often performs FGM/C. The aim of this practice is to fulfill religious or cultural rites and sometimes for economic benefits.

Domestic violence is another alarming issue that is prevalent across Africa. A third of all African women had experienced physical or sexual domestic violence. In addition, every eight hours a domestic partner kills a woman in South Africa. Around 51% of African women experience beatings from their husbands. This happens when women go out without permission, neglect the children, argue back, refuse to have sex or burn the food.

Modern-day Women’s Rights in Africa

Many African countries accord equal rights to women in their current constitutions, such as Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. The African Union (AU) recognizes the “critical role of women in promoting inclusive development” in Article 3 of the Protocol on Amendments of the Constitutive Act of the AU. Additionally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa lays a foundation for African governments to follow to promise equal rights to their female citizens. The document also protects women against gender-based violence and empowers women to fulfill their potentials within society.

Women received the right to vote in many African countries throughout the 20th century. Since then, many African governments have increased the number of women they allow in leadership roles and governmental positions. Some African countries, like Uganda, require by law that a certain number of government positions and organizations’ leadership roles be allocated specifically for women. This is similar to the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Countries like Rwanda criminalize violence against women in domestic violence laws. However, there is a low circumstance in enforcing and implementing these policies due to cultural traditions. In addition, the village or family institution is informally superior to law enforcement.

Strides Towards Women Empowerment in Africa

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Since then, the CEDAW has worked to encourage African countries to “commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms.” Ninety-nine countries around the world have ratified the CEDAW since 1980.

Eliminating the risk and existence of human trafficking is also a major part of female empowerment and keeping women safe in Africa. Educating women, showing them their potential for formal job prospects and warning them against the signs of engaging with human trafficking can prevent human trafficking.

The Devatop Centre for Africa Development is a leading global advocacy group that focuses on anti-human trafficking efforts in Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest human trafficking hubs. Devatop Executive Director Joseph Osuigwe told The Borgen Project in an interview that he created the Centre in 2014 after hearing stories from human-trafficking survivors. Since then, the Centre has implemented several training programs to raise awareness of human trafficking in Nigeria and to provide protection for victims. “Within 9 months, the trained advocates [from The Academy for Prevention of Human Trafficking and Other Related Matters] sensitized 6000 people in over 30 communities,” Osuigwe said. “They reported three cases of human trafficking, of which one of the victims was rescued.”

What Still Needs to be Done for Women in Africa?

Few sub-Saharan African countries have successfully addressed gender-based violence issues. Hence, bridging the gap between policy and practice across Africa will help end human trafficking and violence against women.

Government leaders, nonprofit organizations, international allies and citizens alike will need to unite to protect and empower all African women.

Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

domestic violence and covid-19

More than 50 female celebrities have pledged funds and support to actress Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to address additional cases of gender-based violence that could result from the lockdowns around the globe. When quarantine began, Charlize’s thoughts immediately turned to the people in her native South Africa. Theron had concerns regarding women and children experiencing domestic violence and how COVID-19 could potentially worsen conditions for these women and children.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

According to the United Nations Population Fund, “Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.” Although estimates, these numbers reveal the startling consequences that women could face.

There are two main ways the pandemic has led to increased domestic violence. The first is through the disruptions in services provided to prevent abuse and help those who have experienced it. The second is that the lockdowns are tying women down at home where their abusers are.

There have already been increases in abuse. In only the first two weeks of quarantine, calls to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence increased by a reported 25%. Ghadeer Mohammed Ibrahim Qara Bulad, the director of the Women’s Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association in Homs, Syria, has seen cases firsthand. While raising awareness for disease prevention, she witnessed husbands beating their wives, sometimes openly in front of their children.

Together for Her

Charlize’s organization, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP), partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) and CARE to address increased domestic violence during COVID-19. Both were very supportive of the cause and Together For Her. So far, the CTAOP has donated $1 million to fighting the coronavirus, with $500,000 going to the Together For Her Campaign.

Funds from the Together For Her campaign are being distributed to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention and advocacy work to address gender-based violence,” said Charlize in an interview with Vogue.

The campaign has united women across the fields of film, entertainment, sports and more. Some figures that have pledged their support include Octavia Spencer, Amy Schumer, Lauren Conrad, Reese Witherspoon and Viola Davis. Many are survivors of abuse themselves. Viola Davis stated “I am a child survivor of domestic violence. It is the last of the acceptable abuses. It thrives on silence and metastasizes into lifelong trauma that can’t be quantified. The abused have been physically, emotionally and financially incapacitated as a result. They stay…. They are continually abused and, in a lot of cases, killed. Providing funds to give them the means to get out and the emotional support to know they are worthy is everything. They are worthy of better, of real love.”

In the midst of a chaotic pandemic, issues like domestic violence are often overshadowed. Fortunately, Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign is working to ensure that victims of abuse can receive the help and protection they need.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

gender equality in el salvadorIn a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, El Salvador is cited as having one of the top rates of violence in the region, with a disproportionate amount of violence aimed at women and girls. Since many girls begin working at a young age, they are vulnerable to abuse and are often forced to leave school to provide for their families. However, in recent years, organizations such as the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women have established a presence in fighting for gender equality in El Salvador, particularly the freedom from violence and economic equality.

Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos

Established in 2008 in relation to the nonprofit organization Mary’s Pence, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos works within the Salvadoran community to fight for gender equality, support women in pursuing financial independence and teach about sexual and reproductive rights. Now with over 300 members and 576 loans given to women in the community to begin their own small businesses, the organization boasts many successful women-owned businesses in agriculture, food service and the clothing industry.

In 2016, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos held an assembly to share their growing knowledge of economic solidarity with other women. Along with members in El Salvador, women from Nicaragua and Honduras attended the event, creating a total of about 120 women. The event allowed attendees to discuss their business strategies with other women in similar business ventures and brainstorm ways to improve. By giving the women a space for discourse, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos further empowered El Salvadoran women to connect with each other.

However, the women in El Salvador are still struggling with violence and freedom. Gangs threatened women who owned businesses, demanding money in exchange for leaving the women and their businesses alone. Teen pregnancy continues to run high, something this organization hopes to combat through open discussions about sexual and reproductive health. Through economic independence and transparent education, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos is fighting for the rights of Salvadoran women.

Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women

This agency was created to uphold the measures in the Domestic Violence Act and National Plan to Prevent and Deal with Domestic Violence, passed by the Salvadoran Secretariat of Social Inclusion in response to the high levels of domestic violence in the country. By recognizing domestic violence as a government issue, women suffering from violence in El Salvador were more likely to speak up and fight for their rights.

Like the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos, the agency implements programs to encourage women’s education in business along with protecting those suffering from domestic violence. Although the government recognizes the gender disparity in business and economics, inherent sexism in communities challenges the progress of women in El Salvador. For example, the government can implement a program encouraging women into intellectual work, but the men working there have a preexisting bias of prioritizing and hiring men for such positions.

However, progress is being made. The Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women recently provided over 100 hygiene kits of feminine products and clothes to women who were struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of the agency is to support women in exercising their rights as citizens and bring the country closer to true gender equality; giving women the tools to be hygienic and safe is a start.

Seven in ten women in El Salvador are affected by some form of violence throughout their lives. The Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women are taking a stand against domestic violence, arguing Salvadoran women have a right to live a violence-free life. Although slow, these organizations are seeing progress through their programs and fight tirelessly for gender equality in El Salvador.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Wikimedia