We need to broaden the focus of Women’s Day celebrations
By Carol Butcher
The focus on Women’s Day is often on celebrating the achievements of high profile women in business and in government. Their achievements are worthy of celebration, but we also need to acknowledge millions of women throughout the continent, who put food on the table, and clothe and educate their families against great odds. Their achievements too, are truly remarkable.
Women’s Day celebrations often focus on issues such as the glass ceiling, the Old Boy’s Club, unequal pay in the workplace and the low representation of women on company Boards. These are real challenges, but women in general, face many other pressing challenges, including high rates of physical or sexual violence, high rates of new HIV infections, female genital mutilation, high maternal death rates, and unequal access to education. Unfortunately, these issues are often “swept under the carpet.”
The UN recently released a report entitled “Women’s Rights in Africa”. The report provides fascinating insights into some of the challenges that women face on the continent.
Thirty-seven countries on the continent have ratified the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol). The Protocol requires states inter alia to address inequalities between women and men; integrity and security of the person; protection from harmful practices; protection from child, early and forced marriages; the right to participate in political and decision-making processes; the right to adequate housing, food security, education and equality in access to employment; reproductive and health rights, including control of one’s fertility; and the right to be protected against HIV infection. Ratification is one thing, however enforcement is another. Without enforcement, ratification is a toothless bull dog.
Challenges which women on the continent face include the following:
Women face discrimination based on age, economic status, racial or ethnic background, religion, nationality status, citizenship, marital status, health, HIV/AIDS or disability, poverty and sexual orientation. They also face discrimination in areas such as family and property law. Where customary law is applicable; the State does not interfere as issues are perceived as private matters.
Women living with HIV
Young women are particularly at risk. More than four in ten new infections are among women aged 15-24, highlighting the need for better access to contraceptive methods to prevent the spread of AIDS. The incidence and prevalence are often the result of low condom use, violence and relationships between young women and older men. In some countries women living with HIV have been coerced to sign consent forms for sterilisation.
Sexual and gender based violence
In Africa, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate violence or sexual violence by a non-partner. Women living in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Lesotho, Mali and Niger have no legal protection against domestic violence.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights
More than fifty percent of births are to adolescents. There is a lack of autonomy for women to make informed decisions about whether to become pregnant or to seek medical care. There is also a lack of access to contraception, inadequate infrastructure to access health care, and weak health care systems.
Child marriage robs girls of dignity, health and access to education. Despite the ratification by the majority of African states to counter child marriage by legal norms, child marriage remains a common practice. Of the ten countries worldwide with the highest incidence of child marriage, nine are in Africa. If current trends persist, in 2050, almost half of the world’s child brides will be African. Globally, 125 million women alive today were married before the age of eighteen.
Female genital mutilations
Eradicating female genital mutilations remains a challenge. While this practice has declined, it is difficult to quantify as it falls within the private sphere of the family.
It is important to recognise that the challenges that women in Africa are faced by millions of women globally. In many countries worldwide women do not have full enjoyment of their rights.
What are you doing as an HR manager or a talent manager to ensure that women in the workplace and in society have full enjoyment of their rights?