Promoting Women's Rights and Gender Equality
Dr Joyce Banda, former president of Malawi, has aptly commented that “the potential of the African continent is intrinsically linked with the potential of its women and we must work together to ensure that this potential is realised.” Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental dimensions of human development and it is thus crucial in Africa to ensure that the continent moves towards greater integration, prosperity and peace.
The African Union (AU) has therefore been at the forefront of lobbying for the protection of women's rights and has emphasised the essential role that women play in development and that gender mainstreaming should be accelerated across the African continent. However, despite the widespread commitment to ensure gender equality in Africa, substantive change to women’s lives has been subdued. Globally, the IMF noted in a recent report that more than 90% of the countries in the world have gender discrimination codified in their legal systems. Furthermore, the Human Development Report published by UNDP in 2017 reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the lowest Human Development Index values in the world, and gender inequality is far higher than in the rest of the world. If we accept that women’s rights as individuals and equal citizens are important components of just, democratic societies then we must also note the increasing urgency of promoting those rights. Furthermore, gender equality can only be truly accomplished when legal and political reform is combined with societal and cultural change. Women are, frequently, the agents of such change. Ensuring that the women of tomorrow have equal rights, requires teaching the women of today that they deserve these rights.
The core objective of the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment was to provide funding to projects that enhance the rights of women in Africa. These projects, amongst others, addressed: improving gender equity and justice; reducing discrimination against women; increasing the involvement of women leaders in governance; ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa; providing capacity-building workshops and training; engaging in constitution review mechanisms to entrench women rights; promoting the rights of women through social awareness campaigns; engaging women as community peace facilitators; supporting young women to run their own businesses; helping women to improve agricultural production processes; facilitating women’s access to potable water and sanitation; securing equitable access to land-based resources; securing land tenure for women; empowering women engaged in informal trading; addressing GBV; supporting African women’s movement groups and strengthening national networks of African businesswomen.
The Good Practice Approach and Success Stories
The following three projects outline the success that was achieved through projects targeting the promotion of women’s rights and which were funded by the NSF.
The AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund) established a fundraising and grant-making initiative, which aimed to support the work of African women’s movement groups. Fifty-two grants were provided to organisations across Africa with a focus on the improvement of women and children's rights.
This project ensured that a considerable number of women were reached through the initiatives established by the women’s organisations that received funding from the African Women’s Development Fund. This ensured that an efficient and effective framework could be implemented to promote and improve women and children's rights across Africa.
The success of the project can further be attributed to the fact that the grants were specifically awarded to women’s associations that advocated for law reform, policy reform and gender equality. Grantee organisations were encouraged to proactively disseminate information surrounding gender rights and the correct application thereof. Several organisations aimed to place more women in positions of power and this, in turn, stimulated women’s economic and policy reform within the project areas. These organisations further promoted gender equality by providing business and vocational skills training to women so as to economically emancipate them.
The following story highlights the positive impact of the AWDF’s activities:
“Rukaya and Fusiena were both water head porters who plied their trade in the Tamale Metropolis for a number of years. Both women reported that water pottering had been very tiring and hazardous. They received training in groundnut oil extraction and groundnut powder processing. After their training, each of the beneficiaries received approximately $180 in addition to a frying wheelset. To support each other these two neighbours came together, joined their capital and decided to work on a joint venture. This venture is producing groundnut oil and groundnut powder for sale. This has been a very lucrative job for Rukaya and Fusiena and is significantly less stressful. They command more respect in their communities and they have earned the respect of their families. Rukaya and Fusiena are determined to be role models for other women water head porters and request the African Women’s Development Fund to assist the other numerous women still engaged in the water head porter business”.
The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) engaged in various constitution review mechanisms to entrench women human rights in the Kenyan constitution. This was achieved by proactive lobbying to secure legislation and policy directives that would promote women’s rights. CREAW further participated in peace building processes to ensure that women play a meaningful role as community peace facilitators.
At the national level, CREAW continues to engage with the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). A community radio station was used to advocate and promote women human rights. The awareness created through the project has resulted in women’s human rights being incorporated in Kenya’s Harmonized Draft Constitution published in 2009; women’s rights being addressed in the draft Equality Bill which established equal opportunities and privileges for women; the Kenyan government issuing a directive that at least a third of all positions in the public service should be held by women; the promulgation of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation bill in 2008; women being empowered to work together to promote the women agenda at national, regional and community levels. These activities helped to institutionalise the importance of women’s rights in Kenya.
CLEAR (The Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women): Addressing Women’s Livelihoods and Their Land Rights through Gender Equality
In Kenya and Uganda, CLEAR (Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women) aimed to improve female livelihoods by engaging with policy, research, advocacy, networking, and capacity building on women’s land rights. CLEAR set up a centre of excellence addressing social and economic justice, working with landless people, marginalised farmers, especially women, to improve female livelihoods through secure and equitable access, utilisation and benefits from land-based resources. Operationally, CLEAR’s work is anchored on influencing policy, research, advocacy and networking, and capacity building on women’s land rights. The main project objectives were to link up with similar initiatives in Uganda and Kenya and to build an enabling environment for the formulation and implementation of gender sensitive land policies, laws and structures, deemed necessary for the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods for women in Africa. More specifically, the project focused on women gaining land rights, transforming land use by women, and strengthening the economic power of rural women.
Property rights are a crucial element within any economic system to promote sustainable economic development in a country. Strong institutions, such as land rights, form a foundation on which a prosperous economy can be built. Women in Africa are restricted from owning land due to entrenched formal and informal rules which discriminate against them. In order to promote the future social and economic livelihood of women in Africa, it is crucial that they are afforded access to land in the same manner as their male counterparts.
This notion was supported by the CLEAR project. The CLEAR noted that access to and control of land and other natural resources is crucial for the livelihood needs of rural poor households. However, major social, political, and institutional challenges prevent the rural poor from gaining secure tenure rights. Such challenges are more pronounced for women due to the widespread patriarchal control of resources, particularly land, and unequal distribution of roles and responsibilities.
During the project, it was established that while women are increasingly using the legal system to exercise their land rights, lack of awareness of the existence of these rights remains an obstacle. It was, therefore, important to engage in campaigns to motivate women to assert their rights and attain equality regardless of their level of education and socio-economic status.
CLEAR, therefore, participated in various gender forums addressing the proposed national land policy of Kenya. This included the one held in October 2008 which was organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and which resulted in the eventual launch of the Land Sector Non-State Actors on 26 June 2009. The launch coincided with the Cabinet’s approval of the Policy, marking the penultimate stage of the six-year process. This was followed by a Parliamentary debate before enforcement and implementation. Furthermore, CLEAR continuously advocated for gender policy reform while Parliament discussed Kenya’s draft Gender Policy, so as to ensure that critical elements of the policy were not omitted.
CLEAR also finalised the formulation of the Gender Policy for Liberia. It provided a good platform to reiterate some of the key gender policy issues that women continually deal with, as well as enlightening and guiding the parties involved on gender policy development, and proposing some of the ways critical gender concerns can be incorporated into policy.
The following two case studies demonstrate the dire need to improve women’s rights in Kenya and Uganda. The stories of Rosemary and Alice clearly highlight the importance of equal land rights to both protect and empower women:
Rosemary, 56 lives in Bumukye village, Makoha Parish, Bungokho-Mutoto sub-county, Mbale District Uganda. Rosemary is a widow. Her husband died in 1997. She has eight children, all of whom are girls. Their ages are 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 18 and 16.
Rosemary narrates that her husband was mentally impaired. He used to beat her and the children. He would even throw stones at them. “But the worst thing he did was to sell all the land before he died,” says Rosemary. “After all this, I decided to come back to my father’s home with all my children”, she continues.
Rosemary now lives in a small grass-thatched house. She says, “When it rains at night we stand in the corner. The house leaks. We cannot sleep. We lack beddings. Life is very tough.” Worse still, three of her daughters are mentally ill. “I have gone to many traditional healers but there is no improvement.”
Rosemary grows beans and maize for food. She either rents land or requests good Samaritans who give her small pieces for use. This season she harvested 20 kilograms of beans. She got only 10 kilograms of maize. After a short while, the food was finished. “I do Lejaleja (sell labour) to get money for food. I get 1000 shillings per day. This is very little”. Rosemary’s family usually has no breakfast. For lunch and supper, they eat boiled beans. When they are lucky, they eat posho (cooked maize meal). Many times they have slept without a meal. This family rarely eats meat. According to Rosemary, “meat is for the rich. We only eat meat on Christmas day”.
In order to survive, she sells banana leaves; she gets about 2000 shillings a day. As earlier noted Rosemary does manual labour digging. However, she says “the work done is not equivalent to the pay. Digging is very hard work.
Rosemary is not aware of any government programs like National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) which assists farmers to increase food production.
Finally, Rosemary makes this appeal to the leaders. The President should support women without land to buy their own land in order to feed themselves and their children.
Alice, 69 lives in Bukisukye village, Mutoto parish, Bungokho-mutoto sub-county, Mbale District, Uganda. She had fifteen children, four of whom are dead. Her surviving children are now 44, 42, 41, 40, 39, 36, 35, 33, 32, 30 and 28. Alice is a small-holder farmer. She grows maize, beans, millet, potatoes and cassava mainly for home consumption. She has a goat and three local chickens. She has no income and depends wholly on her working children for the provision of soap, salt, sugar and paraffin.
Alice recounts that her ex-police husband worked in Mubende, Kampala, Luwero, Masindi and Jinja until 1983 when he retired. “After his retirement, we bought land at Bunamwayi. We lived there for over 23 years and I improved the land quite a lot. I planted trees, coffee, beans, maize and bananas. During this time, my husband used to stay at home because he was too sick to work”.
In 1992, Alice’s husband became a Bible teacher at the Church of Uganda Ministry Mbale. “One day he came home and sold all the coffee I had harvested without my knowledge. I had gone to the well to fetch water. Worse still, I did not know what he did with the money. I told the other “Balokole” about it. He got annoyed and beat me up badly. Then he bought a plot at Mutoto and left me with the children. Because he was sick, I followed and started living with him”. In 1993, my daughter bought land at Bukisukye and constructed a house. This is the house you see now”, she says.
The turning point in Alice’s life, however, came early this year when her husband came home in a lorry shouting “pack up all the things and we go to Bubulo”. Alice says, “I did not know what to say because we had never discussed this. She adds, “I was cooking sweet potatoes; he poured the food down and put the sauce pans on the vehicle. He took all the things we had in the house. I was left high and dry! And yet we had been married for 41 years!
“Later, I learnt that he had sold the piece of land at Bunamwayi at 2 million shillings. Imagine 8 acres of land for only 2 million! Worse still, the people who bought the land cut all the trees and also slashed the bananas, beans, maize and groundnuts”. When I saw all this, I said that “God we did not steal this land, we got it through hard work. My husband vowed on our wedding day that I have given you all that I have. I have handed this problem to God. It is too much for me. It pricks my heart to remember this land which I worked for 23 years! I could neither eat nor sleep and I became very thin - as thin as a stalk. I could easily be blown by the wind”.
“After two sleepless nights, I went to the church to inform them about my situation. They were very sorry for me. The Bishop’s wife gave me a saucepan and a basin. The next day I went to the police station. When I told them that we had 11 children, they advised me to settle the matter out of court so that we continue looking after the children”.
“Having received no proper support from the church and the police, I went to the Land Tribunal and FIDA. It was the same story; I, therefore, decided not to consult the local council because it would be a waste of time.”
Finally, Alice said if she had the opportunity to meet the President, she would say this: “when husband and wife are buying land, they decide together. The President should ensure that before a man sells land; his wife should consent to it first”.
Institute awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights
A number of the NSF projects reported that the success of their initiatives to promote women’s rights can be attributed to the effective awareness campaigns that they mounted. For example, in Guinea-Bissau, the Aid Association for People Development (ADPP) effectively used social awareness campaigns to engage with farmers and communities to promote gender equality. Likewise, the project initiated by the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) successfully used awareness campaigns to improve gender equity and justice, reduce discrimination against women and increase the involvement of women leaders in governance. A key lesson learned by CRUDAN was that when women’s awareness is raised on gender policies and women’s rights, it strengthens their resolve to pursue their rights in all spheres of life.
In Kenya and Uganda, CLEAR (Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women) aimed to improve female livelihoods by engaging with policy, research, advocacy, networking, and capacity building on women’s land rights. They found during the project that while women are increasingly using the legal system to exercise their land rights, lack of awareness of the existence of these rights remains an obstacle. It was, therefore, important to engage in campaigns to motivate women to assert their rights and attain equality regardless of their level of education and socio-economic status.
Engage with political, religious and community leaders to ensure the success of a programme to promote women’s rights
The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) in Kenya engaged in various constitution review mechanisms to entrench women human rights in the Kenyan constitution. They found that one of the main challenges was a lack of political will and commitment by the government to reform in Kenya. They overcame these obstacles by engaging with and lobbying civil society organisations and parliamentarians to recognise the importance of prioritising women’s rights in the constitutional process.
The Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) successfully involved traditional and religious leaders in their advocacy initiatives to improve women’s human rights in Nigeria. They maintain that this enhanced ownership and subsequently the project’s sustainability. In Mali, Consortium Six Grapes carried out awareness-raising activities targeted at community and village leaders to promote women’s rights. They, thereby, overcame the inherent reluctance to involve women in local governance structures.
Implement training and capacity building to effectively advocate for women’s rights
Despite legislation for decentralised public participation in the governance of the Republic of Mali, the level of involvement of women in rural areas is weak. The Consortium Six Grapes project, therefore, sought to overcome this by providing capacity building training and workshops in rural villages to effect behaviour change. Using a decentralised training model, the project benefitted 2,901 women. Implicit in the structuring of the training was the strengthening of associations between village leaders, community councillors and village communities to ensure the mobilization and strategic orientation of women and girls during local elections.
Important components of the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria’s initiative was to improve gender equity and justice, reduce discrimination against women and increase the involvement of women leaders in governance in Nigeria. These objectives were successfully addressed at capacity training interventions and change monitoring workshops.