Programme Officer- Human and Peoples’ Rights Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU)
Alas!!! It is that time and day of the year when the whole world takes a ‘moment’ to celebrate and appreciate the Woman. Her achievements, struggles, wins and every nuance attached to being a woman. A time and day of the year when male colleagues take the time to appreciate their female counter-parts; when brothers and sons sing praises to their mothers and sisters; when strangers become champions of women that are thought of having deserved certain accolades in the society at large. And celebrate the Woman we should, but TODAY I choose to declare this year the ‘Year of the Woman’. The year that we not only celebrate the Woman for a day, but champion her to new heights and provide platforms to elevate Her; create laws that protect Her physically and economically; advocate to repeal laws that undermine Her and Her intellect; and support Her initiatives. TODAY, I highlight why 2018 will not only be the year of the Woman globally but the beginning of the decade that defined the Woman of today and tomorrow.
Although the road to 2018 has been a long and cumbersome one, it has fostered the building of stronger bridges and more alliances to elevate Women, thereby paving the way for continuous growth. Indeed 2017 has been a stepping stone in identifying problems facing women and women taking a leading role in solving those problems. Therefore, in the spirit of celebrating this day, it is worth highlighting some of the landmarks and successes achieved by women in 2017:
- In a number of African and Middle Eastern countries, there has been a wave of change in the laws to advance women’s rights. In August 2017, Lebanon’s Parliament constituted of 128 members repealed a law that allowed men accused of rape to be exonerated and escape punishment upon marrying the women they raped. For years, women’s rights advocates have voiced their agitation and voiced concerns on further victimization of survivors of rape and thanks to the valiant and vigorous campaign efforts waged by Abaad, a women’s rights group in Lebanon, of hanging bloodied wedding dresses in the capital, Beirut and the seaside promenade. Lebanon followed in the footsteps of Jordan that had similarly repealed a similar law earlier in August 2017 and Tunisia which enacted its first national law combatting violence against women and girls in July 2017 in a parliamentary vote of 146 votes out of 217.
- Achievement has been seen in women leadership in peacebuilding efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo in September 2017. Synergie des Femmes (founded by Justine Masika Bihamba) coordinated 65 women leaders from every province in DRC to start a Congolese Women’s Forum for peace and equal political representation. Less than a week after this Forum, 80 local women and 6 women from the Forum were included at the table alongside militant groups in peace talks over Kasai region of the DRC, well known for its violence. This women constituted 20% of the people at the table.
- African women making headway in top positions in the legal sector in 2017. 2 female Judges were elected Judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Justice Bensaoula Chafika of Algeria and Justice Tujilane Rose Chizumila of Malawi. This move by the African Court raised the number of female Justices to 5 out of 11 currently serving, showing a big victory for gender parity in one of Africa’s biggest international Court organs. In South Africa, Justice Mandisa Maya was appointed president of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the third highest position on the judicial branch.
- Social media and the global movements built by women coming together. 21 January 2017 marked the beginning of a new wave of global activism of women. Millions of women took to the streets in cities around the world to create a major global women’s march sounding an alarm on issues most important to us including anti-discrimination, LGBTQ rights, refugee rights, eradication of anti-women policies in various countries, reproductive rights, inequality at work, the list is endless. The march led to the rise of the METOO and NEVERAGAIN movements on sexual harassment and assault against women in all sectors of society. And for the first time in decades, men are joining in the movements, becoming more vocal and aware of gender issues whilst finding ways to be active allies. The inclusive natures and impact brought about by these movements has led to the massive move towards accountability and a zero tolerance of sexual harassment and assault. Powerful men who have for decades escaped repercussions of their acts are finally being held accountable in all sectors.
These are but a small fraction of the milestones witnessed in 2017. The question remains, why is 2018 the year of the woman? The answer is simple. 2018 is the year we harness the flame brought to life in2017 and turn that flame into a wildfire that devours all symptoms that threaten the rights of women and girls and the culture of inequality in all sectors. I am calling for an overhaul on legal reform and advocating for change in legislations in parliaments across the globe. We need to challenge the legality of current laws in place in our various Court systems and we need to challenge equal women representation in governments, Judiciaries and top law firms and companies to establish a new working culture.
We have already seen how these global movements have taken form in 2018 via the TIMESUP movement which calls for global shifts from women in entertainment for women everywhere against the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace. This movement has gone beyond protesting and is working at improving employment agreements, policies and laws whilst enabling more women access to the legal system to hold offenders and law breakers accountable.
I may not have all the answers as to how we WILL get to that point when these issues faced by women are no longer issues but stories of the past, but I do know one thing, and that is we are on the right track. Global social media movements, the avalanche of changing laws, the inclusion and participation of men in finding solutions, the changing perceptions within various communities and cultures and the trends in including women at high positions to legislate for reform is but a testament to that.
African Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2026