Women’s Human Rights in Africa. Do they even exist? One would be tempted to ask this very question given the large number of human rights abuse cases in African countries. Well, the answer to this question is…. Silence. Let’s just say that you cannot really qualify it as a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. There’s no fine line here. What can be said about it though is the fact that there is a greater level of appreciation for women’s human rights in Africa now than before. In recent times, human rights abuse watch organizations such as Amnesty International have succeeded in pushing for the recognition of basic human rights in many African countries. Unfortunately, due to numerous factors, there are millions of African women who have neither the choice nor the chance to so much as speak in the presence of their male counterparts. As you can imagine, the voice of women which is barely above a whisper does nothing to alleviate the problems arising from potentially harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing the tip of a woman’s clitoris or all of the external genitals. This practice has been part of many African cultures for thousands of years, and has strong social and sometimes religious implications in many societies. Ironically, it is believed that the practice affords women a “respectable” status in society. As is the case, women who have not undertaken the practice are usually ostracized and regarded as promiscuous women. The latter ideology stems from the general notion that women who do not undergo the practice tend to be more sexually active and therefore more prone to marital infidelity. Although some of the reasons behind the practice may seem harmless, the practice itself is not only excruciatingly painful, but in most instances, very unhygienic. Many of the instruments used range from a small pocket knife to a pair or scissors and even a shard of glass. The danger lies in the fact that the same shard of glass will most likely be used to operate on thousands of women. In addition, there is rarely any use of anesthetics during the procedure. As a result of the unhygienic nature of the practice, many women end up being bruised for life – some being rendered incapable of bearing children, while others do not live to see another day.
In recent times, the spate of female genital mutilation, as well as other human rights violations against women, have very serious repercussions. African countries such as Burkino Faso, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, Togo and Senegal are among the list of countries who have outlawed the practice that is estimated to have affected over 130 million women and girls. In Senegal, a prison term of about five years accompanies a violation on the ban. In November 2006, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States was found guilty of mutilating his two-year old child in 2001. According to the US women’s human rights group Equality Now, the case went down as the first recorded genital mutilation case in the history of United States. Until all fifty-four African countries outlaw the practice, the saga of the spate of female genital mutilation and the violation of women’s human rights in Africa continues.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.