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Africa: Women's Rights
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Africa: Women's Rights
Date Distributed (ymd): 960724
On July 11, the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs,
chaired by Senator Nancy Kassebaum, held hearings on the
status of women in Africa. Testimony was presented by U.S.
government witnesses Prudence Bushnell (Ambassador-designate
to Kenya and outgoing deputy assistant secretary in the State
Department's Bureau of African Affairs), Carol Peasley, senior
deputy assistant administrator of USAID's Bureau for Africa,
and Judith Ann Mayotte, special adviser on refuge policy for
the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and
Migration. Private witnesses included Michaela Walsh of
Women's Asset Management of New York; Lisa VeneKlasen of the
Center for Population and Development Activities in
Washington; and Wanjiru Muigai, a Kenyan attorney.
This posting includes the statement by Ms. Muigai. Statements
by the government witnesses are available at the USIA gopher
Also included below is a Pan African News Agency dispatch from
the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
conference taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.
Statement of J. Wanjiru Muigai
Before the Subcommittee on African Affairs,
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate
on Women in Africa
July 11, 1996
Madam Chairperson and Members of the Sub-Committee:
My name is Wanjiru Muigai. I am a Kenyan lawyer. I came to the
United States last year to study for a masters degree in law
at the Harvard Law School and graduated this spring. I am
currently a legal intern with the International Human Rights
Law Group in Washington DC. My participation in advocacy for
human rights, including women s rights dates back to 1990. I
have worked with the Kenyan Chapter of International
Federation of Women Lawyers, the Center for Law and Research
International, Release Political Prisoners pressure group and
Amnesty International, Group 133. Today, I will testify in my
personal capacity as a women s rights advocate.
I would like to thank the Sub Committee for giving me the
chance to testify on the women s movement in sub-Saharan
Africa, and specifically, my experiences in Kenya. My
testimony today will focus on law, including legal
discrimination and other obstacles to the realization of
women s rights. Specifically, I have four main points to make;
I) the de jure discrimination against women II) the general
legal barriers to the women s organization; III) the economic
and public sector obstacles; IV) our efforts to overcome these
First, women in sub-Saharan Africa face legislative barriers
to the realization of their rights. A principal goal of the
women s movement in sub-Saharan Africa therefore, is legal
reform. Kenya offers a good example of legislated gender
The Constitution of Kenya forms the legal basis of
discrimination against women. In Section 82, it outlaws
discrimination on the basis of many grounds but discrimination
on the basis of sex is not outlawed. Furthermore, it
explicitly immunizes discriminative customary practices from
constitutional scrutiny. In Section 82 (4), it states that the
provisions against discrimination are not applicable with
respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of
property on death or other matters of personal law. All these
issues impact directly on women s lives.
Second, besides the constitutional gender specific
discrimination, there are other legal barriers which limit
women s freedom of association, assembly and expression. These
include the Chiefs Authority Act, the NGO Coordination Act,
the Societies Act and the Public Order Act. They impose
prohibitive legal procedures on the activities of civil
society groups. Activists, including women s rights activists,
have been calling for the review and repeal of these laws to
enable civil society to thrive.
Third, women in Kenya have a heavy economic burden
particularly with the implementation of the structural
adjustment programs. Women bear the brunt of reduced
government expenditure on public services because of the
additional time and labor required of them in their families.
This affects their participation in the public sphere. Women,
along with other sectors of the civil society, have been
forced to seek alternative ways to provide services like
health, education and informal credit schemes. In particular,
women in the rural setting organize at a micro level with
limited resources, little state support, and little
recognition from donors. Nonetheless, these informal networks
are some of the most effective agents of development and form
a crucial support system for women. Local women s efforts,
however, do not and should not substitute for government
responsibility to provide these services.
Fourth, women in Kenya oppose legal discrimination and
strongly advocate legal reform to grant them substantive equal
protection before the law. We advocate through various fora
including local, national, regional and international bodies.
In the absence of Constitutional support, we rely on the
established standards of international human rights, like the
International Bill of Human Rights and specifically, the
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination
Against Women, which Kenya ratified in 1984.
Due to increased demand for legal reform by women s rights
advocates, the government in 1994 appointed a Task Force to
review the laws that discriminate against women. The Task
Force was to submit its findings within one year. Two years
later, it has yet to do so. While we are hopeful that its
findings will initiate the process of legal reform, we are
concerned that without public pressure, the report will not
result in any legal reform.
Legal reform should go hand in hand with the accessibility of
legal services for women. Currently, many women in Kenya can
not afford legal services. The few legal aid clinics that
exist serve a minute proportion of the population. Besides,
there is a great need for legal education so that women
understand their legal rights. Legal reform should therefore
be accompanied by legal aid and legal education programs.
Kenyan women articulated their agenda at the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing. After the Conference, we are
now calling for the implementation of the Beijing Platform of
Action which our government endorsed. The government must now
undertake concrete measures to implement it. This would reduce
the acute needs of women in education, health, food security,
legal aid, participation in decision making and all the other
areas covered under the Platform.
In conclusion, let me suggest that the US could reinforce
Kenyan women s efforts through I) conditioning assistance to
Kenya on affirmative efforts by the government to implement
the Beijing Platform of Action; II) demanding accountability
of assistance through disbursing aid to a partnership of the
government and the civil society; III) earmarking assistance
for legal reform and legal aid services to enable women enjoy
their rights; IV) recognizing rural women s informal
associations and community based organizations as an important
part of the civil society, that is eligible for development
I sincerely thank this Sub Committee for its support of
women s efforts in Africa.
Note: Wanjiru Muigai can currently be contacted through the
International Human Rights Law Group, 1601 Connecticut Ave,
NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20009. Tel: (202) 232-8500; Fax:
(202) 232-6731; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gender Gap Inimical To Africa's Development
Panafrican News Agency. B.P. 4056, Dakar, Senegal.
Tel: (221) 24-13-95; Fax: (221) 24-13-90;
DAKAR, Senegal (PANA, 23 July 1996) - African countries must
close the wide gender gap in education and empowerment, if
they hope to achieve rapid and sustainable development, says
Prof Luke Uche, Editor-In-Chief of the Dakar-based Pan
African News Agency (PANA).
"The fact must be admitted by the male-dominated African
society...that the percentage of African women benefitting
from gender empowerment...depicts political insensitivity,
injustice, inequity and to a great extent, man's inhumanity
to woman," he says in a paper presented at a women's workshop
in Nairobi, Kenya. The denial of education to the majority
of African women and girls could be the root cause of many of
the continent's present problems.
"Armed with the power of knowledge that is derived from sound
and qualitative education, African girls and women may prove
to be the missing link between Africa and social cohesion,
political stability, economic development, unity,
industrialisation and civilisation," he adds.
Uche made these assertions in a paper on 'Media Campaigns For
Female Education and Empowerment in Africa' he presented at
a four-day workshop for media personnel on 'The Role of the
Media in Supporting the Education of Girls and Women for
Development in Africa'.
The venue was the 3rd General Assembly of the Forum for
African Women Educationalists (FAWE) which opened at Nanyuki,
north of Nairobi, on Tuesday.
The meeting brings together African education ministers,
academicians, directors of education systems and 43 FAWE
members from 26 countries.
Citing data and reports from recent United Nations
publications, the paper says the African woman has been
reduced to an endangered species and that some kind of
miracle had prevented her from extinction.
African women, Uche says, should stop celebrating the
accomplishments of the very few from privileged homes and
He cites the 1996 UNDP Human Development Report which shows
Africa has the lowest rate of female school enrolment among
all developing regions.
But the continent's gender backwardness and handicap belies
the high women representation in politics and governance, he
says, pointing out that this constitutes a serious indictment
on the African female elite.
"It means that access to qualitative education is being
monopolized by, and restricted to the children of the African
elite class," making it possible for females from elite homes
to get the type of education which guarantees excellent
choices and opportunities in the public and private sectors
of the economy.
There is always a distortion when the overall statistics of
the female population of the sub-Saharan Africa region are
collected from the poverty-stricken rural African villages,
the city and township slums, and combined with those of the
very few wealthy upper class homes.
Given this scenario, the paper says, there is a moral
obligation to rally public and private organisations "to
spread the gospel of democratisation of education for all the
women folk and the children of the poor and less privileged
all over Africa.
"There is nobody in his/her right frame of mind who is against
private and quality educational institutions for those from
privileged and wealthy homes.
"What one is opposed to is the criminal neglect of public
schools and non-encouragement of girls from poverty stricken
homes, rural areas and urban slums, to be given facilities
for quality education and the chance/opportunity to become
somebody," Uche's paper adds.
Uche says the media, through the phenomena of agenda-setting
and gatekeeping, can be used to promote and support
programmes on girls' and women's education in Africa.
But in view of the ownership structure and paucity of media in
the region, FAWE, he suggested, may have to consider the
establishment of its own radio and television stations in
various countries to promote and support girls and women
education and their social, political and economic
"There is a compelling need for the mass media all over Africa
to help in campaigning for the enactment of specific
legislation in each African country, to require proportionate
reflection of girls and women population in admission and
enrolment at primary, secondary and tertiary education."
Similar measures should also be applied in the recruitment and
representation of women in public and private sectors of
employment, governance and other positions in life.
The media should also promote women participation in ongoing
privatisation and deregulation in African countries.
"The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), donor
countries and agencies, must, as a matter of urgency, be made
to demand from the African governments to set aside, for
African women, certain percentages of shares in the
privatised and commercialised industries and enterprises.
"Any government that fails to follow this conditionality
should be denied international assistance," Uche says.
Note: This article reposted, with permission, from the Web
site of Africa News Service, which features among other
material news bulletins several times daily from the
Panafrican News Agency. PANA has 36 correspondents across the
continent and working relationships with national news
agencies in 48 African countries. The Africa News home page
is http://www.afnews.org/ans/. The PANA news feed is found at
Africa News Service
Box 3851 Durham, North Carolina 27702 USA
Telephone: 919-286-0747 Fax: 919-286-2614
Washington, D.C. Office (202) 546-3675 (phone/fax)
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis
usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.