“Women’s Rights” as Theme of African Union Summit: Really?

The leaders of the Africa Union when in congress to discuss the problems of the continent, the outcomes are predictable. The stuff put on the table for discussion is often “impossible to achieve but good for utterance only”. These discussions are regularly superficial rhetoric, used to give respectability and fame to those self-appointed African champions who promote them. There will be no concrete and effective instrumental or institutional changes implemented to offer the solutions to the problems at hand. The problems thus persist without foreign intervention. The 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, with the theme “Women’s Rights in Africa”, is no different.

If we stick to the issues of mainstream “economic freedom”, “economic empowerment” or “economic opportunity” 99% of African women face exclusion or have only peripheral access to economic participation. The 1% that has access to mainstream economic participation are the wives, daughters and sisters of military generals, Big Politicians, kings, Civil Service Czars, billionaires, super clergymen and government-backing intellectuals; let us call them “women of exceptional fortune”.

The three legitimate ways by which an individual can earn an income are: (1) Hiring out your labour. (2) Making a profit from trading or business. (3) Renting / leasing out property and equipment. Most African women will have a very hard time or find it impossible earning an income in the order presented above. And please no stupidity concerning an intangible and invisible exploding African middle class.

Have the self-appointed African champions and the continents’ leaders ever heard of [criminal] sexual harassment / abuse in the workplace or the business place? If they have, why do they not adopt, promote, and enforce it firmly in their respective countries by codification and other eliminatory or punitive measures? Or is such a permanent perk of patriarchy on the continent? Who will undertake this responsibility at home?

The national, regional, state and local government capitals of Africa are constant witnesses to countless young-to-older educated and qualified women being subject to whoredom in their rightful aspirations for jobs. One may erroneously think these women yield to sex-for-jobs out of desperation or ambition. Men with recruitment power make sex an ‘employment criterion’. Sometimes the women have to sleep with several men to fulfil this criterion, with many men not even connected to the recruitment process. Even when the women are in legal marriages, this criterion is still enforceable. Most women humiliated by the sex-for-jobs criterion do not even get the jobs. But the men always get the ‘sex perk’ of being an employer / recruiter. Is that not “institutionalised rape”? The only women exempt from this criterion are the “women of exceptional fortune”.

In these same African administrative capitals women seeking public / private sector contracts, trading licences / permits, credit from banks, preferential discounts etc. have to follow the sex-for-business criterion. The patriarchy-influenced thinking of African societies disrespects the mainstream business woman under the presumption she is will to be she is a whore. Again the only women exempt from this presumption are the “women of exceptional fortune” who get business and prosper because daddy, uncle, brother or husband facilitated it.

Have the self-appointed African champions and the continents’ leaders ever heard of “equal opportunities”? If they have why do they not make it top of their policy priorities and ease the unnecessary suffering of the female section of society?

Many of Africa’s leaders and prominent personalities (male) have come from very modest and poverty-stricken backgrounds; they went from utter insignificance to great prominence. This is an experience women do not enjoy, it insults and dehumanises them. Women’s education is secondary to that of men. Women’s economic freedom and empowerment run into brick walls. Child marriage is not as uncommon in Africa as many urban African think. Contrast this with lives of “women of exceptional fortune” who are exempt from those female-limiting conditions of existence. “Women of exceptional fortune” do not experience female circumcision, child marriage, prostitution to “train” her brothers at school and more. Where are the economic opportunities for African women going to come from, when such conditions are their lot?

I remember once meeting a girl from Northern Nigeria at a conference in the UK; I have met several of them. When we got chatting she told me she had been studying in the UK for 7 years and she was 29 years old. Her exuberance evaporated when I asked her, “Are you married?” It was as if she could sense what I was thinking. Back in her senatorial district, tens of thousands of girls between 11 and 14 were experiencing bethrotals to and living with much older men. Why? Because of the Islamic dictum, “a girl should not spend her third menstrual period under her father’s roof.” Such a dictum underwent abolishment several decades ago in many nations of the Middle East, including Tunisia. But this lady I was chatting with was a “woman of exceptional fortune”, unmarried and studying in luxury.

There is nothing wrong with being a “woman of exceptional fortune” when something one gains with birth or marriage. But the men who create the “women of exceptional fortune” are the same men who abuse and neglect every human right of the 99% of African women. These abuses should under legal reform or review as human right criminals and charged to the international criminal courts.

Then we can take the theme of the 26th session of AU summit seriously.

Grimot Nane

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  1. Aatirene

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