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


When the leaders of Africa unite in congress to discuss the problems of the continent, whatever is tabled is usually the stuff of the “impossible, good for utterance only”. These discussions are mostly superficial rhetoric used to give some respectability and fame to those self-appointed African champions who promote them. Nevertheless, you can be sure that there will be no concrete and effective instrumental or institutional changes implemented to provide the necessary solutions to the problems at hand. The problems thus persist unless there is some 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 mainstream “economic freedom”, “economic empowerment” or “economic opportunity” 99% of African women are excluded or have only peripheral access to economic activity. The 1% that does have access to mainstream economic activity 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 good 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 and (3) renting / leasing out property and equipment. It is obvious that most African women will have a very hard time or find it increasingly impossible earning an income in the order presented above. And please no stupidity about 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 work place or the business place? If they have why do they not promote, adopt and enforce it rigorously in their respective countries by codification and other eliminatory or punitive measures? Or is such a fixed perk of patriarchy on the continent?

The national, regional, state and local government capitals of Africa are constant witnesses to countless young-to-older educated and qualified women being used as whores in their rightful aspirations for jobs. One may erroneously think that these women yield to sex-for-jobs out of desperation or ambition. The truth is that men with recruitment power coolly and confidently make sex an ‘employment criterion’. Sometimes the women have to sleep with a number of men to fulfil this criterion, with some not even connected to the recruitment process. Even when the women are evidently married the criterion is still enforceable. The majority of women humiliated by the sex-for-jobs criterion do not even get the jobs in the end 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 good fortune”.

In these same African administrative capitals women seeking public / private sector contracts, trading licences / permits, credit from banks, preferential discounts etc. have to comply with the sex-for-business criterion. The patriarchy-influenced thinking of African societies necessarily disrespects the mainstream business woman because it is presumed she is a whore. Again the only women exempt from this presumption are the “women of good fortune” who get business and prosper simply 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. Women’s education is usually 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 good fortune” who are exempt from all those female-limiting conditions of existence. “Women of good fortune” do not experience female circumcision, child marriage, prostitution to “train” her brothers at school and the like. 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 a number of them. When we got chatting she exuberantly told me she had been studying in the UK for 7 years and she was 29 years old. Her exuberance evaporated instantly when I asked if she was 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 getting married off to much older men because of the Islamic dictum “a girl should not spend her third menstrual period under her father’s roof”. But this lady I was chatting with was a “woman of good fortune”, unmarried and studying in luxury.

There is nothing wrong with being a “woman of good fortune” especially when it is something one acquires with birth or marriage. However, the men who create the “women of good fortune” to satisfy their personal interests are the same men who abuse and neglect every human right of the 99% of African women and they should be held to account as human right criminals and charged in the appropriate international courts.

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

Grimot Nane

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