Re: Educating about women’s human rights in Africa

Linked with Educating about women’s human rights in Africa, and with The MAPUTO Protocol.

Some answers for Ofe Valentine:

1): From Gauri Bhopatkar

Dear Ofe and colleagues, Congratulations for having such a law that protects the rights of lesbians and homosexuals (broadly SOGI) and the rights of women in cases of abortion.
It is very natural that such laws will face strong resistance from a traditional mind-set and proponents of customary laws, who historically repress women in both public and in private lives.
Most often the patriarchs of customary code/laws generate public opinion even amongst women to oppose such progressive laws. The state and its various law implementing agencies in such cases tend to save their skin from the brunt of being less popular in the society.  
In such situations, women NGOs or human rights groups have a huge task to accomplish. In similar cases in other regions, groups have adopted the following strategies:

  • 1. Right to Information: disseminate as much as information in a simple, straightforward way to people on the laws and why they are being enacted.
  • 2. Organise and mobilise women and youth in particular and educate them on the reality (facts) and myths about sexuality rights and reproductive rights (abortion).
  • 3. Gather and compile data and human interest stories that will help people to understand the logic behind passing these laws, and which will also make them aware of the ill effects of not having such laws.
  • 4. Lobbying with the tradional leaders or village chiefs is often critical. There may be a group of chiefs or people in the traditional councils who are progressive in their approach to women’s human rights. Identify such people and engage with them in a dialogue that will help to minimise the tensions and bring these chiefs into the fold of supporters.
  • 5. Finally, make maximum use of mass media: print, posters, folklore, street plays, electronic, audio, etc. to educate people on the advantages of the laws.

Across the world, when governments enact laws that are perceived as anti-tradition or anti-culture by those who control public opinion through their traditional and patriarchal values, resistance is always much louder than the acceptance or approval. It is a slow process, but with definite objectives and practical tactics to counter resistance, it is very possible to overcome the challenge.
Regards, Gauri Arvind Bhopatkar, India.


2): From Nana Afadzinu

Dear Ofe Valentine and colleagues, The important thing will be to ensure that you find ways of letting people (at all levels) know what the law really says. In Ghana, we had major opposition to the then Domestic Violence Bill, which had been touted as just dealing with marital rape (something a number of people considered a contradiction in terms). We, the Domestic Violence Coalition, adopted a number of strategies and tactics:

  • 1. Educating the media… telling them what the Bill truly represented to enable them tell it as such;
  • 2. Educating opinion leaders in the different communities to lead the crusade in gettig the message across;
  • 3. Sensitising key religious and traditional leaders to be part of the campaign;
  • 4. Targeting key politicians who could be very influential in the corridors of policy making/power and educating them on the Bill; and
  • 5. Carrying out a nationwide campaign to sensitise the ordinary Ghanaian and to dispel any phobias for the DV Bill.

There are, of course, some who will never support your cause. You may, after trying all you can to get them to understand, have to find ways to sideline them and still get your message across to those who matter. How to do that will depend on your peculiar context.
So, these are just a few suggestions informed by our experiences in dealing with similar situations in Ghana.
And…by the way… the Domestic Violence Bill has now been passed into law (in 2007), after 6+ years of struggling for it.
Best wishes, Nana A. Afadzinu, Domestic Violence Coalition, Ghana.


3): From: Susan Njambi

Hi Ofe and colleagues, That is great that Cameroon has signed the Maputo Protocol! Unfortunately, the misconceptions about the protocol are quite apparent and evident in most countries that are in the process or lobbying for its ratification. I know for instance in Kenya it has been an issue that it permits abortion and thus the government was considering having a reservation on article 14 (?) – the article on reproductive health rights. Again, when I was working in the women’s movement (beginning of last year/late 2007) the ratification process was somewhere between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Gender – each blaming the other for slowing the process. Such are the challenges. However, I know that the gender movement has not given up on the process and is still unrelenting.
Not withstanding, just to share with you some strategies, you could:

  • have a simplified version of the Maputo protocol in the local language explaining what it is about, its content and address the misconceptions about the Maputo Protocol.
  • link the Maputo Protocol to the development of the communities – how can the protocol help the community acheive its development goals?

I wish you all the best in your advocacy efforts in domesticating the Maputo Protocol! Do share your experiences on the same.
Regards, Susan Njambi, Kenya, 254 720 761266

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