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David Soler Crespo, Assistant of research of the Navarra Center for International Development (ICS-University of Navarra)

José Manuel Cuevas Borda, Assistant at research of the Navarra Center for International Development (ICS-University of Navarra)

From 8M to 8M: women gain rights in Africa


Fri, 08 Mar 2019 12:57:00 +0000 Published in La Vanguardia

It has been a year since the great mobilization of 8M around the world for International Women's Day. Spurred by the international #MeToo movement, millions of women demonstrated against gender inequality. In Africa they are still behind in many basic rights, but little by little feminist policies are being promoted. Here's a look at five of the biggest advances for women in the last year and a look at status gender inequality on the African continent.

Ethiopia elected female president
On October 25, Ethiopia's parliament elected a woman head of state for the first time, Sahle-WorkZewde. The country's new president began her term in office with a clear slogan: "If anyone thinks I talk too much about women, wait until you hear what I have to say. Zewde thus became the first woman president in Ethiopia and the only one currently on the continent. Although the executive falls to the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, the election has a high representative value and sample the feminist intentions of the new government, which has a parity cabinet in which, in addition, a woman heads the historically male Defense portfolio.

The election of political representatives makes women visible as leaders in decision making and sets an example to society to eliminate the gender gap. In this regard, Africa is ahead of other regions of the world. Rwanda, for example, is the country with the highest percentage of female representation in Parliament and the only one that exceeds the 60% barrier, with 49 female deputies in a hemicycle of 80 people. This is partly due to the 1994 genocide, which left the country with more women than men, and gave impetus to a leadership that goes beyond the borders of the country itself. In total, of the twenty countries with the most women in parliament, six are African: Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Senegal, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Women take to the streets
Many women have stopped keeping silent about abuses and have taken action, leading change with demonstrations for their rights and against power. The most recent case occurred in the Puntland region of Somalia, where hundreds of women and girls protested against the rape of women following the recent death of a 13-year-old girl after she was raped by five men. Women also marched against sexual violence in Senegal, under the slogan #Nopiwouma, which in Wolof means "I will not be silent", and in South Africa with the label #TotalShutdown.

Women continue to lead protests against government measures: in Sudan, peaceful revolts against the Al Bashir government are also being led by hundreds of women who are fed up with being abused and marginalized in a macho society that ignores them.

Educating in feminism
At high school SafeSchoolforGirls in Ruhango, Rwanda, they educate in feminism. During the 1994 genocide, more than 500,000 women were raped, an episode they now remind young people of in order to prevent it from happening again. In total, more than 66,000 young people learn every day how to deal with the challenges facing women today. While they learn to respect women and condemn violence and the wage gap, they learn to protect themselves and receive support.

Despite great progress in girls' schooling in Africa, there are still fewer girls than boys in the classroom. For every 100 boys who do not go to high school in primary school, there are 123 girls who do not go to school. Thus, 9 million girls will be out of school for the 6 million boys, and more than a third of women leave high school when they are adolescents. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals development include closing the gender gap in subject education by 2030.

Nobel for the fight against sexual violence
More than a breakthrough in itself, the award Nobel Peace Prize awarded last October to Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been a boost to the fight against sexual violence. The "miracle doctor", as he is called, received the award together with Nadia Murad, Iraqi activist, "for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon in wars and armed conflicts", as he performs reconstructive surgeries on women to repair the physical damage caused by rape.

Mukwege, 64 years old and who performs up to ten operations a day, had received in 2014 the award Sakharov award from the European Parliament for the same work, to which he has been fully dedicated for more than two decades. For this work she has suffered threats and reprisals in a country where women have been the main victims of a war that, although officially ended in 2003, continues to manifest itself and has left systematic after-effects that continue to this day, including sexual violence against women.

Confronting female genital mutilation
On January 25 of this year, the Government of Sierra Leone banned "with immediate effect" female genital mutilation, which, according to the UN, nine out of ten girls undergo there, and which exists in almost thirty countries, almost all of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In the region, Chad, Liberia, Mali, Somalia and Sudan still do not criminalize clitoral cutting and, beyond legislation, the difficulty in combating it lies in its cultural roots, for example, in initiation rituals. However, although much work remains to be done to eradicate it, this internship has been reduced in recent decades: from agreement with a article published in BMJ Global Health, between 1995 and 2016, girls who underwent female genital mutilation decreased from 75% to 25% in West Africa and from 71% to 8% in East Africa.

In fact, according to a study by researchers from U.S. and Italian universities, the origin of female genital mutilation on both coasts, or at least part of its initial proliferation, is linked to the slave trade and slave routes of centuries ago, rather than to issues related to religion or customs, which over time have also taken hold.

Gender inequality on the continent
In 2010, the United Nations Program for development (UNDP) introduced in its report of development Human the Gender Inequality Index, which was formally included since 2014. This index is calculated in 160 countries based on the Degree implementation of policies in favor of equality between women and men in three areas: reproductive health, empowerment and status economic and labor. Africa, like other continents, is a land of contrasts, but also of patterns.

Amid all its complexity and diversity, Sub-Saharan Africa is at the bottom in the Gender Inequality Index, with an average of 0.569 in 2017 (the global average is 0.441). It follows closely behind Arab countries, and further ahead are, from worst to best, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific, under the leadership of Europe and Central Asia. But beyond the positions, UNDP stresses that, in general, there is a correlation between the GDI and the Human Development Index development , so that gender equality is not only a matter of policies in favor of women, but of the need for its impact on society as a whole. And with many challenges ahead, but with more and more women taking the lead in parliaments and on the streets, some African countries are beginning to see this.