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What does the commemoration of International Women’s Day hold for dignity of African women?

What does the commemoration of International Women’s Day hold for dignity of African women?

Young girls and women in the 21st century are likely the most decisive drivers for development and global prosperity. But as a group they are-still – subjected to tremendous human rights violations, inequalities, health threats and extreme poverty especially in Sub Saharan Africa.

HIV/Aids, Non – communicable diseases, currently Ebola and all forms of violence against women are to a large extent causing disproportionate burden on women and girls, their human rights and their opportunities to be equal and free.

According to 2013 global review of available data, 35 experience either physical and /or sexual intimate – partner violence or non – partner sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their life time from an intimate partner.

It is also estimated that all women killed in 2012 around the world, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.

More than 133 million girls and young women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) in 29 countries mostly in Africa and the Middle East where this harmful practice is most commonly placed. Beyond extreme physical and psychological pain, girls who undergo FGM are at risk of prolonged bleeding infection (Including HIV), infertility, complications during pregnancy most times result to death.

Trafficking ensnares millions of girls in modern day slavery in Africa. Women and girls represent 55 percent of the estimated 20.9 million victims of forced labour and most of them are on the Africa continent.

Forty-two percent of African girls are married before the age of eighteen (Nour 2006). A Child marriage is human rights violations that prevent girls from obtaining an education, enjoying optimal health, maturing, and giving birth to healthy babies in Africa. Socially, early marriage forces girls to drop out of school at a young age, permanently disadvantaging their educational careers and earning potential (Ouattara, Sen., and Thomson 1998). Few may ever face career choices, though, as many child bride live to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Married girls are more likely than unmarried girls to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), two in particular – HIV and the human papilloma virus (HPV). A study in Kenya demonstrated that married girls had a 50 percent higher likelihood than unmarried girls of becoming infected with HIV. This risk was even higher (59 percent) in Zambia. HPV infection has also become endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Forcing young girls to marry far older men who have already had multiple sex partners, coupled with their low socioeconomic status, and their poor access to health care, the incidence of cervical cancer in Africa is now the highest in the world (Nour 2006).

The violence directed at Africa women’s sex is shocking. Perhaps most familiar to the west are the human rights atrocities such as ethnic rapes in Rwanda, women’s sexual enslavement in the wars of Liberia and Ivory Coast during the 1990s, and the tactic of spreading HIV/AIDs through sexual assault campaigns in Sierra Leone.  From gang rapes to attacks so brutal as to leave girls permanently disabled, African woman are encountering levels of sexual violence relatively unprecedented in modernity. In Sierra Leone, it is estimated that more than 52% of women and girls were victims of wartime violence, 50% of that sexual in nature (Nowrojee 2005).  Rapes by alleged protectors reveal gaps in international mechanisms designed to shield wartime populations’ from violence – there were several cases of sexual violence by peacekeepers with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). These included the rape of a twelve – year – old girl and the gang rape of a woman by two Ukrainian solders.  Peacekeepers with both the Economic Community of West Africa States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and UNAMSIL sexually exploited women and solicited child prostitutes during their “Peacekeeping” missions.

In the recent history, the deadly Ebola Virus has now become West Africa number one enemy, thus putting young women and girls at risk of early death, loss of income, loss of family ties, loss of social mobility, delay in formal education and professional development.  As women and girls carry responsibility of catering for the family by providing basic home services such as preparing meals, and attending to sick relatives. These responsibilities make women more vulnerable to the virus in West Africa today.

Despite the potential of various international conventions and conferences and the full body of human right laws, the likes of many African girls and young women remain embodied in violence. One reason is that UN treaties and conventions have not been totally interpreted in way that is responsive to African women’s.

By Hindowa E. Saidu
Note: Hindowa E. Saidu is the Executive Director of Foundation for Democratic Initiatives and Development. He can be reached at fdidsl@gmail.com/+23276804066.

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