News / Africa

Lawyers Push for More Opportunities for Women in Africa

FILE - Yvette Azane Ngwemetoh, of Cameroon, a representative of rural women attends a meeting on occasion of the International Women's Day.
FILE - Yvette Azane Ngwemetoh, of Cameroon, a representative of rural women attends a meeting on occasion of the International Women's Day.
Despite the strides, big and small, made on behalf of Sub-Saharan Africa’s women and children, many of whom are still vulnerable to wars, conflicts and antiquated traditions, much remains to be done to meet humanitarian and development goals set by world bodies. Such is the conclusion of a group of some 300 female lawyers from across Africa who met for a week in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to discuss the impediments to improving the welfare of women and children.

Since its creation in 1944, the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) has concentrated on advocating tackling the challenges facing lawmakers and society in the pursuit of protecting the human rights of women.  

Nigerian-born lawyer Okarafor Ezinva, one of FIDA's vice presidents for Africa, told VOA that advocacy alone is not producing the expected results.

“The millennium development goals that relate to women and children in most countries are the ones that are yet to be attained, and there is no likelihood of them being attained," she said. "Maternal mortality - the statistics are disastrous in Africa. And so beyond the advocacy, what else do we do to ensure that we move the level of this course? And, more importantly, that we change the statistics that relate to women in politics, in business, in government, wherever it is, to ensure that the status of the women is better?” asked Ezinva.

Change of strategy needed

The female lawyers were devising ways to change strategy as they fight for more attention to be given to women and girls, especially in Africa, where they say traditional practices still hinder progress.

They intend to pay more attention to cases filed in courts concerning human rights abuses affecting girls and women.

Cameroonian-born barrister Mbuya Gladys, who is also one of FIDA's vice presidents for Africa, said the focus will be on fighting harmful African traditional practices, like early marriages and the belief that woman should play only secondary roles in society.

“Custom that is good should be kept. Any one [custom] that is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience should be thrown away. Let me take the case of FGM [female genital mutilation], places where they cut female genitals," Gladys said. "That is a custom and you see a woman bleed to death. Is that a good custom?”

Some beliefs hard to let go

Some Africans still hold firm to their beliefs that no matter how educated a woman is, her role should be exclusively caring for the home and family.

Fobusie Martin Asanji, the traditional ruler of the Chomba people in northwest Cameroon, told VOA that they inherited such practices from their ancestors and will not let them go. He said that in his area for example, a woman cannot be a chief.

“She is there to organize the family, the royal family. Feeding, entertaining visitors, organizing the fon's [chief's] many wives and his many children," he said. "So she is actually a wonderful collaborator of the fon [chief]."

More women leaders, still too few opportunities

Women have made significant gains in political and legislative roles in Africa; Liberia and Malawi have female heads of state, Senegal's new prime minister is a woman and in Rwanda, women hold almost two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

Females make up the majority of the population of most African countries and therefore many think they should be capable of utilizing their numerical strength in democratic processes.

However, in many countries, that is easier said than done. Lawyer Vera Minang, who is a member of FIDA, blames the slow progress and limited opportunities for women on the widespread illiteracy of females in Africa.

“Women will still be women," she said. "But we are talking about equality of opportunities. If a boy child has an opportunity to go to school, let the girl child also have that same opportunity to go to school. If a man has an opportunity to do night work, a woman should also have an opportunity to do that night work because that may be the only vacancy that she may fit into. We are talking actually about substantial equality, we are not talking about competition.”

The lawyers from Africa and beyond are expecting an Africa that offers equal opportunity for men and women.

Lawyer Ebaka Eko from Cameroon told VOA that even if it takes a long time, progress in rights for women will eventually happen.

“We are dreaming of that woman who lives that unenviable position of being a perpetual dependent [becoming] this woman who is independent, who is economically strong, who can take decision in the public sphere, who can rule the world,” Eko said.

The association of female lawyers was created close to 70 years ago to champion the rights of women and children and promote their socio-economic well-being by creating and raising legal awareness.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs