March eight is International Women’s Day, a day set aside to reflect on the accomplishments of women in their struggle for equality and development and to look ahead to future challenges and opportunities. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.”
Uganda-born Rachel Mayanja is special advisor to U-N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Gender Issues and the advancement of women. She said the situation of African women on this international Women’s Day is mixed.
“I must say that in the political area, we have a few African countries that are doing very well, such as Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa. But in other areas such as fighting HIV/AIDS, African countries are not doing very well,” she said.
Kenyan women, for example, have taken their demand for more political participation to new level by demanding the passage of an affirmative action law passed to guarantee an increase in the number of women in parliament and other decision-making positions.
Mayanja said the United Nations supports the Kenyan women’s demand for affirmation action.
“Indeed the United Nations supports it. You know in Beijing it was recommended that positive action, as we call it, should be taken to enable women to catch up…For us to reach equality, there has to be a positive action taken, which some people call affirmative action. And what the Kenyan women are asking for is exactly what the Beijing platform for action has recommended, what the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has also recommended,” Mayanja said.
She said the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.”
“This theme was taken in light of the theme of the Commission on the Status of Women which is elimination of discrimination and violence against the girl child. We believe this is a very serious issue of violation of women’s rights, discrimination against women which perpetuates the violence against women,” she said.
In some parts of Africa where traditional practices seem to hinder the progress of women, Mayanja said the governments in those regions must do more to break the impunity.
“There has to be political commitment first and foremost that violence against women will not be tolerated...that political will have also to be channeled against the stereotypes, the so-called traditions. Those traditions that negatively impact on women must be changed. How can we sustain a tradition that results in the death of someone? So obviously there has to be intervention and that intervention must be at the highest level,” he said.
Mayanja said while some African countries have been made progress in educating girls, more needed to be done in terms of the quality of education.
“I think the question that we have now is what kind of education is it qualitatively. Is this the kind of education that is going to equip girls with the knowledge they need to compete actively on the economic scene? I think that is something that we need to examine to ensure that the education breaks barriers such as girls being geared toward the arts whereas boys are going toward the sciences. These are some of the remaining challenges,” Mayanja said.