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African Nations Urge Government to Enforce Fairer Family Laws

The pact, known as the Maputo Protocol, came into force in 2005 and guarantees extensive rights in areas from protection against violence to economic empowerment

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family laws
FILE - A woman protests against underage marriage in Lagos, Nigeria, July 20, 2013. VOA

Women and girls in Africa are still being pushed into forced or early marriages, while those in unhappy unions face discrimination when seeking divorce, campaigners said on Tuesday, urging governments to enforce fairer family laws.

The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) — a coalition of 50 groups — said while most nations had committed to a pan-African pact on women’s rights, states had failed to enforce laws relating to marriage, divorce, child maintenance and inheritance.

The pact, known as the Maputo Protocol, came into force in 2005 and guarantees extensive rights in areas from protection against violence to economic empowerment.

Anisah Ari from the Nigeria-based Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, a SOAWR member, said while African nations had taken steps in other areas such as tackling sexual violence, family laws were largely being ignored.

family laws
File: Sudanese Women carrying 50kg bag of grains. Wikimedia Commons

“While the Maputo Protocol affirms women’s rights to exercise self-determination and bodily autonomy — free from discrimination, coercion and violence — many African girls and women continue to bear the brunt of discriminatory family laws,” Ari told a news conference.

“For instance, despite the fact that women have a right to inherit their husbands’ properties after death, this is not always assured — leading to protracted legal battles.”

The SOAWR members, which come from 25 African countries, said many nations had enacted progressive family laws in line with the Maputo Protocol, but the laws were not being enforced.

Women’s contribution and access to familial property was rarely recognized during marital disputes, and women often faced an uphill struggle when seeking child maintenance, they added.

family laws
Women wear the Algerian flag during a protest in Algiers, April 26, 2019. VOA

The legally binding pact, lauded as the most progressive human rights instrument for women and girls in Africa, has been signed and ratified by 42 of the African Union’s 55 member states. Three countries — Botswana, Morocco and Egypt — have neither signed nor ratified it.

The SOAWR members — which come from countries such as Tunisia, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — said addressing the protection and rights of women and girls in the family was the integral to the advancement of women.

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“Family laws are key as the family unit is where the socialization of gender roles begins. It is where girls first learn their rights and roles in society,” said Violet Muthiga from Sauti Ya Wanawake, a Kenya-based women’s rights group.

“So if we can intervene at the family level to ensure they are protected and treated fairly, we can change perceptions and curb practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation — all of which happen with the family unit.” (VOA)

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Report: 1.8 Millions in Central African Republic Suffering Acute Food Shortages

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel says, unfortunately, the hunger crisis will not be over when the lean season comes to an end

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food shortages
FILE - Children recovering from malnutrition play at the Children hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic. VOA

A new report finds nearly half of all people in the Central African Republic are suffering acute food shortages. The latest assessment by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a joint effort by eight U.N. and International non-governmental organizations, finds more than 1.8 million people in C.A.R. are facing an emergency food crisis.

Civil war in the Central African Republic erupted in December 2013 and continues to take a heavy toll on its people.  The country is in the midst of its so-called lean season, which goes from May to August.

This is the period between harvests when people have depleted their food stocks and hunger is particularly acute. The World Food Program reports nearly 2 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from during this period.

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The United Nations reports more than a half million refugees have fled to neighboring countries to escape the ravages of war. Wikimedia Commons

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel says, unfortunately, the hunger crisis will not be over when the lean season comes to an end.

“Nearly 1.35 million people—almost 30 percent of the population analyzed—will be in severe acute food insecurity including nearly 275,000 people in emergency during the harvest period, meaning September and October,” Verhoosel says.

The United Nations reports more than a half million refugees have fled to neighboring countries to escape the ravages of war.  Nearly 700,000 people remain displaced within the C.A.R.

The signing of a peace agreement in the capital Bangui in February gave rise to hopes the crisis in the country would soon be at an end.  Security conditions remain volatile, however, and attacks are continuing with increased ferocity in several parts of the country where armed groups that did not sign on to the agreement are in control.

food shortages
The World Food Program assists about 600,000 people in the country every month. Wikimedia Commons

Ongoing insecurity is hampering humanitarian operations and making it difficult, if not impossible, to provide food and other crucial aid to the civilians caught in the midst of this violence.

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The World Food Program assists about 600,000 people in the country every month.  Verhoosel says WFP and its partners are trying to reach more people in urgent need of aid.

He says internally displaced people and refugees are the most vulnerable.  He says they are totally dependent upon international assistance to meet their food and nutritional needs. (VOA)