Africa: Women's Rights, 7/24/96

Africa: Women's Rights, 7/24/96

Africa: Women's Rights
Date Distributed (ymd): 960724

On July 11, the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, chaired by Senator Nancy Kassebaum, held hearings on the status of women in Africa. Testimony was presented by U.S. government witnesses Prudence Bushnell (Ambassador-designate to Kenya and outgoing deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs), Carol Peasley, senior deputy assistant administrator of USAID's Bureau for Africa, and Judith Ann Mayotte, special adviser on refuge policy for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Private witnesses included Michaela Walsh of Women's Asset Management of New York; Lisa VeneKlasen of the Center for Population and Development Activities in Washington; and Wanjiru Muigai, a Kenyan attorney.

This posting includes the statement by Ms. Muigai. Statements by the government witnesses are available at the USIA gopher site: gopher://

Also included below is a Pan African News Agency dispatch from the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) conference taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.

Statement of J. Wanjiru Muigai Before the Subcommittee on African Affairs, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate on Women in Africa

July 11, 1996

Madam Chairperson and Members of the Sub-Committee:

My name is Wanjiru Muigai. I am a Kenyan lawyer. I came to the United States last year to study for a masters degree in law at the Harvard Law School and graduated this spring. I am currently a legal intern with the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington DC. My participation in advocacy for human rights, including women s rights dates back to 1990. I have worked with the Kenyan Chapter of International Federation of Women Lawyers, the Center for Law and Research International, Release Political Prisoners pressure group and Amnesty International, Group 133. Today, I will testify in my personal capacity as a women s rights advocate.

I would like to thank the Sub Committee for giving me the chance to testify on the women s movement in sub-Saharan Africa, and specifically, my experiences in Kenya. My testimony today will focus on law, including legal discrimination and other obstacles to the realization of women s rights. Specifically, I have four main points to make; I) the de jure discrimination against women II) the general legal barriers to the women s organization; III) the economic and public sector obstacles; IV) our efforts to overcome these barriers.

First, women in sub-Saharan Africa face legislative barriers to the realization of their rights. A principal goal of the women s movement in sub-Saharan Africa therefore, is legal reform. Kenya offers a good example of legislated gender discrimination.

The Constitution of Kenya forms the legal basis of discrimination against women. In Section 82, it outlaws discrimination on the basis of many grounds but discrimination on the basis of sex is not outlawed. Furthermore, it explicitly immunizes discriminative customary practices from constitutional scrutiny. In Section 82 (4), it states that the provisions against discrimination are not applicable with respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other matters of personal law. All these issues impact directly on women s lives.

Second, besides the constitutional gender specific discrimination, there are other legal barriers which limit women s freedom of association, assembly and expression. These include the Chiefs Authority Act, the NGO Coordination Act, the Societies Act and the Public Order Act. They impose prohibitive legal procedures on the activities of civil society groups. Activists, including women s rights activists, have been calling for the review and repeal of these laws to enable civil society to thrive.

Third, women in Kenya have a heavy economic burden particularly with the implementation of the structural adjustment programs. Women bear the brunt of reduced government expenditure on public services because of the additional time and labor required of them in their families. This affects their participation in the public sphere. Women, along with other sectors of the civil society, have been forced to seek alternative ways to provide services like health, education and informal credit schemes. In particular, women in the rural setting organize at a micro level with limited resources, little state support, and little recognition from donors. Nonetheless, these informal networks are some of the most effective agents of development and form a crucial support system for women. Local women s efforts, however, do not and should not substitute for government responsibility to provide these services.

Fourth, women in Kenya oppose legal discrimination and strongly advocate legal reform to grant them substantive equal protection before the law. We advocate through various fora including local, national, regional and international bodies. In the absence of Constitutional support, we rely on the established standards of international human rights, like the International Bill of Human Rights and specifically, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Kenya ratified in 1984.

Due to increased demand for legal reform by women s rights advocates, the government in 1994 appointed a Task Force to review the laws that discriminate against women. The Task Force was to submit its findings within one year. Two years later, it has yet to do so. While we are hopeful that its findings will initiate the process of legal reform, we are concerned that without public pressure, the report will not result in any legal reform.

Legal reform should go hand in hand with the accessibility of legal services for women. Currently, many women in Kenya can not afford legal services. The few legal aid clinics that exist serve a minute proportion of the population. Besides, there is a great need for legal education so that women understand their legal rights. Legal reform should therefore be accompanied by legal aid and legal education programs.

Kenyan women articulated their agenda at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. After the Conference, we are now calling for the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action which our government endorsed. The government must now undertake concrete measures to implement it. This would reduce the acute needs of women in education, health, food security, legal aid, participation in decision making and all the other areas covered under the Platform.

In conclusion, let me suggest that the US could reinforce Kenyan women s efforts through I) conditioning assistance to Kenya on affirmative efforts by the government to implement the Beijing Platform of Action; II) demanding accountability of assistance through disbursing aid to a partnership of the government and the civil society; III) earmarking assistance for legal reform and legal aid services to enable women enjoy their rights; IV) recognizing rural women s informal associations and community based organizations as an important part of the civil society, that is eligible for development assistance.

I sincerely thank this Sub Committee for its support of women s efforts in Africa.

Note: Wanjiru Muigai can currently be contacted through the International Human Rights Law Group, 1601 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20009. Tel: (202) 232-8500; Fax: (202) 232-6731; E-mail:
Gender Gap Inimical To Africa's Development

Panafrican News Agency. B.P. 4056, Dakar, Senegal.
Tel: (221) 24-13-95; Fax: (221) 24-13-90;

DAKAR, Senegal (PANA, 23 July 1996) - African countries must close the wide gender gap in education and empowerment, if they hope to achieve rapid and sustainable development, says Prof Luke Uche, Editor-In-Chief of the Dakar-based Pan African News Agency (PANA).

"The fact must be admitted by the male-dominated African society...that the percentage of African women benefitting from gender empowerment...depicts political insensitivity, injustice, inequity and to a great extent, man's inhumanity to woman," he says in a paper presented at a women's workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The denial of education to the majority of African women and girls could be the root cause of many of the continent's present problems.

"Armed with the power of knowledge that is derived from sound and qualitative education, African girls and women may prove to be the missing link between Africa and social cohesion, political stability, economic development, unity, industrialisation and civilisation," he adds.

Uche made these assertions in a paper on 'Media Campaigns For Female Education and Empowerment in Africa' he presented at a four-day workshop for media personnel on 'The Role of the Media in Supporting the Education of Girls and Women for Development in Africa'.

The venue was the 3rd General Assembly of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) which opened at Nanyuki, north of Nairobi, on Tuesday.

The meeting brings together African education ministers, academicians, directors of education systems and 43 FAWE members from 26 countries.

Citing data and reports from recent United Nations publications, the paper says the African woman has been reduced to an endangered species and that some kind of miracle had prevented her from extinction.

African women, Uche says, should stop celebrating the accomplishments of the very few from privileged homes and communities.

He cites the 1996 UNDP Human Development Report which shows Africa has the lowest rate of female school enrolment among all developing regions.

But the continent's gender backwardness and handicap belies the high women representation in politics and governance, he says, pointing out that this constitutes a serious indictment on the African female elite.

"It means that access to qualitative education is being monopolized by, and restricted to the children of the African elite class," making it possible for females from elite homes to get the type of education which guarantees excellent choices and opportunities in the public and private sectors of the economy.

There is always a distortion when the overall statistics of the female population of the sub-Saharan Africa region are collected from the poverty-stricken rural African villages, the city and township slums, and combined with those of the very few wealthy upper class homes.

Given this scenario, the paper says, there is a moral obligation to rally public and private organisations "to spread the gospel of democratisation of education for all the women folk and the children of the poor and less privileged all over Africa.

"There is nobody in his/her right frame of mind who is against private and quality educational institutions for those from privileged and wealthy homes.

"What one is opposed to is the criminal neglect of public schools and non-encouragement of girls from poverty stricken homes, rural areas and urban slums, to be given facilities for quality education and the chance/opportunity to become somebody," Uche's paper adds.

Uche says the media, through the phenomena of agenda-setting and gatekeeping, can be used to promote and support programmes on girls' and women's education in Africa.

But in view of the ownership structure and paucity of media in the region, FAWE, he suggested, may have to consider the establishment of its own radio and television stations in various countries to promote and support girls and women education and their social, political and economic empowerment.

"There is a compelling need for the mass media all over Africa to help in campaigning for the enactment of specific legislation in each African country, to require proportionate reflection of girls and women population in admission and enrolment at primary, secondary and tertiary education."

Similar measures should also be applied in the recruitment and representation of women in public and private sectors of employment, governance and other positions in life.

The media should also promote women participation in ongoing privatisation and deregulation in African countries.

"The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), donor countries and agencies, must, as a matter of urgency, be made to demand from the African governments to set aside, for African women, certain percentages of shares in the privatised and commercialised industries and enterprises.

"Any government that fails to follow this conditionality should be denied international assistance," Uche says.

Note: This article reposted, with permission, from the Web site of Africa News Service, which features among other material news bulletins several times daily from the Panafrican News Agency. PANA has 36 correspondents across the continent and working relationships with national news agencies in 48 African countries. The Africa News home page is The PANA news feed is found at

Africa News Service
Box 3851 Durham, North Carolina 27702 USA
Telephone: 919-286-0747 Fax: 919-286-2614
Washington, D.C. Office (202) 546-3675 (phone/fax)

Message-Id: <> From: Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 13:13:40 -0500 Subject: Africa: Women's Rights

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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