North Africa has been in the news recently for its people’s uprisings. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all currently in very precarious situations but the people of these nations, men and women, have shown that they want democracy and are willing to give their lives to earn it.
Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored by America unless the political events that occur will affect the US, such a high-profile oil spill in Nigeria which could raise gas prices in the States. The tragedies and travesties of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the upheaval in Sudan and its Darfur region, and the poverty and desperation in Somalia go largely unnoticed by American news outlets and the American people.
Today I’d like to give a sample of what women (and feminist men) are doing across the African continent to advance social justice and true equality.
Liberia: The women of Liberia bravely stood up against dictator and war criminal Charles Taylor and helped bring about an end to their country’s brutal civil war in 2003. Their story was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Subsequently Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa. An all women UN peacekeeping unit from India still provides inspiration for Liberian women and shows them that women can do or be anything they set their minds to. Today the women of Liberia are still working for peace in their region and in the world. These women are raising their voices for the women of neighboring Ivory Coast.
Cotê d’Ivoire: In honor of International Women’s Day, and to protest the killing of women protesting Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the November 2010 elections, thousands of Ivorians marched yesterday in an event that left three men and one woman dead.
Nigeria: Last year at this time women in Nigeria were protesting a religious massacre. Last week (2 March 2011) Nigerian women found themselves protesting the presence of cattle herders on of their farm land. In February a small group of women protested the imposing of a female candidate into a federal position for which they elected a man. These women recognize that simply because a candidate is a woman does not necessarily mean she will represent women or fight for women’s rights.
Sudan: Women in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, understand what it means to be completely ignored and have their rights denied. In the recent referendum however, women turned out in large numbers to show their support for the cessation of Southern Sudan. OftenSudanese women’s stories go untold, but small groups of women are slowly finding their voices and demanding justice. For the second time in two weeks a group of women staged protests against the government’s detention of protesters.
Ethiopia: One of my favorite feminists, native Ethiopian Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, is helping to bring gender equality to her motherland through her blog Ethiopian Feminist.
Kenya: Wangari Maathai is perhaps one of the most well-known women in the world. The 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Greenbelt Movement, Maathai continues to improve the world around her both through her environmental activism and her women’s rights advocacy.
Uganda: One of Uganda’s favorite journalists, Rosebell Kagumire, covers stories and brings attention to everything from vote rigging to violence against women, both in Uganda and around Africa, in her blog.
Somalia: Women in Somalia suffer under some of the worst poverty in the world. Often left without a means to support themselves, many women-heads-of-household work all day and resort to begging to feed their families, often going hungry themselves. Despite this, Somali women make the time to protest the lack of women in parliament and push for higher quotas.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Because of the efforts of the V-Day campaign the atrocities committed in the DRC have been given at least a little public attention in the US. The widespread use of rape in the DRC as a weapon of war has drawn the sharp criticism of the UN and organizations around the world, like Amnesty International. The women of the DRC have joined forces with these international organizations and demanded safety and dignity.
Mozambique: While Mozambique is making significant progress in gender issues, one of the most dire problems women there are fighting against today is climate change. Because of the feminization of poverty and the differential affects of climate change, rising sea levels and land degradation on women, the people of Mozambique have begun to pay attention to solutions that specifically address women’s relationship to the environment.
Namibia: Forced sterilization of women is not a new concept, but HIV+ women in Namibia who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent have demanded justice. Staging sit-ins with the slogan my body, my womb, my rights thousands of women have shown their support and raised their voices in solidarity with their HIV+ sisters.
South Africa: The shameful “rape capital of the world” (a title South Africa dubiously shares with the DRC) has come a long way since apartheid, but the country’s lesbians are constantly at great risk. So called “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions with police refusing to take complaints seriously, but women around the world have demanded an end to this inhumane practice.
- Women can feed the world (one.org)
- Barbara Lee: What the U.S. Can Learn from Women’s Leadership Worldwide (huffingtonpost.com)
- Sub-Saharan Africa Protests (sahelblog.wordpress.com)