16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women – What does these mean for Africa and our patriarchal mentalities?

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Yesterday the world started this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children and I can’t help but ask myself: Sixteen years after the United Nations designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, how much have things changed on the African continent? What does this mean for the African continent and our patriarchal mentalities ?

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children is an international awareness-raising campaign which takes place every year from 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to 10 December, which is Human Rights Day (the 16 day period also includes Universal Children’s Day and World AIDS Day). The campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991.

This year marks 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which is considered to be the most progressive road map to gender equality. Although we cannot ignore the tremendous improvement in Government policies regarding women and children and the work local, national and international non-governmental organisations have done and are still doing, it is impossible to ignore the unfortunate fact that patriarchy on the African continent hasn’t ceased to dictate the everyday lives of women and children; hence, leaving us with a long way to go.

In its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the United Nations stated that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women” and that “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared to men”.

These two statements are sadly still an adequate description of what it is like to be a women in many African communities. Yes, many women have managed to break the bondages of the patriarchal standards our societies force upon us and have paved the way for young girls and teenagers to aspire to greater futures rather than being a man’s “private property”, but the sad reality is that the majority of women, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, are still marginalized because of their gender.

Although in many African countries women are protected by laws and policies, women in countries such as Benin, the Democratic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan,  Uganda and others, women are still struggling to implement gender equality in their policies.

However, what bothers me the most are the patriarchal culture practices across the continent. Things may look good on paper, but these practices often lead men to feeling it is “their right” to physically, verbally or financially abuse their wives and for women to feel like they “should” be treated unjustly “because they are women”.

This, I feel, is something we need to look more closely at during these 16 Days of Activism especially for women in countries where there is virtually no social help available for them and ion which even their families condone abuse, of any kind, because of traditional practices.

We need to see violence against women as a social problem and not always necessarily a criminal justice or government problem. Yes, government policies need to be reinforced in order for women to be “legally” protected and empowered; however, these policies will be void if we do not address the various social factors which are the basis of the violence in the first place.

Things have indeed progressed and it wouldn’t be fair to say that they haven’t, but we still have a long way to go and it all starts in the minds of our people. Only when society will shift from its patriarchal ways will we be able to see an even greater change. People are society and society is the people so we as people need to shift our notions of gender roles and identity.

Hence, for these 16 Days of Activism I would like to focus my attention on how I will bring up my children (looking carefully at the values I instil in them and how I help them understand gender), how I allow society influence or dictate my understanding of who a man is and who a women is, how I sometimes unconsciously endorse or condone music videos which are degrading to women, etc.

This may just be a drop in the ocean, but an ocean needs every single drop in order to be an ocean.  This year, the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against women invites you to “Orange the world: End violence against women and girls”. What will your drop be?

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