As part of its second annual celebration of Women’s Month, Dutch textile brand Vlisco announced its new team of ambassadors from west and central Africa last weekend. Popular and highly respected in the area, the company has been known to include themes and symbols of gender empowerment in their prints.
Each winner was selected by public vote from amongst three or four candidates from her respective country.
Cote d’Ivoire: Adonis Koffi
A professor of pediatrics, Koffi established the first specialized renal failure unit in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ghana: Eugenia Mawuena Adjoa Tachie-Menson
With her charity, the Young Educators Foundation, Tachie-Menson runs educational programs for children, which includes having brought the Scripps Spelling Bee to Ghana.
Nigeria: Adesuwa Onyenokwe
Onyenokwe is the publisher of TW magazine and was previously a broadcaster for the Nigerian Television Authority.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Patience Barandenge
Barandenge runs a group of women entrepreneurs and dreams that every young girl should have the right to be an independent entrepreneur.
Benin: Monique Kotchofa Faihun
As a bailiff, Faihun has fought her way through the traditionally male-dominated world of the justice system.
Togo: Aimee Abra Tenu
As the director of the nonprofit Sainte Therese De L’enfant, Tenu works to provide access to education and clean drinking water. Recently, she launched a campaign to promote the recycling of plastic waste.
During the past month, nominees spent time giving inspirational talks, taking part in charity events and touring around their countries. The ambassadors will spend the next year as the face of Vlisco’s Women’s Month campaign. The previous ambassador was Nollywood actress Stephanie Okereke-Linus.
By Emily Becker
The UN’s 58th Commission on the Status of Women ended last Saturday in New York City. This year’s agreement pushed for a stand alone goal specifically related to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the set of international development benchmarks that will be introduced in 2015 after the current Millennium Development Goals expire.
The commission, held annually since 1946, is a meeting of representatives of all 45-member states to discuss gender and equality issues, progress and goals for the upcoming year. Participation is also not limited to states and usually includes representatives from interested NGOs.
This year’s agreement also called for an upholding of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights; an elimination of all harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation; a protection of a woman’s right to access abortion services; and the development of sex education programs for youth.
It was reported that representatives from African nations pushed for a sovereignty clause in the document that would allow governments to ignore recommendations that are in conflict with local customs and traditions.
A separate discussion was held during the commission on how to tackle traditional beliefs that undermine gender development, which are usually immeasurable and complex. It was suggested that the post-2015 goals contain measurable results related to women and girls sexual and reproductive rights, violence, decision-making, participation in public life, the equal distribution of unpaid care work and equality between girls and boys.
“We know that equality for women means progress for all,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women. “Through the development of a comprehensive roadmap for the future, we have the opportunity to realize this premise and promise.”
By Emily Becker
Tunisia’s new constitution, adopted and signed into law on January 26th, is one of the first in the Arab world to give the right to both men and women to run for presidential candidacy.
Additionally, articles have been passed to protect the rights won by Tunisian women in 1957’s Code of Personal Status, a series of progressive laws passed under the country’s first president after gaining independence from France. These include the right to divorce, the right to marriage by mutual consent and the banning of polygamy.
The constitution also allows for affirmative action-type measures to encourage gender equality in the workplace, which includes all elected assemblies, a provision not included in the constitution of many countries around the world.
The passing of the new constitution comes three years after the country’s revolution as part of the Arab Spring. Drafting of the text began in October 2011.
By Emily Becker
In the Central African Republic, a country currently struggling with sectarian violence and the resulting humanitarian crisis, the newly sworn-in president Catherine Samba Panza recently started she believes she was elected because the country “didn’t want any more male politicians.”
While I can’t help but grin at this imagery (that all male politicians in the CAR are so corrupt and unable to develop their country that the voting population has thrown their hands up in the air and turned instead to the trustworthy and nurturing female politician who will gently easy the country through their current conflict and crisis) that the most powerful woman in the CAR attributes her political influence to her people wanting a leader “who could calm things, reconcile people,” stereotypes that continue to define women based on their perceived rightful and natural role as mothers and caretakers puts a slight damper on the election of a female leader of a country in an area of the world where women have to fight to be seen as more than the wife of their husband and are lucky to complete an education.
Powerful women must walk a strange dichotomy in our society. On one hand, successful women are judged as being conniving and ruthless and, to put it frankly, as bitches. On the other, when women try to curb this image, they are seen as emotional and unstable and unable to run a country or company for 3-4 days every month.
Samba Panza’s reliance on the latter surprises me. As the leader of a country that needs strength right now, she should own her abilities and power instead of becoming seen as the mother of the CAR who is responsible for focusing on the emotional support of a country, while leaving the politics, economics and development for others.
Why can’t she, and other powerful, just be praised for their effectiveness as leaders? Why can’t she just be seen as the right person to be at the head of her country right now? Why can’t the focus be on past on how she will be different from past leaders, regardless of her gender?
My point is, Samba Panza, don’t comfort your nation.
By Rachel Leeds
On this last day of 2013, it is important to reflect on the year past and remember what we learned and achieved, what we gained as well as what (and who) we lost, what we discovered and what remains unsolved. Taking these things into account, we can welcome the New Year with informed enthusiasm and wizened sensibility. With that in mind, GenEq has prepared for you the following “year in review” – the headlines from 2013 that most impacted our continually evolving world of gender politics, equality, and justice. Bonne fête, meilleurs voeux, et heureuse année!
16: Pauline Phillips, voice of the famous Dear Abby column, passes away.
24: Congress lifts the ban that prevented women in the military from serving on the front lines and in elite combat units.
11: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, publishes Lean-In, the latest post-feminist treatise.
8: Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the UK, passes away.
18: Malala Yousafzai appears on the cover of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People issue and goes on to become the youngest person, and the first girl, to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
22: Angela Merkel is (yet again) declared by Forbes to be the world’s most powerful woman.
18: The House of Representatives passed a bill banning abortions after 22 weeks.
25: Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis delivered an 11-hour filibuster to run out the clock on a piece of legislation that would have closed all but five abortion clinics in Texas.
26: The Supreme Court defends gay marriage and invalidates the Defense of Marriage Act by granting federal rights and benefits to any and all legally married couples in America.
17: Nina Davuluri becomes the first woman of Native American descent to be crowned Miss America.
23: The imprisonment of two members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, and their subsequent hunger strike, raised such fervent international outcry Putin promptly had them released before the end of their sentence.
24: The World Economic Forum ranks 136 countries based on their gender-based disparities in its 2013 Gender Gap Report. Iceland has the narrowest gender gap in the world; the United States came in at 23rd. Benin fell from 117th in 2012 to 126th in 2013.
1: Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion and reproductive rights go viral.
10: Four young women launch a free online magazine by and for adventurous women, aptly naming it Misadventures. It features lady adventurers in essays and interviews, and shares their insights and visions through photography, DIY guides, recipes, and product reviews.
13: Just in time for Christmas, Beyonce released an awe-inspiring visual album, affirming the fact that she really is the greatest woman on the planet.
13: UN Women launches a database which will examine 195 constitutions through a gender lens.
15: Michelle Bachelet was re-elected in Chile with 62.3% of the votes.
22: A Florida woman turned the table on her attacker by giving him a choice to either go to jail or hold a sign at a busy Tampa intersection that reads “I beat women. Honk if I’m a scumbag” and wear a dunce cap.
In celebration of World AIDS Day, our friends over at Stomping Out Malaria are featuring a Peace Corps volunteer-organized activity in his or her community with an HIV/AIDS focus on their “Weekly Awesome” blog.
Programs featured so far include a educational radio program in Rwanda and a malaria and HIV/AIDS youth sports clinic in which orphans and children participated in information and recreational sessions in Mozambique.
And for the rest of the month here, we will be highlighting selected stories from our HIV/AIDS-themed issue coming out in print next week.
After a 10-day trip to Benin, United Nations expert Najat Maalla M’jid spoke out against a number of children’s rights violations in the country and urged the government of Benin to make the protection of children a priority.
“It is unacceptable that so many, too many, children in Benin are victims of violence, abuse or exploitation on the pretext of traditions, customs or poverty,” she said.
In particular, Maalla M’jid spoke with concern of the practice of sending children to live with other members of their family where the children normally end up serving as a source of labor, either at home or in the fields. These children are rarely sent to school and serve, instead, at the needs of their relatives. In some cases, children are sold to strangers and enter into the market of human trafficking and exploitation.
Additionally, Malla M’jid expressed concern at the sexual violence and harassment endured by girls, especially in schools.
“Schools are supposed to be an environment where children can feel safe – not places were girls are abused with total impunity,” she said.
The issue in Benin is not a lack of laws against such abuses and violations, but a lack of implementation. This is partly due to little access to justice mechanisms. Issues are usually resolved on a local level with traditional authorities, where the rights and voice of the child are rarely heard over those of the adults.