Monday, August 31, 2009

Opinion Piece

Some Fellows may remember the interesting and vehement debate with Dr. Juliette Tuakli on the sexual rights of young African girls and women. A while ago, someone introduced me to the blog: Adventures From the Bedrooms of African Women. It's title is self-explanatory. According to the blog's author, Nana Darkoa (who has agreed to grant us an interview for this blog or for the webzine, so please look out for it), the aim of the blog is to break the silence surrounding African women and sex. It is not a political agenda, nor does it preach the virtues of abstinence or the socio-political repression of women's sexual rights.

Instead, it is a space where people can be candid about sex and sexuality (while hiding safely behind pseudonyms if they so wish). The topics range from douching and its avderse effects on women's health, to brazilian waxes, oral sex, African men's kissing abilities and phallic African art. For some this webpage is too hardcore or vulgar. For others it is a much needed ice breaker to get people talking. Men and women meet on this space to challenge one another, agree to disagree, share their fantasies and their concerns.

You can read an interview with the two authors here. Of course MIvoice's interview will be way better.

Upcoming posts on Adventures include an interview with a cross-section of Ghana's prostitutes, and you can also find a review of and comments on The Perfect Picture. Indeed, Adventures an adventurous project, but the blogs authors and many of its subscribers and followers boldly use their names and pictures, preferring to be candid rather than clandestine. (Fellows may recognize one of the co-authors. She was at our graduation ceremony). This is definitely one blog worth reading, whether it is to air your own views or just to see a sample of what a cross-section of Africans think and experience with regards to sex and sexual rights. This blog is indeed many things for many people: cathartic, therapeutic or just a fantastic anthropological case study. Either way, do mosey around, try not to be too startled, and let's have our own exciting debate on sex and sexuality in Africa, right here on MIvoice.

Please comment below adding a question or two that you would like us to include in our interview with Nana Darkoa.

Submitted by: Annette Quarcoopome

Guinea ALERT

Journalist arrested, detained incommunicado Print E-mail

August 13, 2009

Amara Camara, editor of Le Confidentiel, a privately-owned Conakry-based weekly newspaper, was on August 9, 2009 reportedly picked up in the morning by military personnel on the orders of Commander Moussa Tiegbro, a member of the ruling National Council for Democracy and Development( CNDD) . He is being held at Alpha Yaya camp, the seat of the military junta.

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)’s correspondent reported that although there is no official explanation for Camara’s arrest, he is believed to have been picked up for comments he made on the privately-owned Nostagie FM challenging Commander Tiegbro over a group of suspects allegedly manufacturing dangerous chemicals. Camara said on the radio that contrary to the commander’s claim, the chemicals were not dangerous.

The correspondent said Commander Tiegbro, who was listening to the programme, ordered Camara’s arrest.

The MFWA is concerned about the repeated arrests of journalists and their detention at the Alpha Yaya Camp. We condemn this latest arrest and call for the release of the journalist without further delay.

Submitted by Annette Quarcoopome

Taken from: Media Foundation for West Africa.

Sunday, August 30, 2009



Rwanda: When Humor Fosters Sex Education

Amy Dempsey Column
21 August 2009

Kigali — In a large open field, hundreds of parents, elders, children and teenagers, sit or stand behind wooden benches set in a rectangular shape. All eyes are on a stage in the centre.

It's just past noon, and the midday sun is glaring as a bus winds up the rocky path and squeals to a halt. They've waited more than two hours for Urunana to arrive, and now the people of Nyabitare, a village in the Kirehe district of Rwanda's eastern province, will enjoy an afternoon of live performances, games, and an open discussion about health concerns.

Urunana is a Kinyarwanda radio soap opera set in the fictional village of Nyarurembo. Through the show, its producers aim to spread messages that encourage positive behavioural change in the area of sexual and reproductive health, specifically targeting youth and rural women of reproductive age.

The 15-minute episodes teach lessons about safe sex, attempt to counter stigmas about people living with HIV and AIDS, and address misconceptions around family planning and contraception.

The soap program started as an initiative of the UK-based organization Health Unlimited in 1999. But over time Urunana evolved into it's own national non-governmental organization, Urunana Development Communication.

Sylvia Muteteli has been working for Urunana Development since it launched.

"Urunana in English means hand in hand," she explains. "And to us it means we produce our program hand in hand with our audience."

Muteteli says a decade ago there was a major gap in Rwanda when it came to sexual health education. Urunana's mission has been to fill that gap and break taboos that cause people to make poor health decisions.

The visits to communities like Nyabitare are part of the organization's rural outreach plan, and are meant to further the health education that people get from listening to the radio program.

Urunana educates by inserting lessons into funny, engaging stories with memorable characters. In order write stories that truly reflect rural life, Urunana producers visit communities to pre-test their stories and host discussion groups with people about health issues and daily life concerns.

Samuel Kyagambidwa was Urunana's head writer for eight years and is now the show's production manager. He says it's the combination of real-life lessons and comedy that keeps people tuning in week after week, and year after year.

"The humour is about getting the audience hooked," Kyagambidwa explains. "But when it's combining both the education and the humour somebody will receive the serious message but at the same time wait for the humour."

Urunana's cast is currently made up of 35 active characters, including several teenagers, a few children and a pet dog called Makasi. Many of the characters have been with the show since the very beginning and have become household names.

As the live performance begins in Nyabitare, Muteteli reacts enthusiastically along with the audience. Between hearty bursts of laughter, she narrates quietly in English.

"She doesn't remember her age," Muteteli explains, as the woman onstage argues heatedly with a doctor. "She's trying to tell her maybe in such and such a drought I was a young girl," Muteteli says, laughing at the actors' dramatic gestures.

But Muteteli becomes serious when she explains the lesson in this skit. "The medical practitioner told her you should always defer to the health centre, whenever you fall sick. You should not wait, and this is why the situation has got worse."

Muteteli says many Rwandans in rural communities have a hard time trusting doctors, and misconceptions about health issues are often the hardest thing Urunana has to counter.

"Maybe they hear a rumour and it saturates, it becomes a grapevine, and usually we encourage them, instead of referring to your neighbour you should refer back to the medical practitioner who can get the solution for you."

It's especially important, Muteteli says, to spread these messages to young people.

"The other biggest part is to talk about youth - children - and hear their concerns on sexual health and respond to them," she says.

"Because in Rwanda there are very, very many orphans. Even those with parents don't share or they don't often give them positive message. But there are those that don't even have someone to turn to."

At question period, half a dozen young males huddle around a wooden table to write private questions on slips of paper. A health worker reads their anonymous questions to the audience and answers them on the spot.

The questions address everything from menstruation to wet dreams, and contraception to conception. Audience members are also invited to the stage to share stories about lessons they have learned from Urunana.

A young mother takes the microphone and explains that she gave birth to three children in three years during her early 20s. After learning about family planning from an Urunana episode, she and her husband decided to start using a birth control injection.

Next, a teenaged boy walks confidently to the stage and tells the audience that he used to think the size of his penis depended on how many people he had sex with, until Urunana taught him otherwise.

Sandra Mukantwari, 17, retells the story of an Urunana character called Mugeni, who was tricked into having sex with Muhire, a man who offered her gifts and attention.
Mugeni contracted HIV and had to quit school. Mukantwari, who is third in her class and wants to be a teacher, says she is determined not to end up like Mugeni. "I received the lesson from Muhire and Mugeni and I made the decision to be in good health," she says.

The sun is beginning to set when the last skit comes to an end, but the crowd has swelled and the spectators still laugh and cheer.

When it's over, people gather to watch the actors board the bus. Some, having recognized the voices of their favourite characters, call out their names and wave goodbye.

As the bus rolls back down the dusty road, the people on it begin to sing. Though it's been a long day, they laugh and chat animatedly the whole way home to Kigali.

For Nyabitare it's over. But for Urunana there will be many more communities to reach.


Group to push for human rights in Gambia

A civil society group, The Coalition for Human Rights in The Gambia, has been launched in the Senegalese capital of Dakar to advocate for the enforcement of human rights in The Gambia. The group was formed by Gambians living in Dakar and Senegalese and other international human rights, media and civil society groups.
Members of the coalition met with members of European missions overseeing The Gambia. The meeting was attended by representatives from the Dutch, Austrian, German, French, Spanish and Swedish Embassies. During the meeting, the coalition’s delegates showcased series of human rights violations that has been taking place in The Gambia.

The cases include the recent the incarceration of the six journalists, journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh’s continuous disappearance, arrest of villagers accused of being witches and the issue of Nigerian Mercenary Judges in the country. Documents containing various human rights abuses in The Gambia were handed out to the diplomats.

On their part, the diplomatic representatives reassured the delegation that they have been closely following events in The Gambia and promised that they would do whatever they can to put Gambia’s human rights agenda on discussion tables.

As current president of the European Union, the Swedish representative at the meeting assured the coalition that she would put forward human rights issues in The Gambia before the EU.

This meeting with the diplomatic community is part of the series of strong activities to be conducted by the coalition to mount pressure on the regime in Banjul to respect and promote the rights of Gambians, to release the jailed journalists and to respect freedom of expression and press freedom.

The group is made up of Amnesty International Senegal branch, The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) Press Union, African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO), Inter Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender and Development (FAMEDEV), Network of Press and Parliament in Senegal (Reppas) and Radio Alternative Voice for Gambians (AVG).


Gabonese vote to elect new leader

Voters in Gabon have gone to the polls to elect a successor to President Omar Bongo, who died in June after leading his country for 41 years.

Favourite to succeed him is his son, Ali Ben Bongo, 50, candidate of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG).

He has promised to boost what he says is the prosperity that Gabon enjoyed during his father's years in power.

Mr Bongo's rivals include former government ministers Andre Mba Obame and Casimir Oye Mba.

They have denounced what they say is endemic corruption and favouritism in Gabon.

On Friday at least five out of 23 opposition candidates announced they were pulling out of the race and pledged their support for Mr Obame.

Wealthy leader

Omar Bongo was one of the world's richest men, with a string of properties in France.

He was an unflinching ally of France and a key element in French influence in Central Africa.

Andre Mba Obame promises a fairer distribution of natural resources
BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says that Ali Ben Bongo is seen as less closely linked to the French elite than his father, despite being educated at the Sorbonne.

He is also somewhat detached from ordinary Gabonese, struggling to speak local languages with real fluency, our correspondent says.

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest oil producer and Africa's second biggest wood exporter, although most of its 1.4 million people live in poverty.

Voting, which began at 0700 (0600 GMT), will be monitored by observers from organisations including the African Union. Polls will close at 1800 (1700 GMT).


Friday, August 28, 2009

ZAMBIA: NGOs in uproar after president signs new law

LUSAKA , 28 August 2009 (IRIN) -

Zambian president Rupiah Banda has signed legislation regulating the operations of civil society, sending shock waves through the sector, which fears its independence will be severely compromised.

Presidential assent means the 2009 NGO Bill, withdrawn in 2007 after widespread protests by civil society and opposition parties, now only needs gazetting to become legislation that will require "the registration and co-ordination of NGOs" and can "regulate the work, and the area of work, of NGOs operating in Zambia".

Dickson Jere, a special assistant to the president for press and public relations, confirmed in a statement: "His Excellency the President Mr Rupiah Banda has assented to 13 Bills, which were recently passed by the National Assembly, including ... the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill."

The new stipulations will compel NGOs to re-register every five years and submit annual information on their activities, funders, accounts, and the personal wealth of their officials; failure to comply could result in the suspension or cancellation of registration.

On 28 August civil society organizations held an emergency meeting in the capital, Lusaka, to plan a response to the looming regulations, which the NGOs have termed "unconstitutional".

"We have already resolved to carry out a peaceful demonstration next week on Friday [4 September 2009] in Lusaka, and there are arrangements going on so that people in the provinces also carry out the protests. I think the court action [a proposed injunction] is a definite intervention as well, but we are still talking," an NGO worker, who declined to be identified, told IRIN.


Engwase Mwale, executive director of the NGO Co-ordinating Committee [NGOCC], an umbrella body for civic organizations promoting gender issues, told IRIN after the emergency meeting: "We wish to register our dismay and shock at President Rupiah Banda's assent to the NGO Bill.

"We still find it upsetting and retrogressive that in a democratic society such as Zambia, the president could see it fit to assent to a proposed law that has brought constitutional encroachments on our well-entrenched constitutional rights of freedom of association and expression ."
"Although we appreciate the constitutional obligation that he has to assent to any proposed bill that he wishes, we still find it upsetting and retrogressive that in a democratic society such as Zambia, the president could see it fit to assent to a proposed law that has brought constitutional encroachments on our well-entrenched constitutional rights of freedom of association and expression," she said.

Mwale said the law was conceived without consultation with civil society, and government's "micro-management" of the sector would impact negatively on Zambia's social development.

"As NGOs, we recognize the legality of our existence and therefore we are resolved not to allow any unconstitutional means, let alone illegal legislation, to regulate the existence of NGOs ... and have requested an audience with the president so that we can put before him some of the development challenges as well as constitutional deviations of the NGO law that he has just assented to," Mwale said.

"As president, he's still got an opportunity to reconsider his decision ... before it finds its way into the gazette," she said. A bill can take from a few days to a few weeks to come into effect after the president has signed it.


ZIMBABWE:Women’s Rights Activists Lobby to 'Engender' Constitution

HARARE, Aug 27 (IPS) - Zimbabwe’s latest constitutional reform process has generated strong interest among activists in strengthening protection for women's rights. The early signs are that the drafting of a new constitution will not prioritise correcting legal, social and economic discrimination against women.

A key demand is better socio-economic rights for women, including the right to shelter, housing, health, food security and employment.

At a constitutional meeting in Goromonzi, a rural community 30 kilometres southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, in July, for example, delegates of the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) demanded the inclusion of the right to potable water in the constitution.

In rural Zimbabwe, women, who are traditionally responsible for fetching clean water, have to walk several kilometres each day to the nearest water source and carry the water in buckets on their heads back to their homesteads.

"Some women here travel for over seven kilometres in search of water. But that is child’s play compared to the long distances they travel in search of firewood," confirmed Goromonzi councillor Enoch Banyure.

But women’s rights activists are worried that the constitutional reform will not address their concerns, because only nine of the 25 members of the Select Committee, tasked in mid-July with drafting the constitution, are women. All three co-chairs are male, and only when gender activists pushed for gender equity, did the committee appoint three female deputy chairs.

Select Committee member Jessie Majome, who is also deputy Minister of Justice, is optimistic, saying she has faith that women's concerns will be taken on board. "This is a platform women must not miss. While it might not be a panacea to women’s problems, it will assist," she said.

But others remain sceptical of the political commitment to engender the constitution. Women and Law Southern Africa (WLSA) national coordinator Slyvia Chirawu says the absence of a gender commission to help push for women's rights is a clear drawback and slap in women’s face.

She explains that one of the key stumbling blocks to women’s rights is Zimbabwe’s customary law that continues to take precedence over common law, despite the bill of rights enshrined in the current constitution.

"Section 23 customary law remains a thorn in the side for women’s rights as it takes precedence in death, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and maintenance," explained Chirawu.

The recent Magaya vs Magaya court case, for instance, is a poignant example of how customary law discriminates againt women, according to WLSA. After the death of her husband, Venia Magaya was disinherited and lost her home to a male heir, her half-brother. She is now destitute.

"The Supreme Court ruled it was not discrimination for a male heir instead of female to inherit property," lamented Chirawu.

Although the Magaya case applies to estates of persons who died before Nov. 1, 1997, because the law was amended to make surviving wives and husbands the major beneficiaries to a deceased estate, prior cases still stand prejudiced.

WLSA also believes that the Communal Lands Act discriminates against women in making the residency of women dependent on the customs and practices of the area. "Our research showed that women have been chased from communal land upon divorce or death of a husband," noted Chirawu.

Another hurdle to gender equality is the absence of the right to education in the constitution. "The results of this have been that the boy child gets preference to attend school over the girl," said WiPSU director Cleopatra Ndlovu, because many poor parents don’t have the money to pay school fees for all of their children. This means that girls are disadvantaged from very early on in their lives.

Women also complain that they don’t have equal right to guardianship of their children, because they may only exercise their custodial rights through their husbands. If married under general law, women cannot obtain documents like birth certificates or passports for their children without their husbands' written consent, for example.

"Trying to access travel documents or identity cards without the man's written consent is a nightmare. Several women have gone to the Supreme Court challenging this and have won but still, the registrar-general demands written consent from the men," said Chirawu.

Women’s rights activists feel particularly bitter about the lack of concern for gender quality in the constitution because Zimbabwe is signatory to a number of international human rights instruments that are aimed at guaranteeing women’s rights. For example, Zimbabwe has signed and ratified like the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

But such treaties are do not automatically become Zimbabwean law and have to be enacted through an Act of Parliament, complains Emilia Muchawa, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA). "Section 111B (of the common law) prevents the automatic application of international human rights treaties like CEDAW," she explained.

"While the courts can, through judicial activism, apply international human rights instruments in their judgments, non-domestication means there is generally no benefit for women to be derived from these," Chirawu noted.

Nyarai Kachere


Sudan's Darfur no longer at war: peacekeeping chief

Sudan's Darfur region is no longer in a state of war and only has one rebel group capable of mounting limited military campaigns, the head of the area's peacekeeping force said as he ended his tour of duty.

Martin Luther Agwai meets with the field commander of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity factionThe commander of the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID force, Martin Luther Agwai, told reporters the conflict had now descended into banditry and "very low intensity" engagements, that could still carry on to blight the remote western region for years without a peace deal.

"As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur," he said in a briefing in Khartoum late on Wednesday.

"Militarily there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localised issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that."

The six-year Darfur conflict has pitted pro-government militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, demanding better representation and accusing Khartoum of neglecting the development of the region.

Estimates of the death count in Darfur range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to the United Nations. Aid workers say more than 2.7 million people have been driven from their homes by the fighting.

Agwai became the latest senior figure to appear to play down the current level of violence in Darfur where the conflict has caught the world's attention and mobilised activists who have accused Khartoum of genocide.

Mostly Western campaigners and some diplomats were angered by comments from UNAMID's political leader Rodolphe Adada in April that Darfur had subsided into a "low-intensity conflict," and from U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration in June that he had seen the "remnants of genocide" in the region, stopping short, they said, of describing a current genocide.

Agwai said the fierce fighting of the early years of the conflict had subsided as rebel groups split into rival factions.

"Because of the fragmentation of the rebel groups, I do not see any major thing that can take place.

"Apart from JEM, I do not see any other group that can launch an attack on the ground," he said referring to the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel force that launched an unprecedented attack on Khartoum last year.

Agwai said JEM still had the capability to launch sporadic attacks, but did not have the manpower to hold territory.

"JEM has the capacity of sneaking in small groups, of attacking and after a while withdrawing.

"But fighting to secure ground and dominate it and move on and say 'this is our territory' ... that is finished." Agwai said there was still a chance full blown fighting could break out again. "I would never say never."

JEM has clashed a number of times with the Sudanese army in recent months, in the strategic south Darfur town of Muhajiriya in January and in Umm Baru and other settlements close to north Darfur's border with Chad in May.

In both cases JEM said it decided to withdraw voluntarily to protect locals from government air attacks.

Agwai, who is due to leave Sudan on Thursday after two years' at the head of the peacekeeping force, has been outspoken about delays in manning and equipping UNAMID.

At the end of June, just over 60 percent of UNAMID's planned full strength of 26,000 troops and police had been deployed in Darfur, an area roughly the size of France. The U.N. hopes 90 percent will be on the ground by the end of the year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mali women's rights bill blocked

The president of Mali has announced that he is not going to sign the country's new family law, instead returning it to parliament for review.

By Martin Vogl 
BBC News, Bamako 

Muslim groups have been protesting against the law, which gives greater rights to women, ever since parliament adopted it at the start of the month. President Amadou Toumani Toure said he was sending the law back for the sake of national unity. Muslim leaders have called the law the work of the devil and against Islam. More than 90% of Mali's population is Muslim. Some of the provisions that have proved controversial give more rights to women.For example, under the new law women are no longer required to obey their husbands, instead husbands and wives owe each other loyalty and protection.

“ I have taken this decision... to ensure calm and a peaceful society, and to obtain the support and understanding of our fellow citizens ” 
President Amadou Toumani Toure 

Women get greater inheritance rights, and the minimum age for girls to marry in most circumstances is raised to 18. One of the other key points Muslims have objected to is the fact that marriage is defined as a secular institution. Tens of thousands have turned out at protests in Bamako in recent weeks and there have been other demonstrations against the law across the country. It is a political defeat for President Toure, who was a strong backer of the new law. It has only been the continuing angry protests by Muslim groups that have forced him to send the law back to parliament. In his statement on national television the president was forced to admit that the population is yet to be convinced by the new code.

"After extensive consultations with the various state institutions, with civil society, with the religious community and the legal profession, I have taken this decision to send the family code for a second reading to ensure calm and a peaceful society, and to obtain the support and understanding of our fellow citizens."

It was clear from his speech that the president also thinks there has been a lot of false information circulating about the code and the government will no doubt also try to address this in the coming weeks.

The head of Mali's High Islamic Council says he was pleased with the president's decision.

Women's groups are heartbroken - they have been trying for more than 10 years to get the law changed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Les Américains auraient-ils décidé de tourner la page Museveni?

Les Américains auraient-ils décidé de tourner la page Museveni?

Avec le retour d'Olala Otunnu après 23 ans d'exil aux Etats Unis d'Amérique, le président ougandais Yoweri Museveni aura un adversaire de taille lors des prochaines élections présidentielles en Ouganda en 2011. Acceuilli par les chefs traditionnels à son arrivée à l'aéroport international d'Entebbé samedi 22 août, le leader du Congrès du people ougandais (UPC) a annoncé la couleur. Il a dénoncé l'invasion de la RDC par l'Ouganda, la politique intérieure et la corruption de la clique au pouvoir à Kampala. Un discours qui va dans le sens de la nouvelle politique africaine de Barack Obama.

Have the Americans decided to put an end to the Museveni era?

With the return of Olala Otunnu after 23 years of exile in the United States of America, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni will have a serious adversary for the next presidential elections in Uganda in 2011. Welcomed by the traditional chiefs at his arrival to Entebbe International airport, Saturday August 22, the leader of the Congress of the Ugandan People (UPC) was clear on his intentions. He denounced the invasion of the DRC by Uganda, the interior policy and the corruption of the current leadership in Kampala. This speech goes in the direction of the new African policy of Barack Obama.

Submitted by Honorine Umutoni GASASIRA

The Black Insider by Dambudzo Marechera: A review

To call The Black Insider a novel may be somewhat misleading. It is a loosely autobiographical account of the author’s stay in the “Faculty of Arts,” in time of “war.” Barricaded inside his room in the building he shares with an eclectic group of tenants, Marechera comments on the war without, mirroring excellently the one that rages within. The Black Insider captures the profoundness and insanity that characterise much of this author’s work. Despite his erratic style that has the potential to lose the reader in a morass of philosophical musings, we start to see the relationships between colour and space. We see the complexity of understanding and accepting one’s identity as black or white, and the impatience of the rest of the world with the individual who struggles with this process. And so Marechera creates an inside, and an outside, and blacks and whites and we end up with a black insider on our hands, in our lives, in us even, perhaps. And then in typical fashion, that which makes Marechera arguably the problem child of African literature, there is the element of damning everything to hell.

In the end, we are confronted with the explosive violence that characterise the author’s subject matter, the kind of violence that people generally want to sweep under the rug. The cast of characters is superb and profound, alluding to a well-compiled list of authors, philosophers and scientists. There is something in the Black Insider for all.

Submitted by Annette Quarcoopome
First appeared in Pambazuka Online Newsletter for Social Justice published by Fahamu.

Unfinished Business

We are the results of letters unfinished
When someone immortalized an idea, etchings on paper
Hands cuffed in mid-word
We were born to only half the story
Blaming someone else for telling our history
And we go to fight once in a while
But we stop and think maybe we should sing instead of our stinking present and the blinging future we would like to have

For the worst words we could have heard were the truncated hand-me-downs of leaders cut down in their prime
Once proud baobabs over whom the woodcutter stands, axe in hand, black mask on black face blackface and past and present and no future and emergence of us

The generation whose senses have been lulled by shiny things and skinny people

We are the results of books unread
Because anything that does not bring immediate gratification is not worth our quick-time texting apple-software instant-messaging quicker-than-fast-food moments
We are the children who were not taught to pause
Never stopping
And now we will not fight because we have not used that pause to think things over
Our tongues run over words quicker than you thought we could say them
We will leave you the hearer of words unsaid
We are after all the results of wisdom unheard
Comforters of tears unshed
Fighters in a war
That will not fight itself
Murderers of the silence that only wanted to scream

Bloody knife in hand
Heart racing faster than I have been running all my life
You are dead
And I am your child, the survivor
Of patience unfulfilled
Demons not exorcised


I am the result of that letter you did not finish
Annette Quarcoopome©

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NIGERIA: Divorce a Tool To Relegate Women

Toye Olori interviews MUFULIAT FIJABI, senior programme officer, BAOBAB

LAGOS, - The high rate of divorce in Kano state, northern Nigeria has become a worrisome phenomenon. Six months ago, an organisation of widows and divorcees tried to stage a massive march through the city of Kano to draw attention to their situation.

Voices of Women, Divorcees and Orphans of Nigeria cancelled the march, under heavy pressure from religious authorities and others in the state. But the difficult conditions faced by divorced women and their children remains an urgent issue in Kano and elsewhere in the north.

Mufuliat Fijabi, a senior programme officer with BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights, an NGO based in Lagos, told IPS that "divorce is just a tool to relegate women to the background". Baobab has outreach teams working throughout northern Nigeria to educate women about their rights and how to defend them.

Excerpts of Fijabi's interview follow.

IPS: Kano State is said to have the highest divorce rate in Nigeria: do you have an exact figure?

Mufuliat Fijabi: It is high but we do not have any figures presently.

IPS: What is the status of women who get divorced in Kano? Who takes care of their welfare and those of their children?

MF: You know the status of a woman who has to go back to her parent’s one-room apartment. Even while living with their husbands, the standard of living is poor for some of them, so when they move into their parent's house, the situation becomes critical.

IPS: What are the typical reasons for divorce in Kano State?

MF: When you talk about divorce, under Muslim law, Kano is known to be one of the states where this is on the increase. It is widespread in the state.

The reasons for divorce are usually not among the reasons permitted... Under Muslim law, we have specified grounds for divorce.

But most of the time what you find is that (divorce) is being used as something to relegate women to the background and at times as a form of punishment against a woman, which is an issue that concerns Baobab as a woman's right group.

Baobab has an outreach team in Kano and we have been working closely on the issue of divorce with the team and with other women in the state. We know very well that divorce is used sometimes as a punishment for women.

(Sanctioned) reasons for divorce for example could be as a result of the absence of a husband for a long period of time which is translated as abandonment. It could also be as a result of barrenness, it could also be because of lack of maintenance.

It could also be on the grounds that the two parties concerned are no longer interested in the relationship and both agreed to divorce to go their separate ways.

Divorce according to Muslim laws may take place on the grounds that the husband batters the wife which is something that could lead to death if not curtailed on time.

But divorce in Kano, is usually not because of any of these reasons. More commonly heard is, I want to marry another wife and I already have four, so let me drop one and bring in another one.

Flimsy reasons: some husbands say women do not cook well. Some say they want boys and the woman is not giving them boys. But women do not manufacture children; they are gifts from God.

Sometimes it's that the woman wants to seek for more education and the husband feels that if she goes to school now, she may become something else, and so he divorces her.

Divorce is something that is used as a tool to relegate women to the background, to make women feel less human.

IPS: Can a woman also seek a divorce under Islamic law?

MF: Under Muslim law, a woman can also seek for divorce. The woman can ask for 'redemption' from her marriage, get her freedom if she feels that the marriage is no longer working for various reasons. It could be on the ground of battery, domestic violence. It could also be on the ground of the sexual state of the husband.

But what we find in Nigeria is that any time a woman attempts to seek for divorce using this method - especially in Kano because the judges that are there are also patriarchal in their thinking - they make the process difficult for a woman to achieve.

IPS: Divorce by means of proclaiming, I divorce you three times. Is this not the normal standard in Islam?

MF: To divorce a woman through pronouncing it three times at a go is not found anywhere in Muslim law or contained in the Islamic jurisprudence. It is just that over the years, it has become the tradition. It is out of place.

The Islamic provision is that if you are divorcing a woman, it has to be spread over a three-months period. And the pronouncement must be made during her menstrual period so that she is sure she is not pregnant during the process of the divorce and also to ensure that as they stay together during the process, there might be some kind of reconciliation.

But if a husband pronounces it three times at a go, there will not be any room for reconciliation.

I must also mention that under Islamic understanding, it is stated clearly that divorce is one of the things Allah hates most and does not encourage his adherents to go through that process, but that if it is needed to go through it. They should in order to maintain their sanity.

That is why the pronouncement has to take place over a period of three months. Some couples who adhere to the standard sometimes reconcile after the first or second month.

What is happening especially in Kano is just out of place. It is giving a lot of women who face this challenge a lot of psychological pains and emotional torture.

There is a campaign from women’s rights groups now to really talk about this issue, to raise awareness, even trying to get the men to understand that divorce is something that should be stopped.

IPS: Can better education change the status of women such that they can also ask for their rights in a divorce, for example asking the husband to pay alimony because of the things they have worked to acquire together?

MF: I think that when women get information and they are educated, it will enhance their economic status, such that if the men decide to divorce them three times at a go, they can assert their rights and they can establish themselves.

But in terms of educating the men to make them become more responsible, this needs sensitisation and awareness campaign on the part of social workers, NGOs and Islamic scholars.

Divorce is not favourable to women. I find it absurd and I think the government should do something about it. Education can help women to assert their rights, but the law has to make provision for it first before they can seek for such rights.

At the moment there is no provision for compensation for a woman that is divorced. There is nothing in the provision of the Islamic law that a divorced woman should be paid certain amount for being in a relationship for a number of years.

But in wider Islamic jurisprudence, some scholars have identified the need for a due for women who left a relationship as a result of divorce. These include good accommodation and some amount paid to them for their labour in the relationship over the years.

In Nigeria at the moment, there is no such provision. With advocacy, we hope we will get to a point whereby there will be a law in place for their protection.

IPS: Is Baobab doing anything to help divorced women?

MF: Baobab has an outreach team in Kano. We also have outreach teams in other states. We have 14 outreach teams most of them in the north. What we do is raise awareness of women and their rights.

They are now aware that nobody can tell them not to go to school. They know that it is important to be economically empowered. These are some of the things that we talk about in the awareness campaigns.