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AFRICA: Old And New States Of Women's Rights In Africa

A number of African governments have finally chosen to implement women’s rights legislation including laws against gender based violence such as domestic violence, FGM and child marriages as well as make abortions more accessible to women. Sierra Leone has outlawed domestic violence and guaranteed women the right to inheritance and customary marriage which means they can inherit their husbands property as well as own their own. However the government chose not to outlaw FGM and Tunisia could not go further than a declaration to monitor violence against women. Egypt on the other hand has finally implemented a 10 year old law banning FGM after a young girl died during an operation by a medical doctor for the procedure. For once religious leaders have also come out in support of the ban.

Madagascar has banned child marriages by raising the legal age of marriage to 18 for girls and boys. But there are is no law against the trafficking of children for sex and commerce.

 In Kenya the abortion debate went public when a mock tribunal was supposed to be held with 4 women telling their personal stories. Although anti-abortion activists managed to stop the debate the Vice President has come out along with nine other African leaders to call for legislation legalising abortions. Why is a country able to ban domestic violence and guarantee the rights of women in marriage yet they cannot ban FGM or legalise abortion - two forms of violence that kill 30,000 mainly very poor women every year. Double or treble that number are possibily left with severe physical injuries as a result. On a positive note, Mozambique is on the verge of legalising abortions.

 As the Egyptian law shows, passing laws and actually implementing them are two very different stages. Egypt took 11 years and god knows how many deaths to finally insist on a complete ban and actually prosecute a medical doctor for carrying out FGM on a young girl. In the case of legalising abortion such as in Mozambique, there is a huge gap between the provision of the law and the reality that the majority of women do not have access to basic health care for themselves and their children. What is clear from the above is there are so many contradictions within and between countries and there is still a long way to go. But the hard work of human rights activists across the continent IS beginning to pay off.

The UK Guardian reports that the Met Police (London) are offering a £20,000 ($40,000) reward to anyone giving information that leads to a prosecution for carrying out FGM which falls under the “Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act in 1985 and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003″.

Comfort Momoh, a midwife at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals specialising in surgical reversals of FGM, told the briefing that each year she saw 400 to 500 women who had been mutilated and had come to her clinics to seek help: “I do two to three reversals every week.”

 The British police and health authorities have known for years about back street female circumcision being carried out so this is nothing new. Why are local health authorities not reporting the cases to the police - 500 a year is a huge amount and that’s just one hospital in London!

SOURCE: African Path

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DATE: 12/07/2007

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