Photo: Justine Dede/OCHA
|Members of a women’s association in the northern town of Ndele|
BANGUI, 15 May 2008 (IRIN) - Women in Ndele, a remote town in northern Central African Republic, are making a stand for their rights. The local chapter of the national women’s organisation, OFCA, has launched a campaign to alert women to their rights on issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting, early marriages and polygamy.
More than 15 percent of women in conflict-ravaged northern CAR are estimated to have experienced some form of gender-based violence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Ndele’s women used the occasion of the opening of an OCHA office in the town in late April to make their case to the Minister for Social Affairs and the Family, Solange Pagonendji N’dakala.
“We live in a traditional society which still looks down upon us. Our rights are ignored, we are victims of violence and our young girls are not spared either,” said Marguerite Zanaba, head of the local chapter of the organisation.
“Since we are so far from the centre of power [the capital, Bangui], men tend to regard traditional laws as entrenched … We respect our traditions, they are part of our culture, but the world is changing; women in other countries have changed, their societies respect them, while here it’s the opposite,” said Zanaba.
“Have you seen the excision that is practised in this region, while it has been or is about to be abolished in other countries?”
“Our young girls as young as nine to 13 years still suffer the removal of their clitoris, they become sexually handicapped,” one Muslim woman, who asked not to be identified, told visiting UN and government officials. Family law
Although legislation exists to protect women in CAR, according to Zanaba few are aware of its significance. “We have heard of a family law but we are not too sure of the contents. It needs to be better explained.”
She also called for the abolition of polygamy, saying it created tensions among children over inheritance issues.
“Most of us are Muslim women and we cannot do anything that goes against our society, which is very respectful of the Koran. We are reduced to having children and even our young daughters have no future,” she said.
Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
|Part of the advocacy work of UN agencies is aimed at stopping widespread gender-based violence|
“The government must do something to prevent our children from getting into marriage too early. They are too young for polygamous households. They get unwanted pregnancies too early, others die while giving birth; we want our children to go to school to help us while we rot in our homes,” said Zanaba.
Zanaba says their campaign is going “to sensitise people who have been victims, as well as the entire population, on women’s rights. We want to put an end to the violence and harmful practices done to women and young girls.”
Zanaba is certain the effects of this sensitisation “will demand respect from the men and we will start being consulted in making the decisions”.
The minister seemed sympathetic. “I am a woman, a mother just like you. I know what you go through here.
“There is a family law, it has just been revised, you will be sent a copy,” she added. “It addresses all the family problems and there is also a law that will provide for punishment for rapists.
“The men in Bamingui-Bangoran [the prefecture of which Ndele is the capital] should also read these documents and respect the content,” the minister said.
N’dakala also addressed the issue of education for young girls and urged fathers to let their girls go to school “because our country needs contributions from both girls and boys for its development”.
The Ndele association already has programmes training young girls to equip them with skills to pursue careers in sewing or the hotel industry. The association also sensitises young girls on HIV/AIDS.
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