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African Women’s Voices: 70 Years of Universal Declaration of Human Rights – How We Fared 

UAF-Africa continues to support the advancement of women’s human rights and groups at the edges of society. Our work with Women’s Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) affords us a glimpse into the daily struggle for rights and justice of women and gender non-conforming groups in Africa. As the world marks the 70th year of the declaration of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we reflect on the many stories shared by African women on issues they face in their daily lives and work, which suggests that more still needs to be done to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds true for everyone regardless of who they are or what they believe.

There’s no doubt that violence against women and gender non-conforming groups in Africa is endemic, and it affects women and groups of every class, age, sexuality, race, ability/disability, religion or background. The main driver of violence against women in Africa is gender inequality and entrenched patriarchal power dynamics that shapes African societies and operates on many levels from social and cultural norms to economic and structural injustices. However, certain groups of people are far more vulnerable than others- for instance, women’s human rights defenders who challenge the status quo through activism, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.

UAF-Africa observes how denial of rights and violence against women and those on the edges of society continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as the fulfilment of human rights in Africa. On this International Human Rights Day, we are reflecting on the real stories of African women and calling for actions to address the right violations that women and activists continue to experience in spite of decades of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We call for:
The adoption of feminist principles and approaches to realisation of human rights for all by deliberately supporting and strengthening feminist movements at both national and transnational levels;

Enactment of laws that commit African governments to changing discriminatory practices and laws as well as denounce and abolish social attitudes and cultural beliefs that undermine human rights of all and

Intensifying of international and regional commitments and mechanisms that advance the rights of women, gender non-coming groups, WHRDs and feminist activists across Africa.

Militarised Conflict Zones in Anglophone Regions of Cameroon
Mariama, Cameroon, West Africa

I have no doubt that you believe that women are victims of gruelling forms of violence in Africa, wait until you hear what is going on in my community. My name is Mariama, I live in the Anglophone region of Cameroon, West Africa. A few months ago, the government deployed military troops to the Anglophone regions of Cameroon which led to sporadic clashes with secessionists, leading to rampage destruction of property, massive arrest of civilians, looting, raping of young women and girls, burning down houses and killing of civilians by the Government troops.

Just two weeks ago, the government troops burnt down the entire village of Kwa-Kwa near Kumba in Meme division, South West region, forcing the population to flee to bushes and flock to Nigeria where they now live in refugee camps. During this episode, an old lady was burnt alive in her house and five girls abducted by government troops. Aged between 14 and 17, two of these girls are three and seven months pregnant, one was physically abused resulting in a swollen left breast.

They’re currently holding these girls in detention in their base just outside the town to be tried at the Military Tribunal. These girls are being repeatedly raped and all attempts by some of their family members to get them released have failed.  The worst part of it is the fact that there is no access to medical care for these young girls especially the two pregnant teenage girls and the one with the swollen breast. Well, just so you know, they are being held in prisons which were constructed to accommodate 300 inmates, with the advent of the crisis, more than 2000 inmates are being dumped into these cells with little or no food and continuous violation of their rights. The conditions of these women can only be imagined, they need urgent intervention to get out of such deplorable condition. They should be released and taken to hospital for medical, physical and psychological care and a suit filed against the perpetrators!

Arrest and Shutting Down of CSOs Working on Human Rights
Alda, Tanzania, East Africa

I am Alda, queer and proud! I live far away from Dar-es-Salaam, but I have friends and relatives there who I care so much about. It is no news that when it comes to health care for queer people in most parts of Africa all they do is scramble for acceptability and accessibility. My friend told me a very sad incident that led to the arrest of many queer people in Dar-es-Salam.

One morning, she said, “me and other members of our community gathered in a place we thought was a safe space to discuss how we can access quality, affordable and accessible sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS services. It was an informal meeting, which took off but never ended. We were raided by police officers from Dar-es-Salaam special zone!

About 13 or so people were arrested including the man who allowed us to use his space, she continued. Three days after the raid, our duly registered organisation was suspended by the government through public notice signed by the Tanzanian registrar. Imagine the headline, “NGOs accused for promoting homosexuality suspended!”. A few days later, we received an official letter that our organisation and many others who are working to promote human rights are permanently suspended from operating in the country and the application for the release of our community members who were arrested on the day we were raided was refused”.

This incident is nothing but gross violation of human rights. The Constitution of Tanzania and other laws in Tanzania provide for freedom of expression, freedom of speech and rights to freely and openly discuss about sexual reproductive health and rights for all citizens without any form of discrimination. If no action is taken to address this situation, organisations working to advance women’s rights and rights of marginalised groups will be afraid to continue to organise activities to support their welfare and the rights of women and marginalised groups in Tanzania will continue to be jeopardised, which will be a big shame!

Grave Consequences of Denial of Access to Safe Abortion
Faven, Eritrea, Horn of Africa

“When I talk about the fact that young women need to have access to safe abortion, I am perceived as a bad omen that young people should never associate with. On one occasion, I was literally shut down by an elderly woman at a community consultation where we were discussing gender-based violence and the issue of safe abortion for young women came up.

As a women’s rights advocate who works with young people, I constantly witness the negative impact of denying young women access to safe abortion. The same family members who shut you down when you demand for access to safe abortion for young African women are the ones who cry the most when a young woman dies from complications of unsafe abortion and they never introspect that their beliefs are linked to these deaths.

Recently, in the cause of my work, a seventeen-year-old girl named Latifa was found dead in her home in rural Eritrea. Drawing from a misconception that anti-malarial dose is an effective abortion pill, she had overdosed on anti-malarial medications in an attempt to abort her pregnancy. Upon further research, the Maternal Health Agent living in Latifa’s community learned that she had been raped by a military officer during her time in a government-mandated military training programme. Latifa had sought abortion care in the nearest city, yet the physician turned her away on the premise that she did not have sufficient evidence of rape.

This is the fate of many young women in rural Eritrea, Latifa’s story has opened up a critical opportunity to help protect and advocate for the rights of young Eritrean women and girls in military service. Let me provide some context, Eritrea’s constitution mandates that all students undergo a year of military training after eleventh grade. In practice, however, they must perform indefinite military service, during which Eritrean women are often raped and sexually assaulted by officers”.

Finally, it is important for me to state here that Eritrea is an authoritarian state. According to a UN Inquiry There is no independent judiciary, no national assembly and there are no other democratic institutions. This has created a governance and rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity to be perpetrated over a quarter of a century. These crimes are still occurring today.

“All of the progress that we have made…none of it matters if women cannot live free from violence.” Joe Biden

 These are real life experiences of women in the countries where the narrated incidents occurred. Names and some locations have been changed to protect the identities of the narrators.