Campaign targets laws against women

Campaign targets laws against women across Africa

 

CNN-April 10, 2000 Web posted at: 10:42 AM EDT (1442 GMT)

 

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Discrimination against women remains the law of the land in Africa, and generally the law on the books as well, activists said Monday ahead of a continent-wide campaign for reforms.

 

The choice of possible targets for Africa's tiny women's movement is daunting: Northern Nigeria, which authorizes beating of wives short of "grievous injury"; Ethiopia, which forbids prosecution of rapists if they marry their victims; and ages-old customs across the continent that put power and property solely in the hands of men.

 

 "We just had a woman taken to court because she sold her cow to pay school fees for her children while her husband was away -- her husband's cow," said Beth Mugo, a Kenyan member of parliament. "Convicted, by our own courts! It took all our (women) lawyers to get her out of prison."  

 

The campaign starts Tuesday with lobbying trips to 14 African embassies whose countries have laws deemed to relegate women to a second-, and abused, class.

 

The U.S.-based rights group Equality Now, which opened an Africa office in the Kenyan capital on Monday, is aiding the effort.

 

The opening and campaign drew some of the handful of women in power in Africa, including a Ugandan member of Parliament and South Africa's deputy defense minister.

 

A key focus of the campaign: Convincing Africans, amid all the continent's other problems, that it's time to take women's issues seriously.

 

It's difficult, even in countries whose leaders say they support women's rights, said Winnie Byanyima, the Ugandan member of parliament.

 

She spends much of her time trying to make arrangements for women left homeless by clan-based male inheritance laws -- new widows, thrown off their land by their husband's brothers when he dies.

 

"My cousins, my aunties, my neighbors -- it's always happening," Byanyima said.

 

Uganda, like some other countries, has seen some changes: Women have some seats in Parliament set aside for them by a quota; they have their own Women's Ministry.

 

Those are the easy ones, said Byanyima.

 

"The reforms we want now are threatening male power. The easier ones, we have," she said. "The harder are now here."

 

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