Women rights violation remain rampant

A group of women demonstrate against human rights abuses in Nairobi CBD. Photo: Henry Owino
A group of women demonstrate against human rights abuses in Nairobi CBD. Photo: Henry Owino

Although women’s rights have been noted to be human rights since Hillary Clinton made the declaration in Beijing, China in 1995, many continue to face sex and gender based violence both at homes and work places. The violations many women experience stem from physical, psychological to economical sexual harassment and social abuses.

According to Amnesty International Report 2016/2017 on the State of the World’s Human Rights shows that women’s rights are the most violated. The violations include sexual abuses, early marriages, forced custom initiations, discrimination and mistreatment.

A case in point is in Burkina Faso where the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that women in rural areas were particularly disadvantaged regarding economic, social and cultural rights.  For example, only 16 percent of women in Burkina Faso were using modern method of contraception and nearly 30 percent girls and young women aged 15-19 in rural areas were pregnant or already had a child.

Some women and girls reported that they did not know that sexual intercourse could lead to pregnancy. Many complained about the cost of contraceptives that prevented them from using them or meant they did not use them consistently. The factors resulted in high risk and unwanted pregnancies that sometimes led to dangerous, clandestine abortions.

Burkina Faso has one of the highest rates of early and forced marriage. Women and girls reported that they were forced to marry as a result of violence, coercion and the pressure linked to the money and goods offered to their families as part of the marriage. For example in the Sahel region, more than half of girls aged between 15-17 years were married.

Criminal Code

The Revised Criminal Code criminalizes early and enforced marriages, raising the legal age for marriage to 18. However, in Guinea, it remains ambiguous as the Code refers to “marriage according to custom’’ for aged 16. It, therefore, puts Guinea with the highest rate of child marriages in the world. According to the latest study by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), three in five girls are married before the age of 18.

In Algeria, the Family Code continues to discriminate against women in matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and guardianship, and inheritance. Women and girls remain inadequately protected against gender based violence in the absence of a comprehensive law.

The Penal Code continues to prohibit rape without defining it or explicitly recognising marital rape as a crime, and allows men who rape girls under the age of 18 to escape trial by marrying their victim. The Penal Code also continued to criminalize abortions.

“In Argentina in, a woman from Tucuman Province was found guilty of ‘murder’ and sentenced to eight years in prison after suffering a miscarriage in a hospital, according to her clinical record,” says the report.

The Argentina woman was reported to the police by hospital staff for purportedly inducing an abortion and held in pre-trial detention for over two years. She was first charged with undergoing an illegal abortion and then with aggravated murder for the premeditated killing of a close relative. The crime that carries prison sentences of up to 25 years.

Authorities

In Ethiopia, child abduction is rife as authorities fail to adequately protect children. For example, the authorities failed to protect people in Gambella Regional State from repeated attacks by armed members of Murle ethnic group based in neighbouring South Sudan. During which hundreds of children were abducted.

In February and March Murle fighters abducted a total of 26 Anuwa children. In one incident on the night of April 15, 2016, they attacked 13 Nuer villages in Jikaw and Lare districts in Gambella, killing 208 people and abducting 159 children. Ethiopian forces had rescued 91 abducted children by June.

In Egypt women continue to face inadequate protection from sexual and gender based violence, as well as gender discrimination in law and practice, particularly under personal status laws regulating divorce.

A 17-year-old girl died on 29 May, reportedly from haemorrhaging, following female genital mutilation (FGM) at a private hospital in Suez Governorate. Four people faced trial on charges of causing lethal injury and FGM, including the girl’s mother and medical staff.

In an effort to protect women from forced customs, President al-Sisi signed a law increasing the prison sentence for any individual who carries out FGM, from a minimum of three months and maximum of two years, to a minimum of five years to maximum of 15 years, also punishing those who force girls to undergo FGM.

In Saudi Arabia women and girls were denied equal status with men in law and in practice and were subjected to gender-based violence, including sexual violence and killings perpetrated in the name of “honour”.

Male “guardianship” rules restricted women’s freedom of movement and access to higher education and employment in Saudi Arabia. Authorities also continued to prohibit women from driving motor vehicles.

Family laws discriminating against women in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance remained prevalent and in many countries laws failed to protect from, and even facilitated, sexual violence against women.

“How can law have loopholes that fails to criminalize early and forced marriage and marital rape and allowing rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim,” Amnesty International report questions.

However, in Morocco and Tunisia among countries in North Africa there are some positive developments in combating violence against women which appears to be advancing towards enactment in the draft laws.

In other states, however, laws continues to prescribe lesser punishment for crimes of violence against women, including murder, if the perpetrators committed them in the name of ‘’family honour’’ or made women liable to criminal prosecution for reporting rape.

These laws perpetuated conditions that both facilities and obscure potentially high levels of domestic violence against women and girls.

Laws

Women’s rights activists are not spared either as they are faced with arrest, imprisonment and harassment by governments. The authorities used “morality police” to enforce compulsory veiling laws on women, who regularly suffered harassment, violence, arbitrary arrest and detention on account of their dress.

Meanwhile, draft laws that heeded the Supreme Leader’s call for greater compliance with women’s ‘traditional’ roles as home makers and child bearers threatened to reduce women’s access to sexual and reproductive health.

The Amnesty International report says conditions for women and girls were especially perilous in areas of armed conflict, where they endured siege, aerial bombing and others forms of attack by both government and opposition forces. Many were surrendered more vulnerable to abuses such as human trafficking by the death of or disappearance of spouses and other male relatives.

In areas like Iraq and Syria that they controlled, the forces continued to hold thousands of Yazidi women and girls captive, subjecting them to sexual violence, enslavement, including sexual slavery, and forced conversion.