How to Advocate for Women’s Rights in Africa
One of my favourite quotes is this: “You don’t have to experience something yourself before you can have empathy for those who go through it.” – By me??? I’m not sure who said it or if I coined it, but it’s remained in my mind.
In January 2020, security forces, backed by the Lagos State government in Nigeria forcefully removed the 10,000 residents of Tarkwa Bay from their homes with no prior warning and no provision for alternative housing on the grounds that they were criminals vandalizing oil pipelines in the area. According to Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, “What is happening at Tarkwa Bay, Lagos is a violation of human rights. It is unacceptable that the Nigerian government are [sic] evicting people in the most violent manner and destroying their homes without genuine consultations, adequate notice, alternative accommodation or access to remedies.”
Do you feel bad for these people? Do you want to help them? The point of this is that you don’t need to have been displaced from your home or been rendered homeless to realize that the Tarkwa Bay residents have rights to their homes which should never have been violated.
It’s the same with women’s rights in a world of gender inequality, and it’s the reason why you can be an advocate for women’s rights even if you’re not a woman or if you’re a woman who hasn’t experienced a specific problem.
So then, how can you be an advocate for women’s rights in Africa?
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “#EachforEqual”. It is a call for ‘collective individualism’ meaning that as individuals, we form parts of the whole and our actions, inactions, mindsets, etc have an impact on the society- the collective; and that jointly, we can create change – gender equality – in our world.
The UN Women’s organization has identified ways through which people can advocate for women’s rights. In this write-up, I’ve adopted and modified these ways to speak to my African family to encourage advocacy for gender equality. To choose to be #EachforEqual today, this month, all year and going forward, here are some things you can do.
Raise your voice and make it heard (when you notice something wrong)
Something is always wrong as long as the false narrative that women are inherently inferior to men exists. Now, certainly, is the right time to raise your voice in support of women. Raise your voice when you see a tweet that blames a rape victim. Speak up when your management team refuses to hire a woman for a job because they don’t want someone that’ll get pregnant on the job. Raise your voice when people say marrying underage girls is culturally sanctioned so we must continue. Raise your voice in the midst of your friends, talking to your parents, “spread awareness and breakdown barriers.”
My Friend, Feyi was at the salon making her hair when her stylist shared a story (you know how salon conversations go). Some girl she knew visited her mother-in-law to be and the said MIL asked her to wash her clothes. The DIL washed the clothes and the next time she was coming; she brought a new washing machine for the MIL. People at the salon were condemning the lady, saying she was disrespectful and that her actions were insulting of her MIL. Feyi was going to keep quiet but they sought her opinion, she went, “Why would the MIL give her clothes to wash in the first instance? On her first visit? Or even at all? She’s not marrying the son for the purpose of doing laundry and it’s high time we stopped treating marriages as a space for women to clean after men. I hope you’re not teaching these to your daughter.”
The subject of domestic work is major for feminism in Africa. To promote women’s rights here, we need to establish the narrative that domestic work is not gendered and wifehood is not about cooking and cleaning. Feyi raised her voice for women’s rights and I’m certain they’re not going to forget it in a hurry.
Support women, Support one another.
What do you do when your friend is abusing his partner? Do you shake your head and say nothing? Do you defend her? In your law office, do you take pro bono cases helping victims of domestic violence? Do you protect fellow women or women against predators? If you see someone being harassed in an elevator or the streets, what would you do?
Stand to End Rape (STER), an organization based in Nigeria, works to provide psychosocial services and support to rape survivors; works against victim-blaming and to ensure that adequate punishment is meted against rape perpetrators.
There are other ways to show your support for women’s rights- a retweet, a like, joining a protest march, volunteering with an organization, protecting someone against an abuser, calling your bros out on their bullshit.
You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders; you only need to lend a helping hand. We can transform the world by starting small, in our own spaces.
Share the housework
Supporting women’s rights can start in your own home. In fact, I feel that our homes are probably the most important units where women’s rights should be absolutely upheld: charity begins at home.
The UN reports that “from cooking and cleaning, to fetching water and firewood or taking care of children and the elderly, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.” Two and half times more unpaid…work than men”. This means that women invariably work longer hours, combining both paid and unpaid labour, than men. They work this hard and they get little or no credit because we expect that they should.
Fun fact? Women are not slaves. We should appreciate that women are people and they deserve equal status and treatment with men whether at home, at work, or in the Senate.
You can help close the gap of gender inequality by sharing the workload in your own home. Cleaning, cooking and taking care of children is not the exclusive preserve of your wife/girlfriend/partner/mother. If housework is not outsourced, it should be split 50/50 between men and women so that they can both thrive, rest, work and feel empowered.
Get involved in politics and community building. Vote for people who care about women’s rights.
I know that elections in Nigeria and most parts of Africa are riddled with factors like corruption, “godfatherism”, nepotism and so on. Women’s/human rights do not take the lead decisive factor when our society chooses candidates, but they should. We should elect people who will actually uphold our interests and work for us. We should run for public office for the right things.
More women in Africa should run for office across all levels of government, in civic societies and even in private organizations, we should learn to support women candidates and candidates who truly support women’s rights.
In Senegal, Coumba Diaw ran for mayor of her district and won, despite growing up in a culture that restricts women from participating in politics. “They said that a woman couldn’t run for elections. They said that a widowed woman couldn’t be a Mayor…that a woman did not have the skills to manage a community. I have proved them all wrong.”
We, collectively, can work to remove the barriers that prevent women from running or succeeding in elections. Along with our cultural prejudices against women, access to funding for women to participate in politics is quite minimal. You can also help women who choose to run by volunteering to source for funds, participating in their campaign, and helping with publicity.
We have role models whose paths we can follow. For one, Minna Salami, a writer, social critic, and lecturer, recently founded “The Activate Collective”, a feminist movement to raise money for women activists in UK politics. Also, Nafisa Abubakar’s book “Girls Just Want to Run” addresses the minimal representation of women in Nigerian politics and seeks to inspire more women to run for office. There is so much we can do with our skills and experiences, to support women and make our societies better to live in.
Support and encourage women when they run for positions in your societies- student union president, class governor, etc. Remember always that gender does not define nor limit leadership capabilities.
Educate the next generation
This is something that I am increasingly passionate about and would like to be more involved in, in the near future: educating the next generation. Children and young people need to learn about feminist principles i.e. principles of egalitarianism and equality.
Let your homes been an enabling environment for your children to grow and thrive, irrespective of their gender. Don’t teach your male children to lord it over their sisters (and mothers), or your daughters to be subservient to their brothers (and fathers). They will extend this behaviour to others outside your home and we absolutely hate to see it. Teach the younger generation that they are each fully capable and enough as their own persons. Teach them their rights and start at an early age. It is very important for young girls to know their rights. Protect young children from all predators.
Know your own rights
Know your rights by remaining socially and politically aware. The Know Your Rights movement created a mobile app for Nigerians that educates you on your rights in English, Pidgin, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba.
We all have rights and they should –must- be respected by our governments and institutions.
Know that women have the right to live as full persons with zero discrimination. Know your rights and don’t let anyone take you for granted.
Join the conversation
The world is increasingly globalized, and we’re talking more than ever before. Join the conversations on women’s rights and help raise awareness on issues that will, in turn, reshape narratives and change perspectives.
Your voice is loud enough to be heard across the world. Use it.
Donate to the cause
“Every woman and girl deserves the opportunity to live a life free from violence and discrimination.” By donating your time, money, knowledge and so on to the cause, you help achieve the goal of inclusion and equality. There are many causes you can donate to such as STER; Sanitary Aid Nigeria; Sanitary Aid Zimbabwe; @minimalistwomen.ng; among others.
As we celebrate #InternationalWomensDay, we remember that we are #EachforEqual. Every one of us can contribute to gender equality. We all play a role in fighting bias (including our own bias), challenging stereotypes and limiting norms, and creating more opportunities for sustainable growth and better living.
You already have what it takes.