March 8 marks the U.N.’s International Women’s Day, an occasion meant to be a global celebration. But with more and more women suffering each day, there is little to rejoice about in Africa, say many women leaders from the continent.
“International Women’s Day should celebrate the fruits of decades of activism. But on a continent where those who stand accused of sexual abuse often get rewarded rather than punished, what is there to be proud of?” said Cameroonian journalist Mimi Mefo Takambou.
“The theme for the 2021 International Women’s Day celebrations is ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’—yet I’m having a hard time fully embracing that idea, given the pain and destruction that COVID-19 has caused, especially to women.”
And who can forget the story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, who accused South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma of rape, sparking a national debate about rape culture in a country, where according to the “Rape Crisis” advocacy group, 40% of women experience rape at least once in their lifetime?
Despite the mounting evidence against Zuma, it was only his account that eventually held up in court, namely that the sex acts had been consensual.
First Lady of the Democratic Republic of Congo Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi, reflected on the state of progress in preventing violence against women. In the first six months of last year, 26,000 cases of sexual violence were registered according to the U.N., an increase of 28% compared to 2019.
“Several actions have been carried out since March 2019,” commented the First Lady. “These include awareness-raising meetings that I organize with young people from different provinces of my country to discuss, by example, on positive masculinity.”
Winnie Byanyima of UNAIDS, observed: “Women leaders have provided a guiding light for the world in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, from heads of government to coordinators of grassroots social movements. They have reminded the world how crucial it is to have critical numbers of women, in all their diversity, in positions of leadership.”
“But the COVID-19 crisis has seen progress toward equality pushed back. It has widened the gap between women and men in wealth, in income, in access to services, in the burden of unpaid care, in status and in power.”
The pandemic has brought into sharp and painful focus that even before COVID-19 an estimated 34 million girls between the ages of 12 and 14 years were out of school, one in three women globally reported having experienced physical or sexual violence and women the world over worked longer hours for less or no pay.
Gender inequality is not only wrong. It is dangerous. It weakens us all. A more equal world will be better able to respond to pandemics and other shocks; it will leave us healthier and safer and more prosperous.”