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The interplay between gender and culture

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Violence against women is still prevalent in many African countries. They continue to be discriminated, marginalized and subjected to harmful traditional practices which are embedded in the social structure since time immemorial. Most of the time an attempt to prosecute perpetrators of these practices would fail mainly because they are considered as the conservator of cultural values and traditions of the community. An effort of outlawing such discriminatory and harmful practices has also been equated with submission to neocolonial attitude or failure to consider cultural sensitivities of the African society.  In its extreme form, such line of debate is often based on the premise that culture and tradition should be posited at the crux given that they are the sole source of validity for any global moral order with respect to human rights. Proponents of universalism, on the other hand, argue that “the contents of human rights are universal and apply to every person irrespective of culture.”In this blog post, I will explore and analyze how and to what extent the African human right system attempts to accommodate both the doctrine of universality and cultural relativity in the context of African women’s rights.

The Cultural Relativism/ Universalism Dichotomy

It is not rare to hear from some African scholar that the notion of human right is a purely Western construct which does not consider African communitarian disposition. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), which has attained the status of Customary international law, was never been backlash-free precisely because of the very limited participation of African countries in the drafting and deliberation process. As a matter fact, these adverse reactions cannot be lightly dismissed since African values are poorly represented in the declaration and most, if not all, African countries were under Western colonial power during the formation of UDHR. However, this could not be the ground to question the validity and significance of human right standards, neither can this be the reason to detract their universal enforceability. For Howard and Donnelly, however, ‘a particular type of liberal society’ is sinequa non for effective implementation of ‘modern’ human rights. Communitarian societies, they argued, are antithetical to the implementation and maintenance of human rights, because such social arrangement denies, among others, the autonomy of an individual and the irreducible moral equality of all persons. Matua, on the other hand, contends that such an attempt to create“hierarchy of cultures” does not adhere to human right doctrine of equality, diversity and difference.

For strong Universalists such as Howard-Hassmann, human rights should be the only standards by which we can weigh the validity of certain cultural norms. It follows that any culture which is not compatible with human rights standards ought to be cast aside. Less radical universalist like Stewart endorsed an evolutionary approach that allows cultures to evolve and change with time. On the opposite side of the spectrum, strong cultural relativist claims that “all culture and value systems are equally valid. Consequently, the moral codes of each society ought to be principal source of validity for universal human rights. In the same vein, relativist alleged that culture should take precedence over any other collective international moral judgments.

From the critical point of view, while universalism is perceived by some scholars as a manifestation of western imperialism, an attempt of homogenization and oblivious to genuine cultural nuances, there is also a concern that the arguments of cultural relativism are open to abuse by fundamentalists, economic and political elites (who are already in the position of privilege)and authoritarian governments. Because culture can be misconstrued as a justification to avoid renegotiation of well-established patriarchal social structure and can be brought to bear as a tactic to sustain the existing power relation. Despite these debates, it is self-evident that failure to consider different cultural circumstances in the promotion and protection of international human rights would result in a lack of legitimacy and acceptability. Notwithstanding, as Faulk rightly pointed out, hesitation to look different cultural norms through the lance of international human right standards would also result in “a regressive disposition towards the retention of cruel, brutal, and exploitative aspects of religious and cultural tradition”

Women’s Rights and recognition of culture and tradition in the ACHPR

African women have broken through multiple layers of alienation and repressions. The pervasiveness of discriminatory traditions and harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, polygamy, honor killing, marital rape and such like exposed millions of African women to grave human right violations and put them in disadvantaged positions for centuries. Cognizant of this fact, Article 2 the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (ACHPR) proclaimed that the enjoyment of rights provided in the charter shall not be discriminatory based on, inter alia sex. In the same token, Article 18(3) of the Charter impose an obligation on signatory states to “ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.” However, by virtue of Art. 17 of the same Charter member state are also duty bound to “protect and promote cultural and traditional values recognized by the community” In addition, Article 29 (7) the African Charter imposes an obligation on every individual to “preserve and strengthen positive cultural values of Africa.”   Even though, the reference which has been made to international instruments in Article 18 appears to be laudable, it can also be argued that equal recognition of cultural and traditional value is capable of legitimizing harmful and discriminatory practices that would be an impediment to the full enjoyment of women’s rights. It is also worth to mention that the word positive in Article 29 demonstrates that the recognition and promotion of African cultural values are warranted so long as these deeds are not antagonistic to the rights of women. Yet again, while the Charter is clear and straightforward with regard to protection and promotion of cultural rights, the issue of Gender equality is not explicitly addressed. Indeed, the main criticism regarding the interplay between culture and women’s human right in the framework of ACHPR is the latter’s failure to safeguard women’s right independently rather than conflating within the context of family. The fact that their right is situated in an article which deals with the rights of the child, the aged and disabled reaffirm the long-held traditional perception of women’s subordination.  Understandably, such criticism of the Charter for its failure to emancipating women from the context of family stems from the concern that the structure of traditional family in Africa depicts women as inferior. 

Turning back to the central query of this blog post, despite its recognition of nondiscrimination, in a nutshell, I believe that the Charter overtly inclined to the promotion and protection of culture and traditions than the issue of gender justice and substantive equality of women. In that respect, the Charter has failed to reconcile universally recognized human rights of women and cultural rights of the community as its commitment to gender equality is much less than the emphasis that it gives to culture.  Nevertheless, as it will be discussed in the next section, it would be a mistake to assume that culture and women’s human right are always mutually exclusive or inevitably at odds.    

Culture and The Maputo Protocol

Despite its considerable contribution in setting global standards of women’s right, the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (‘CEDAW’)  has certain inadequacies, especially for African women. One of the limitations of the Convention is its cultural insensitiveness precisely because of the commonly held understanding that culture and women’s human right are always uncompromisable as the former is viewed as a barrier to realization and full enjoyment of the latter. The underlying purpose of Maputo Protocol is to rebut such perception by contextualizing the global standards to African local reality through internal dialogue and reform. The protocol, which is ratified by many African countries, is pioneering and transformative in many aspects. Apart from its comprehensive approach, the protocol is also known to be distinct in affording women’s right to peace, inheritance and abortion. Its comprehensiveness goes beyond the ACHPR and CEDAW in addressing the issue of women with HIV/AIDS, women in armed conflicts, elderly women and widows’ rights. Unlike CEDAW, the protocol does not face any difficulty in terms of legitimacy and creditability as it was initiated and drafted by African women themselves. It should, however, be noted that the Protocol  does not escape from criticism for its “lack of consistency in the language and uncertainty in its application” Its failure to represent the interest of rural African women is also raised as a shortcoming.

 I believe that the Protocol has remedied weaknesses of both the CEDAW and the African Charter in terms of accommodating universal rights of African women with cultural sensitivities of their community. On one hand, the protocol draws inspiration from global human right norms through ‘cut and mix’ approach, on the other hand, it has contextualized these norms to African reality. In that sense, it overcomes universalism/relativism dichotomy in the women’s right discourse. Most importantly, Article 17 of the protocol provides that “Women shall have the right to live in a positive cultural context and to participate at all levels in the determination of cultural policies.” Rather than being a mere subject of the discourse, this provision paves the way for African women to bea part of internal dialogue active participant in reforming discriminatory traditions and harmful cultural practices which are entrenched in the social structure. From this, it can be inferred that the Maputo Protocol reconciled the doctrine of universalism and cultural relativism in an appreciable extent.

Conclusion

The complex relationship between culture and women’s right should not be framed in “either-or” fashion. Because such formulation considers universalism and relativism as inherently conflicting parallel axioms which may not be compromised within women’s human right paradigm.  However, in an exceptionally heterogeneous continent like Africa, underestimating the role of culture in the development of modern human rights standards could be counterproductive as the former provides credibility and legitimacy to the latter. On the converse side, the transformative effect of global human right standards over oppressive and exploitive culture and traditions should not also be overlooked. From this standpoint, the attempt of African Charter to reconcile universally recognized rights of women with local cultural traditions appears to be unsuccessful as the commitment to gender equality is much less than the emphasis given to traditional values. It has also been noted that because of its western orientation CEDAW failed to appreciate cultural diversity and forget many African women who consider their communal identity to be a significant factor in their everyday experiences. The Maputo Protocol, on the other hand, exemplifies how, in the face of profound diversity, the bottom-up approaches anchored in local cultures can be productive in enhancing and reinforce women’s right.

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Africa

Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Somalia, Late Dr. Hawa Abdi

Ahmed Said

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image source: Vital Voices

I know this earthly life is temporary, but I felt great sorrow when I heard the passing of Dr. Hawa Abdi who died at age 73 in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.  Dr. Hawa Abdi helped the helpless, the ill, and the internally displaced women and children, and the weak in war-torn Somalia for decades. She studied medicine in Ukraine and In 1983, she opened a one-room clinic, on her family’s ancestral property, which over the years grew into a settlement which hosts tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children. The settlement in the Afgooye corridor, less than 15 miles from Mogadishu, includes a hospital, a school and a refugee camp.”

When Hawa Abdi was 11, her mother died due to childbirth complications, and because of the medical reason her mother lost her life, and owing to the fact that childbirth-related death was common (and still is) in sub-Saharan Africa for lack of maternity care, Hawa Abdi decided to become a doctor, especially a female gynecologist. And when the civil war broke out in Somalia in early 1990s, as many Somalis were getting displaced by the war, mainly in and around the capital, Mogadishu, more and more people, especially women and children, moved and took refuge in and around the compound of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She worked tirelessly to save lives and became a lifeline for tens of thousands of Somalis. She was not only helping the needy civilians, but the wounded of the countless warring sides in and around Mogadishu and elsewhere ended up over the years in her clinic and hospital to be treated impartially. Hawa Abdi was a selfless figure who helped her fellow countrymen and countrywomen without discriminating them based on their clan, the main malice that has been destroying Somalia for decades, the biggest factor that plunged the country into an endless civil strife.

At times, Hawa Abdi confronted the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab to save people in her camp, even when they threatened her. At certain times, some of the people in her camp fled for their lives, but she stayed in her camp no matter how dangerous it was to be fearless. That is how brave she was.

Hawa Abdi not only took risks herself, but she supported her daughters to become doctors so that they can help the needy people in their homeland, Somalia. When you look at the alternative, which is for them to live a peaceful life elsewhere, they prefer to stay in their country and help their people. This can teach the Somali people that these beautiful souls sacrificed so much by saving their fellow Somali citizens.

Hawa Abdi was a role model for millions of Somali girls and women. She braved great adversaries in life. She overcame countless challenges and showed all Somalis, even men, that one person can have a great positive impact on her country and people. She showed her African sisters and brothers, with resolve, mountains can be moved because we live in an inner-connected world where one person, one village, and one city can have a certain influence on the entire world. On the other hand, the world has become a global village, and I believe, compared to when Hawa Abdi started her venture decades ago, now we have more opportunities to do what Hawa Abdi did; the world is more connected than before, and information can be obtained faster and more efficiently. The power of the internet is amazing, and if one can have the access and ways to find and understand the right data, one can do wonderful things to change life for the better.

The news of Hawa Abdi’s death shook the Somali social media world. Many Somali social media users, including me, shared their sadness on the death of this giant woman. Rest in peace!

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Spilling Oil and Mosaic Racial Prejudices

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My heart is heavy with prayers on behalf of Mauritius  where I am blessed to be residing and working, as an oil spill catastrophe compounds the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in this idyllically beautiful though in so many ways fragile land.  Thanks with ultimate love to those in many places around the world who have texted and emailed your concerns to me  about Mauritius. Your prayers and positive thoughts are well needed and greatly appreciated. 

This tear jerking natural disaster gives us a reflection today exacerbated with  the horrible Beirut blast earlier this week and the deteriorating oil tanker in the Red Sea unattended as proxy war rages in Yemen  ; and  the profit motive  loosening of environmental protections in America,Brazil , and elsewhere in the established and emerging West. And it is impossible for us , none of us, to escape from the web of disastrous environmental   circumstances  engulfing all of us whether we believe in global warming or not-the coming further  biodiversity consequences of global warming adding rock salt to the wounds of and going beyond the present COVID 19 pandemic and its emerging mutations. 

Whether we live in the declining North and West or in  the emerging South and East in the world,  or on mainlands or on islands, the climatical catastrophes are  now causing us  all to be jolted rudely out of our beds of complacency.We  are being forced to  open our eyes without the  time to indulge in the luxurious privilege of rubbing them to get the  sleep out of our  dropping post-dreamland eyelids. 

What more will it take for we human beings to realize and act constructively about the sobering fact that physical environments and the non-human lives within  them  and what we human beings do to them have real consequences at all times.We can never afford to waste one minute ignoring anything or being careless when it comes to our environments and to non-human living animals and plants. No matter where we are or stand in any society especially one which claims to be  a democracy ,we can never afford be sleep at the wheel.We must always be alert and be proactive and preventive rather than passive and indifferent since that which is a tranquil paradise environment or a scenic port or luscious green forests or beautiful spacious plains and even impoverished and wealthy rural and urban living spaces can  in the blink of an eye go up in explosive environmental and life taking smoke or toxic spill. 

It is one thing when such environmental and life taking destructions occur beyond our human control such as an earthquake or cyclone or hurricane or volcanic eruption so long as preparations by governments and communities are made so when some mass destructive catastrophe does occur everyone no matter their wealth or poverty and cultural background are all taken care of the same quality of life way.It is the most tragic mass catastrophe which occurs when it is due to governments and communities having the ability to develop natural disaster preparation capacity though don’t bother to do so or ignore the warnings of citizens and noncitizens since  for demographic reasons they do not have the respect of the powerful to be listened to and heard for urgent action.Thus when the  natural disaster comes  those in government, private sector, and civil society power are caught flatfooted and the entire society comes to suffer in one way or another. We all become victims of our own negligence within not outside our control.

In the midst of  and in the aftermath of any natural disaster be it beyond or within human control there invariably is raised in these global social media days the human rights concern  of  the uneven ways the mass catastrophe affects the quality of life of impacted populations.  This is especially the case for the quality of life of mass natural disaster effects on  historically excluded and marginalized populations. In Mauritius it is the issue of African Kreoles; that is, those Mauritians with African descent  heritage who acknowledge their heritage though realizing  there are many Mauritians of Indian, English, and French descent with African heritage though not acknowledged let alone in more cases than a few, even known.

Yesterday evening one event I attended in the nearby Town of Rose Hill, not cancelled due to the impending oil spill disaster, was the first ever public conversation in Mauritius about racial prejudice in this  otherwise island paradise. Though there was the predicted attempt by some speakers to dilute the issue by speaking about other kinds of  non-racial social prejudices ,the focus  appropriately always came back to systemic and structural  anti-Afro- Kreol prejudice in this land  most apparent in the public and in the corporate private sectors and in interracial  dating, marriage, and family formations  in relation to Afro-Kreols . Paradoxically people here in Mauritius are so closely knitted and friendly though can be   so deeply historically divided in their racial prejudices ( Though treated kindly as a brother in most private and public places I have been in Mauritius, I have not been totally  immuned from anti-Black racism  before  or/and after I have opened my American sounding mouth.For instance , consider the Indian doctor seeing me for the first time asking me if the “Professor ” before my name was my actual title or a nickname– well we know Black people,  especially older or younger men ,no matter their nationality are not well educated and love nicknames like Prof and Doc, right?🤭😊).

Most of the speakers tried to link their concerns about historical  and contemporary anti-Afro-Kreol racial prejudice to the  globalizing  U.S.George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protest movements supplemented with American peace songs.Just as much there could have been needed attention given to how the oil spill disaster is a tragic reminder of the historic Afro-Kreol fishing industry and how much it has been excluded from  especially  corporate domestic and global trading markets and  trends towards importing fish from other countries than from their own largely Black fishermen.

But it was a good start especially with so many young people present..the future of this nation with such potential to become incredibly great. Have to start somewhere in discussing publicly such a  delicate paradoxical blemish in a society with aspirations to be a big league nation in a world where any form of racial prejudice will ultimately impede the dreams of lofty national ambitions.

 In moving forward from last night’s first public try to have a conversation about anti-Afro-Kreol racial prejudice and as the gallant efforts to contain the drifting oil continue, there is the chronic need of a more comprehensive national restorative justice initiative involving government and local community leaders developing platforms to have difficult  transparent  conversations to address the deep  societal ugliness captured in what  an Afro-Kreol sage told me soon after my arrival: as one Mauritius poet said: Mauritiuians grow two things: pineapples and prejudices.

Though Mauritiuians are indeed nice and kind  in public and in their numerous festivals and religious celebrations, what is expressed way too often  behind closed doors and in private and public unspoken or spoken preferences in who gets what when it comes to power and privilege and to decent quality of life ( including recruitment invitations to faith communities) are totally different stories. The mosaic  spillings of racial prejudices in Mauritius hidden  and usually  when mentioned explained away under the guises of words like communalism and religion  or through mere pretending that such degradation while happening don’t happen,  is a slow cancer eating away at the soul of this  truly lovely nation which needs to be brought to the surface and made to cease.That is ,if the nation wants to become in substance, not just in global measures of development, a big League global democracy. The mosaic of racial prejudices against Afro-Kreols, African and Asian immigrants,Chinese,  Francos, British,Indians, Christians, Muslims,   and Hindus in Mauritius has  created and sustained   very much taken for granted divisions of marginality and exclusion in public and private spheres of Mauritius life which wastes human resources, and create social and emotional distance anxieties and fears and contributes tremendously to brain drain of the highly talented though with devalued demographics migrating elsewhere . Unless this mosaic of deeply rooted racial prejudices is thoroughly publicly addressed, acknowledged, and properly processed and resolved through authentic restorative justice public policy designs and effectively monitored in implemented in the midst of the bare wires of racial inequality being exposed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and now oil spill crisis tainting tourist attracting beaches  with obvious racialized winners and losers who always win and lose here wasting human and material resources in so many ways in the process, what will Mauritius be say next year let alone say 10 years from now as a highly vulnerable island state with such high profile ambitions of being a big league African democracy in the world?

And of course from a global perspective, Mauritius ,in reflecting about this big intricate question, is a case study for the rest of the world as  most of us around the globe  are in the midst of environmental disasters with such dire consequences for most of us residing in such unequal societies.If it is not racial prejudice, it is prejudices premised on age, caste, culture, ethnicity, gender , language, nationality, religion ,socioeconomic status  or stateless status, which construct the false dehumanizing walls which keep us apart and degrade our views of others and of ourselves about human  capacities to contribute to the well being of the  societies we develop, sustain, and change. And then when natural disaster hits elites  in private and public sectors are either prepared to address the needs of the most privileged while  at best emergency crumbs are tossed to the least among us( e.g. the pathetic COVID 19 pandemic economic aid distributions with the predictable racial disparities, in the States though virtually all over the world).Or through ignoring what the usually ignored forewarn about possible future natural disaster  due to the color of their skin or ancestry or some other source of demographic degradation,   such as per chance  being Afro-Kreol fishing men and women expressing concern about the  tilting grounded ship …and now we see.

Every competent  voice in every society is needed and it endangers society when needed competent voices are categorically ignored and otherwise devalued. Otherwise we can venture into waters with oil slick streaks  and do so totally un- necessarily with long lasting if not permanent catastrophic consequences for all of us especially for the most vulnerable and underprivileged but for all of us.

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Russia’s Lukoil Finds A New Home In Senegal

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Undoubtedly, a number of Russian companies have largely underperformed in Africa, which experts described as primarily due to multiple reasons. Most often, Russian investors strike important investment niches that still require long-term strategies and adequate country study. Grappling with reality, there are many investment challenges including official bureaucracy and technical hitches in Africa.

Lukoil, the largest Russia’s oil company, has had a long history, going forth and back with declaration of business intentions or mere interests in tapping into oil and gas resources in Africa. In the past, Lukoil have said in separate reports about its business deals in a number of African countries including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. These are coastal countries on the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean) in West Africa.

Besides technical and geographical hitches, Lukoil noted explicitly in its official reports that “the African leadership and government policies always pose serious problems to operations in the region.” It said that the company has been ready to observe strictly all of its obligations as a foreign investor in Africa.

Lukoil has moved to Senegal. Predominantly rural and with limited natural resources, Senegal is classified as a heavily indebted poor country, with a relatively low Human Development Index. Most of the population is on the coast and works in agriculture or other food industries. Other major industries include mining, tourism and services.

Energy is produced by private operators and sold to the Senelec Energy Corporation. According to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency, Senegal had nearly 70% of the country connected to the national grid. Current government strategies for electrification include investments in off-grid solar and connection to the grid. Senegal has a population of approximately 15.9 million. 

In spite of that, business is business. Quite recently, Lukoil, one of the largest Russia’s oil companies, publicly declared that it finally concluded an agreement with Cairn Energy PLC to acquire a 40% interest in RSSD (Rufisque, Sangomar and Sangomar Deep) project in the Republic of Senegal for $300 million in cash.

The agreement provides for potential bonus payment to Cairn Energy PLC of up to $100 million after the commencement of production. The transaction is subject to customary conditions, including the approval by the Government of the Republic of Senegal.

The blocks of the project covering 2,212 sq. km are located on the deepwater shelf of the Republic of Senegal 80 km from the shore with the sea depth of 800-2,175 meters. The blocks include two discovered fields: Sangomar and FAN.

The Final Investment Decision (FID) on the Sangomar field was taken early 2020 and the field development has begun. According to the Company’s estimates, the recoverable hydrocarbon reserves of the Sangomar field total approximately 500 million. The field is planned to be launched in 2023, with designed production level of 5 million tons of crude oil per year. 

The RSSD project is currently implemented under a production sharing agreement. Woodside is the project’s operator with 35% stake. Other participants are FAR (15%) and state-owned company Petrosen (10%).

“Entering the project with already explored reserves at early stage of their development is fully in line with our strategy and allows us reinforcing our presence in West Africa. Joining the project with qualified international partners will allow us to gain additional experience in development of offshore fields in the region,” said Vagit Alekperov, President of PJSC Lukoil.

It has, however, one success story. Lukoil company’s operations in the Republic of Ghana where it has focused on upstream exploration. The reserves evaluated on the blocks proves to be sufficient for their industrial development.

On the opposite side, Russian news agencies reported that Lukoil exited projects in Cote d’Ivoire, where it had led exploration in the deep offshore. The company confirmed the information about leaving the projects to TASS News Agency.

In August 2015, Lukoil also pulled out of the oil and gas exploration and drilling project that it began in Sierra Leone. According to Interfax, a local Russian News Agency, the company did not currently have any projects and has backed away due to poor exploration results in Sierra Leone.

It reported that drilling in West Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, did not bring Lukoil the expected results, as preliminary technical results did not demonstrated commercial hydrocarbon reserves. According to official reports, Lukoil has been active in a number of countries with a high level of political and economic risks that could significantly complicate the work of the company in a particular region, and even lead to its termination.

Russia’s Lukoil is one of the world’s biggest vertically integrated companies for production of crude oil and gas, and their refining into petroleum products and petrochemicals. The company is a leader on Russian and international markets in its core business and its key mission is to harness natural energy resources for human benefit and supports long-term economic growth, social stability, prosperity and progress in the regions where it operates.

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