21 March 2018

Africa: A Pledge for Parity

United Nations — With March marking Women's History Month, the debate over gender-based discrimination couldn't have reached its new peak at a more critical time.

Speaking on International Women's Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, "Around the world, women and girls are calling out the abusive behavior and discriminatory attitudes they face everywhere and all the time. They are insisting on lasting change. This is what women and girls want. And that is what I want. And it is what every sensible man and boy should want.

"There is no better path to a more peaceful and prosperous world than the empowerment of women and girls. [... ] As we still live in a male-dominated world with male-dominated culture, and until power is fairly shared, the world will remain out of balance. Gender inequality, discrimination, and violence against women harm us all," he concluded, defining the importance of a robust women's rights movement seeking equality.

Research conducted by MTV and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on young people's political participation found striking results: Compared to four in ten young men, about six in ten young women agree that gender stereotypes encourage men "to treat women weaker and less capable" and encourage "sexually aggressive behavior."

Compared to 17 percent of young men, around 38 percent of young women feel pressured by stereotypical gender roles. Regarding double standards in the labor market, only 55 percent of young men, compared to 81 percent of young women, "believe that women must be more qualified than men to compete successfully for the same job." Forty-two percent of young men say "women use gender as an excuse when they don't get what they want from the labor market."

These results translate to gender impacting the likelihood of young people's political involvement. Therefore, young women are more likely to become politically active, "from online participation to volunteering for a cause to attending a public rally or demonstration."

Young women activists are a vital element to sustain these movements as they raise new women's rights issues. According to the National Democratic Institute, there is hard evidence in places where women saw political empowerment of an eventual increase in "democracy," "responsiveness to citizen needs," "cooperation across party and ethnic lines," and "sustainable peace."

In Rwanda, where women hold 56 percent of the seats in the Parliament, female parliamentarians receive credit for "forming the first cross-party caucus" tackling "controversial issues, such as land rights and food security."

While some argue the #SayHerName,#HeForShe, #MeToo, and #TimesUp movements marked the beginning of a new feminist era, women human rights activists are not only targeted for their activism but also for their identity. Women's rights activists around the world face repression and poor assistance from governments in the context of the motto "Good girls don't protest."

"Female human rights activist are particularly politically targeted," Nyaradzo "Nyari" Mashayamombe told IPS, repeating "Particularly!" for emphasis.

Mashayamombe is the core founder of the Tag a Life International Trust, a Zimbabwean Girls and Young Women's Rights organization also working with boys and men to tackle religious and cultural practices that expose girls and young women gender-based discrimination with the government targeting their activism.

"In Zimbabwe, before the recent change in leadership, it was sometimes difficult to get into the communities," she said. "The government feared we would influence people, so local authorities refused us entry. With the new government voicing respect for international human rights, we are hoping for change."

The death of Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro on March 14 made the councilwoman and LGBTQ activist a global symbol. Crowds of ten thousands of protestors turned out in the streets across Brazil when it was reported her assassination was politically motivated and in retaliation for her criticism of police brutality in Rio de Janeiro's favelas. The hashtag #MarielleFrancoPresente was used 3.6 million times in 42 hours and more than 30 languages, pledging to stand together.

"Around the world, when they come for one of us, when they come for one women's rights defender, they come for all of us," Noelene Nabulivou, Political Adviser for DIVA for Equality, told IPS. "Whenever one is killed or harmed in the process of our work, the rest of us needs to look at what we have learned from the feminist movement which is intersectionality. They come for an LGBTQ-activist, we are all there in support. Online and offline."

Time's up.

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