#010: "A Woman Is A Store"
This past week, I have been thinking a lot about appreciating when progress has been made versus acknowledging that the strides taken are still not good enough. While not within Empower46's scope of covering news on women in Africa, Saudi Arabia's lift on its ban on female drivers is significant enough to be noted here. After decades of campaigning from activists in the country, Saudi's king has finally issued a decree allowing women to drive cars legally (as of June 2018). Saudi was the only country in the world where women could be fined or arrested for simply taking themselves from point A to point B in a car - a law so odd that even the most conservative find hard to logically defend. While Saudi's lift on the ban is certainly a step in the right direction, it mostly feels like the removal of an obstacle that had no business being there. Yes, this may come off as ungrateful, I accept that.
Here's my exercise in gratitude though: I reflect on Dr King's assertion that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Thus, I hope out loud that the inverse is the same in this context: advancement of women's rights anywhere is strengthening to women's rights everywhere. For this, I am thankful.
"A Woman Is A Store"
Something remarkable has been taking place in Senegal in the past few years - a shift in mindset and increasing cultural acceptance about the use of contraceptives for family planning. Thanks to the hard work of a network of progressive Imams led by Imam Mousse Fall, the ISSU (Senegalese IntraHealth program for family planning) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, use of modern contraceptives in Senegal has risen from 24% to nearly 37%. While the numbers differ across region, 25% in Dakar compared to 17% in rural areas, the importance of family planning, particularly for women's health, is spreading rapidly.
Vice Impact reports on the amazing Imams doing the work as well as the doctors and local aid workers leading the charge. The report also discusses a vocal group - the opponents. Unsurprisingly, highly conservative leaders (particularly in rural areas) abhor the idea of contraceptives, with one explaining that women are to bear children because "a woman is a store." Change, of course, always comes with resistance.
Read for: “We cover both theological and medical issues, so that imams also understand how contraceptives work and what the side effects can be. This is hard and continuous work."
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Pioneer or Pariah?
In our May 19 issue, I covered Ellen Johnson Sirleaf''s phenomenal ascent to the Liberian presidency and the remarkable Liberian women who ushered her there. In a deep-dive into female empowerment and engagement in politics in Liberia, Stacey Knott of Quartz argues that while President Sirleaf Johnson was indeed a pioneer, she did not do enough for female empowerment in the country. It is an interesting and well-researched perspective, but still a bitter pill to swallow. Read Stacey's article, be sure to form your own opinion and please share your thoughts with me.
Read for: “She started a process. Rome wasn't built in a day; Liberia came from nowhere."
You May Kiss The Groom
Let me first say, my favorite news stories are those that involve women legally gaining greater agency over their own lives. That being said, Tunisia is on a roll this year.
In a move towards ensuring equal rights for its male and female citizens, Tunisia is finally abolishing a law that prohibited Tunisian women from marrying non-muslim men. Since 1973, Tunisian men have been free to marry non-muslim women, while non-muslim men looking to marry Tunisian women had to first convert to Islam and submit a certificate of conversion. Activists, as well as Tunisian President Beji Essebsi, campaigned against the law, insisting that it trampled on the fundamental human right to choose a spouse. President Essebsi's commission, led by female lawyers, drafted the new rules.
Read for: "'Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one's spouse', presidency spokeswoman, Saida Garrach, wrote on Facebook.”
The Myth of the 'Mauritius Miracle'
President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius wants us all to remember that the success of Mauritius is not due to a miracle or luck, rather due to the incredible hardwork of the islanders to secure the best life possible for themselves.
As the head of Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), President Ameenah works on providing infrastructure and funding for African scientists to research key issues such sustainable energy and climate change. Reporters Salem Solomon and Abdushakur Aboud give a short profile on the engaging Mauritian president who humorously describes herself as an "endangered species" - upon President Johnson Sirleaf's exit from the Liberian presidency this month, President Ameenah will be the only remaining African female head of state.
Read for: "You cannot win a football match, for example, if you leave 52 percent of the team on the bench...We need to take on board women's capacity, and we need to bring the women on board because we're bringing a different dimension to the thought process."
State of Midwifery in Southern and Eastern Africa
This intriguing report from the United Nations Population Fund highlights the current state of the midwife workforce across 21 countries in East and Southern Africa. The purposes of such reports is to understand, through the eyes of those on the frontline, the gaps in maternal and newborn care, but also the progresses made.
Of course, the findings vary on an individual country-basis, but the report shows that across all countries, two themes persist: the need to market midwifery as a viable career path and the need to improve access to healthcare for women.
Read for: “It is notable that only 9 of 21 countries apply legislation which recognizes midwifery as an autonomous profession. The creation (where it does not exist) and application (where it does exist) of such a legislation would be a public acknowledgement of the worth of midwives and nurse-midwives"