As a girl growing up and now as a woman, there are two emotions I learnt to relate to more than others: Fear, and shame. In 100 countries worldwide, women are barred from doing certain work solely because they are women. Over 150 countries have laws that are discriminatory against women, and only 18 countries are free of such laws. In 32 countries, women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men. In 59 countries, there are no laws against sexual harassment at work, in 46, there is no legal protection against domestic violence.
However, we are making strides. Africa is making strides. 16 economies in Sub-Saharan Africa made 18 reforms in the past two years, making it a leader among the regions in terms of economies undertaking reforms. And we can do more!
We are living at a time that has the largest population of youth in history, more than 1.8 billion people are between the ages of 10 and 24. Therefore, if we are to make a lasting difference, we must include the youth in discussions, negotiations, creation and implementation of laws and policies.
In a country where the line between girl/child and woman is so blurred, where at 14, thousands become mothers when they themselves are still children, and have no access to proper maternal and sexual reproductive health education and services. Where the law denies them access to contraceptives and safe abortions and countless die as they resort to having unsafe abortions. As the law insists on upholding some version of moral or cultural obligation instead of addressing the reality of the situation on the ground.
We live in a world where only 2% of people in parliament are under the age of 29, and a smaller percentage of them are women, yet they represent 60% of the world’s population, the youth. How can we ensure that young people are part of the legal processes in our countries?
We must begin looking at young people as contributors of change, as opposed to just beneficiaries of change. A continent that is blessed with rich culture and diverse religious practices and beliefs, but what do we do when the same beliefs continue to uphold patriarchy and deeply rooted negative cultural norms? Where cultural and religious law run parallel to/are integrated in state law, how do we keep the good and discard the bad? Is enough of a priority given to education and attitude change as we come up with and implement laws? Perhaps we should place more focus on globalisation, the domestication of international treaties and laws that we ratify to fit our local scenarios and African reality. Young people continue to alienate themselves from the rich culture we have held on to for so long, customary law to a millennial or the “Generation Z” technically translates to medieval and outdated rules that applied to our grandparents. But are we losing out on the good? Is there a way we can tap into the spirit of our customary laws and utilise it to create even better legal responses? We must be willing to place adequate human and financial resources in documentation, research, and taking lessons from our history.
We also cannot ignore the role popular culture, which is now characterised by digital technology and social media, plays in creating awareness and shaping public opinion. As we implement the law, we must think of ways in which technology interacts with society and the law itself, and figure out a way of using it to our advantage. Because, the reality is, as society evolves, and technology sets in, so does crime. E-violence/internet based violence is fast growing as a form of gender based violence, and yet laws that protect women and children from such evolving forms of violence are non-existent in many African countries. Is the law playing catch up with the evolving forms of violence? Should we perhaps consider alternative means of availing justice to victims of gender based violence, like sexual assault survivors, by exploring innovative reforms in the justice system and considering the role restorative justice can play in ensuring they truly get justice?
Lastly, how do we ensure that the laws we have are not just good looking laws on paper? Most African countries, Kenya being a case in point, have beautiful, forward looking laws, on paper, but what about enforcement? Do we have the structures in place to ensure that the laws are enforced? Are there adequate resources being put in to ensure that laws that affect the wellbeing of women and girls are enforced? Do the people we serve know and understand the law? My recommendations are as follows: offering compulsory gender education to law students, taking on more cases that address systemic issues, having more young lawyers’ associations highlighting the importance of youth involvement in human rights and justice issues. Also, focusing on the role that pro-bono services/legal aid plays in creating access to legal services.
In conclusion, as long as the law is not gendered, it will be used as a tool for oppression and injustice, legality is a matter of power…Our quest must be anchored on justice, equality and Justice for all.
I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the Y-Act platform. The amount of resources on the platform is mind blowing. I especially recommend https://advocacyaccelerator.org/library/every-hour-mattersyouth-engagement-toolkit-kenya/ and https://advocacyaccelerator.org/library/un-world-youth-reportyouth-civic-engagement/.
This blog post was written by Faith Nafula a youth advocate. For more information about the article, kindly contact the author, [email protected]