Monday, July 16, 2018

The Situation of Women in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

The women in this region drag behind men in different domains. Their traditions and culture impede their development.

Having a look throughout the Great Lakes Region of Africa, GLR, ie Burundi, the Congo and Rwanda, we find that women are not well represented in the professional area, government and leadership positions except in Rwanda. Rwanda is the first country in the world that employs more women than men in the public sector. Precisely in the government they represent 52%, except in the army. In this field, they are also more represented compared to Burundi and the Congo. In these two countries, women are extremely less representative within the armed forces; they always lag behind their counterpart men in education and training, access to health care and resources, and business and land ownership.

Such a situation derives from three main causes that are the following: traditions which outlined clear and distinct categorization of behavior appropriate to a woman as opposed to a man. In this region, male authority was cemented by colonization, which supported marriage and domestic science education for girls, and confined women and girls to rural areas while men worked in the mines in some part of this region. Today, in the GLR, Christianity exerts an undeniably strong influence through the world widespread belief that woman was created from the rib of man. Considering the same religious belief, God is represented as being an old man and throughout the Bible, Jesus has never chosen women or girls to be his disciples or followers. And today, women are not allowed to preach in churches, in mosques or have a word in public; once more except in Rwanda where some churches have female pastors but not in Catholic and Muslim. These are the ideas which men often quote in different contexts to give explanation to women’s inferior status in marriage, in homes and in the GLR society as a whole. In general, the lives of the GLR women revolve around marriage and child bearing. In most cases, by the age of 15, two -thirds are either mothers or are pregnant with their first child. Indeed, by the time they reach their thirties, most of them are already married, legally or illegally. The GLR women may marry by customary or ordinance marriage and in some contexts, both are combined but for most marriage represents the main source of economic and social security. However, is has been proved that thirteen percent of the contracted marriages are polygynous. It is worth to mention that in some areas of this Region, some men marry more than one woman and particularly in the Congo they often times all live in the same house. Elsewhere, in the North East of the Congo, women marry more than one man, that is called polyandrous marriage; but this is considered as a kind of deviation or simply prostitution. In this region, marriage customs vary among each country’s various ethnic groups; for example in the Congo, there are almost 500 various ethnic groups and the majority follow the patrilineal system. All the children are registered under the father’s name. In Rwanda and Burundi, it is not the same as these two countries only have three ethnicities each. Patrilineal system means that the husband is given the rights to his wife’s domestic and sexual services, and her labour. The payment of the bride dowry has different names following the ethnicity. In the Congo, there is one ethnicity which calls the bride dowry ‘ ngulo’ meaning ‘cost’. In Rwanda and Burundi, it is called the same ‘inkwano’. Paying the dowry appears prevalent, even in ordinance marriages, and this goes along with a husband’s power and authority over his wife and even the ownership of children. However, there have not been any consistent studies on the occurrence of household violence in the GLR. There exist various forms of gender abuse in the GLR family but since the traditions do not allow women to speak out sexual and household issues in public, they are kept secret. These include: physical battering, including slapping, pushing and shoving; and having to kneel before a husband, particularly when serving food; having to respond to a husband when called and having to address him as ‘my protector’; women having little say in decision making at home; husbands having girlfriends; women having no right to request for sex in marriage, yet they have to submit to their husband’s demands for at any time; a woman being harassed and divorced in case she does not adhere to the husband’s demand. In Rwanda, there is something strange; checking into this country’s police records on household violence, we find that sometimes spouses, either husband or wife happen to kill their partners if their contention was not settled in a satisfactory way. This also happens between simple friends of both sexes. Killing has taken another shape in this country, which is not common in the two other countries forming the Region. In the same vein, it is believable in this region that such abuses are not expected in a male dominated society. However, in this region some women strongly believe that, especially the old ones, physical and moral abuse is a normal part of marriage while this is strongly rejected by the young couples. The traditional pre-marriage education that some girls undergo before getting married can include some instructions not to refuse sex to the husband and not to chat about what happens in the home with the strangers. When girls marry, they are often said to have joined the perseverance club. Any husband who fails to maintain their position as households heads is ridiculed for being under the government of petticoat. In case there is abuse, public emotions are frequently expressed in bracketing together physical violence with love and discipline, as some men of this region oftentimes assert that a wife who has never been beaten is never loved because a beating always comes when you want to correct someone. A s a matter of fact, some vague substantiation suggests that violence against women is reasonably commonplace. In 2004, statistics collected from Congolese women and girls admitted in hospital for injuries show that the staff treated the average of 150 women a month, making it the leading cause for women’s admittance to the wounded persons’ ward. What's more is that there is an evidence that unmarried young women may be battered by a boyfriend for refusing to have sex or for showing disobedience or insubordination to the boy. In a Congolese local court, and this also applies to the whole region where customary law is enforced and women tend to be treated as legal minors, a magistrate ruled that a woman could not divorce her battering husband for the reason that the institution of marriage is very imperative and therefore it should not be messed about with the social customs that allow the husband to beat his wife where she misbehaves and if he was not her husband then the court would have attended to her claim. Thus, violence against women in the GLR appears to be valued as a male right, with the culture, the media and other institutions emphasizing that men, particularly husbands, are dominant over women and that physical and other forms of violence and abuse may be expected and sanctioned in case there is respect of human rights.

About the Writer

MUGISHO N.THEOPHILE is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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