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Women, Law and Human Rights in Southern Africa


Banda, Fareda. 2006. “Women, Law and Human Rights in Southern Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (1): 13–27.

Author: Fareda Banda


This article examines the development of human rights in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It looks at personal laws and the attempts of parties in postcolonial states to deal with conflicts that arise between the dictates of state customary law, which may be discriminatory towards women, and the move towards embracing human rights with their focus on the removal of sex and gender-based discrimination. While it is clear that there has been enormous progress made in enshrining women's rights, the article urges caution, noting that there are limits to the law's power to change behaviour. Law cannot always provide a solution to discrimination rooted in socio-economic and cultural dispossession. The article is divided into four parts. Part one introduces the legal systems of the region. Part two offers a discussion of the different constitutional models illustrated by case law relating to inheritance. Part three provides an overview of the African engagement with human rights before moving on to consider the two Declarations of the SADC in dealing with gender-based discrimination and violence against women. Part four focuses on the rights contained within the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women, adopted by the African Union in July 2003.

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Governance, Constitutions, International Organizations, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa

Year: 2006

The Liberal Moment: Women and Just Debate in South Africa, 1994-1996


Walsh, Denise. 2006. “The Liberal Moment: Women and Just Debate in South Africa, 1994–1996.” Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (1): 85–105. doi:10.1080/03057070500493795.

Author: Denise Walsh


This article investigates the extent of women's participation in South African public debate during the Government of National Unity, a two-year period beginning with the country's first non-racial elections of 1994 and ending with the signing of the Constitution in 1996. The new democratic government established basic rights enabling all citizens, regardless of race or gender, to engage in public debate. Were women able to take advantage of this opportunity? What factors advanced or impeded their progress? The first section of the article draws upon analyses of deliberative democracy to construct a model for assessing women's participation in public debate. Part two evaluates the justness of South African debate in four arenas of civic performance, action and argument at three geographic levels. The article argues that the liberal moment in South African politics was dominated by a state that prompted significant institutional reform, dramatically opening the South African public sphere. Nevertheless, sexism, a lack of education, skills and resources minimised women's ability to take advantage of these changes.

Topics: Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Political Participation, Race, Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2006

Coalition Building, Election Rules, and Party Politics: South African Women's Path to Parliament


Britton, Hannah E. 2002. “Coalition Building, Election Rules, and Party Politics: South African Women’s Path to Parliament.” Africa Today 49 (4): 33–67.

Author: Hannah E. Britton


This paper argues that pre-transition mobilization by South African women fostered post transition success in constitutional mandates, party politics, and office holding. Informed by examples of failed postliberation gender movements in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola, South African women's groups worked collectively and individually to advance gender equality. Women mobilized around their gender identity to form a powerful multiparty women's coalition, which became a vehicle through which women pushed for inclusion in the Constitutional Assembly. Using this external power-base, women's branches of major political parties compelled their parties' leaders to implement affirmative-action measures for candidate recruitment and selection. These measures, particularly the gender quota of the African National Congress, have pressured all political parties to increase the number of women on their party-lists in subsequent elections.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Constitutions, Quotas, Elections, Post-conflict Governance, Political Participation, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2002

The Constitution of Afghanistan and Women’s Rights


Shah, Niaz A. 2005. “The Constitution of Afghanistan and Women’s Rights.” Feminist Legal Studies 13: 239-58.

Author: Niaz A. Shah


This article argues that women's human rights were and are being violated in Afghanistan regardless of who governs the country: Kings, secular rulers, Mujahideen or Taliban, or the incumbent internationally backed government of Karzai. The provisions of the new constitution regarding women's rights are analysed under three categories: neutral, protective and discriminatory. It is argued that the current constitution is a step in the right direction but, far from protecting women's rights effectively, it requires substantial revamping. The constitutional commitment to international human rights standards seems to be a hallow slogan as the constitution declares Islam as a state religion which clearly conflicts wiht women's human rights standards in certain areas. The Constitution has empowered the Supreme Court to review whether human rights instruments are compatible with Islamic legal norms and, in case of conflict, precedence will be given to Islamic law. Keeping this in view, it is argued that Afghanistan's ratification of the Women's Convention without reservations has no real significance unless Islamic law dealing with women's rights is reformed and reconciled with international women's rights standards.

Keywords: conflict resolution, Constitution, incompatibility, Islam, reservations, review, women's human rights

Topics: Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan

Year: 2005

Gender Mainstreaming in Practice: The United Nations Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia


Olsson, Louise. 2001. “Gender Mainstreaming in Practice: The United Nations Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia.” International Peacekeeping 8 (2) 97-110.

Author: Louise Olsson


The process of developing a policy for gender-adapted, or mainstreamed, multidimensional peacekeeping operations has been slow in the UN. By 1989, the UN operation in Namibia, United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG), had already started to develop practices for gender mainstreaming of the civilian sector of the operation. UNTAG's civilian component was fairly gender balanced and some of the UN civilian staff were adapting their work in order to reach both women and men in the Namibian population. This contribution discusses the lessons that could have been learned about gender mainstreaming in the Namibian case and on which a contemporary UN gender mainstreaming policy could have been based. This concerns methods of increasing female UN staff, mobilizing local women to vote, incorporation of issues of equality in the constitution, and the importance of leadership in enhancing equality and equity.

Keywords: gender mainstreaming, Namibia, UNTAG

Topics: Gender, Gender Mainstreaming, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Gender Equity, Governance, Constitutions, International Organizations, Peacekeeping Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Namibia

Year: 2001

Role of Women in Violent Conflict Prevention and Negotiation


Scheper, Elisabeth E. 2002. “Role of Women in Violent Conflict Prevention and Negotiation.” Paper presented at the Women, Peace Building and Constitution Making Conference, Colombo, May 3-5.

Author: Elisabeth E. Scheper

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Peacekeeping

Year: 2002

Ruling Out Gender Equality? The Post-Cold War Rule of Law Agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa


Nyamu-Musembi, Celestine. 2006. “Ruling Out Gender Equality? The Post-Cold War Rule of Law Agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Third World Quarterly 27 (7): 1193-207.

Author: Celestine Nyamu-Musembi


The post-cold war rule of law agenda in sub-Saharan Africa has not translated into reforms that enhance gender equality. The focus of reform efforts has reflected a post-cold war emphasis on creating a suitable legal and institutional environment for the market. In this climate any gains for gender equality have been limited and hard won. The main shortcomings are: gains in constitutional rights have had limited practical reach; official discussion of gender inequality in property remains disconnected from relevant broader processes such as restructuring of financial institutions; the reform agenda has not engaged with informal institutions, yet these have significant impact on gender relations; there has been relative under-investment in non-commercial judicial reform; and changes to labour regulation have been effected through sub-legislative and non-transparent processes and have not been interrogated for their failure to benefit workers in general, and in sectors dominated by women in particular.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Constitutions, International Law Regions: Africa

Year: 2006

Constitutional Engineering: What Opportunities for the Enhancement of Gender Rights?


Waylen, Georgina. 2006. “Constitutional Engineering: What Opportunities for the Enhancement of Gender Rights?” Third World Quarterly 27 (7): 1209–21.

Author: Georgina Waylen


The majority of feminist scholars have neglected the impact of constitutional design to date. But it has recently come to the fore, as institutional engineering has been a key part of the efforts to ‘build democracy after conflict’ (or impose it from the outside), most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. This paper will examine some contrasting experiences of constitutional design (with evidence drawn primarily from some transitions to democracy) and draw out some wider lessons for feminists exploring effective strategies to enhance gender rights. It will also widen the debate from the institutional concerns that have predominated to date, namely quotas as a mechanism to enhance women's descriptive representation and, to a lesser extent, national women's machineries as a mechanism to enhance women's substantive representation. It will focus more broadly on the opportunities that constitutional design can provide to embed women's rights more securely and create an enabling framework that can subsequently be used toenhance all forms of women's rights, not just civil and political ones.

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Quotas, Post-conflict Governance, Peacebuilding, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq

Year: 2006

Fighting Both Struggles in Palestine


Maas, Kirsten. 1998. “Fighting Both Struggles in Palestine.” Lola Press 1 (8): 44.

Author: Kirsten Maas


Palestinian women were active participants in the struggle for the liberation of the homeland especially during the Intifada. But their contribution started as early as the beginning of the century. In 1921, a group of upper class, urban women - most of them connected to male notables who led the nationalist movement - founded the Palestine Women's Union, concerned mostly with charitable work. Following the mass exodus of Palestinians from what became Israel in 1948, women activists focused on social and charitable work amongst the refugees. The founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 ushered in a new era for women's activism, but there was no dramatic shift in consciousness of gender issues among women in occupied Palestine until well into the 1980s. Whatever feminist voices might have been raised during the revolutionary struggle in Jordan and Lebanon, and despite the leftist's ideological commitment to the women question", the dominant thesis was that women's liberation would follow national liberation. The General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) founded in 1965, was also unwilling to challenge the prevailing ideology of nationalism before feminism. Their leaders related more to their own political faction than to each other. In the 1980s however, a new generation of women activists began to raise feminist issues, including the reform of family law, gender relations within the national movement and the need for better primary health care for women.


Signs that the fate of Palestinian women would be disappointing were visible right from the beginning of the peace negotiations. Whereas the PLO's declaration of independence on 15 November 1988 had clearly stated that `Palestine is a state based on social justice, equality with no discrimination in general rights on the basis of ethnicity, religion, colour or between men and women", the implementation of women's rights seemed to have been postponed by the PLO. When only four women were appointed to the more than three hundred slots on the Technical Committees formed after the 1992 Madrid conference - the beginning of the peace negotiations -- Palestinian women formed a Women's Technical Committee to demand the appointment of more women and gender awareness to govern the work of all committees. Women mobilized again when the first draft of the constitution for the interim period was issued in December 1993 with no full guarantee of gender equality. In January 1994, members of the women's committees, the General Union of Palestinian Women and human rights groups went a step further: an independent "Women's Charter" group was formed to formulate a women's bill of rights, which was presented to the public on 3 August 1994 as "The Principles of Women's Legal Status". Based on the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence, the charter calls for governance based on social justice and equality and the strengthening of the national and social struggle for Palestinian women to obtain equality, political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. The charter derives much of its authority from various UN conventions, including the UN Convention to end Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Women continue to be marginalized in the political presentation, specially within the Palestinian Authority. Out of a 22-member cabinet, only one member is a woman. Women constitute only 5.8% of Palestinian Legislative Council and out of the approximately 800 director generals in the various Palestinian Authority ministries there are five women. This has motivated Palestinian women activists to demand a quota of 30% in the forthcoming elections.


Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Constitutions, Quotas, Nationalism, Peace Processes, Political Participation, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Palestine / Occupied Palestinian Territories

Year: 1998

Personal Reflections on Drafting Laws to Improve Women’s Access to Land: Is There a Magic Wand?


McAuslan, Patrick. 2010. “Personal Reflections on Drafting Laws to Improve Women’s Access to Land: Is There a Magic Wand?” Journal of Eastern African Studies 4 (1): 114-30.

Author: Patrick McAuslan


This article presents the author's personal reflections on his extensive experience of drafting land laws in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda over the past 14 years. It highlights key legal issues in efforts to improve women's access to land through the law, and provides a frank discussion of the author's involvement in translating constitutional, policy and legal provisions into detailed common law legislation that can be consistently implemented to achieve the goal of gender equality in land rights. The three cases discussed represent quite different situations: a relatively high degree of legal clarity and progressive policy and government support for gender equality in land rights in Rwanda; a highly politicised context in Tanzania, involving a struggle to even get women's land rights onto the agenda; and a more technically focused process in Uganda of trying to translate detailed pro-women provisions into practice, particularly with regard to mortgages. Common lessons emerge from all three cases, which are drawn together in the article's conclusion and which have wider application to the land reform processes that are now ongoing in other countries across the Eastern African region.

Keywords: gender equality, law reform, land policy

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Constitutions, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda

Year: 2010


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