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Written by: Jennifer Donkoh, Communications Associate, AWDF
25 years after the Beijing Platform for Action, women still live in constant fear across the African continent. Despite the signing of the peace agreement in 2018, South Sudan has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world. Female protestors in Egypt often face violent sexual assault; their attackers suffer no punishment. Every three hours a woman is murdered in South Africa. These are the more glaring examples of patriarchy. It is still however very much present in so-called more advanced countries. Female political candidates are berated and discriminated against in most countries by the media and public opinion. Many women are paid much less than their male counterparts. In some parts of the world, feminism is at best tolerated, while in many others, it is faced with stiff opposition.
A glaring reminder that men’s lives are still viewed as more valuable than those of women is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States of America.
On March 13 2020, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), was murdered in her home by police officers who barged in while she was asleep, in a case of alleged mistaken identity. In fact, the person the police meant to accost was allegedly already in custody. It has already been 3 months. Her killers still roam free and her death has not sparked policy-changing outrage like that of Ahmaud Aubrey or George Floyd. The media has decidedly dubbed the BLM movement a fight against police brutality perpetuated towards black men. This has excluded women victims like Sandra Bland and Atatiana Jefferson from the conversations around police brutality.
The fight for women’s rights is obviously still an uncomfortable subject for many. This is because patriarchy is the most potent political power in the world. Whether it manifests in subtle ways like the stifling of female executives’ voices at a board meeting or more stomach-turning ways like murder and sexual assault, men have a death-grip on patriarchy because it favours them both economically and socially. Tired of relying on failed to non-existent policies on gender equality, many women have been frustrated into conforming to and even defending patriarchy. Many anti-feminist people have also capitalised on the disunity of the feminist movement to cheapen its credibility.
Yet, we simply cannot give up the fight because even a small act towards the advancement of women goes a long way. Let’s take the case of Yaa Asantewaa, a former queen mother of Ghana who famously suited up to lead the charge against the British colonisers. Though she died in 1921, her sheer heroism remains a shining moment in Ghanaian history. Ghana is still very much a patriarchal country, but her example has been used by many to encourage young women and girls to take a stand against what is not right. Also, after civil war broke out once again in Liberia in 1999, Liberian women put aside the unspeakable horrors they had endured at the hands of rebel and state forces alike to advocate for a peaceful end to the war. Recognising the role of women, the country elected its first female president: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. These women are among a tall list of incredible women who are leading the charge against patriarchy, empowering young women and girls in their communities to the best of their abilities and encouraging others to do same.
Though the road to gender equality may be a rough one, we should take pride even in the individual lives we are able to change. Individual empowered women have started revolutions, empowered women are changing the world. It may take only one woman to reverse the status quo. As the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare injustices and systemic failures, it is time for feminist movements to target specific causes that are bound to bring lasting and revolutionary results. For instance, Ghanaian feminists can push for the passage of the marital rape bill, siting the fact that COVID-19 lockdown measures may exacerbate the incidences of marital rape in the country. Majority of frontline workers during this pandemic are women. Governments can be pressured to improve required work conditions of women-dominated groups like domestic workers. CSOs such as Abantu For Development have made great strides, currently calling on the Government of Ghana to speed up the processes to get the Affirmative Action Bill into Parliament, but a lot more momentum is needed.
Contrary to what some people believe, the pandemic has not diminished the relevance of feminism, rather, it has shown that the fight for women’s rights is relevant now more than ever. This is no time to be weary, on the contrary, it is time to amplify our voices. Let us continue dismantle patriarchy, one girl at a time.