“Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development” Women are under-represented in formal politics, and often have little voice in making decisions within important political spaces, the household and the workplace. Their lack of access to education and resources puts them at a severe disadvantage in the economic sphere.
Every day, millions of women in Cameroon and around the world continue to experience discrimination:
- Laws prohibit women from equal access to land, property, housing.
- Economic and social discrimination results in fewer and poorer life choices for women, rendering them vulnerable to trafficking.
- Gender-based violence affects at least 30% of women globally.
- The sexual and reproductive health rights of women are being violated.
- Women human rights defenders are ostracized by their communities and seen as a threat to religion, honor and culture.
- Women’s crucial role in peace and security is often overlooked, as are the particular risks they face in conflict situations.
This is especially true for women who are already marginalized: disabled, those living with HIV, informal workers, migrant women.
Women’s rights are fundamental human rights that were enshrined by the United Nations for every human being on planet earth nearly 70 years ago. Some of these rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and earn a fair and equal wage. As the now famous saying goes, “women’s rights are human rights”. That is to say, women are entitled to all of these rights. Yet almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are still denied them, often simply because of their gender.
Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to end multiple forms of gender violence and secure equal access to quality education and healthy economic resources and participation in political life for both women and girls and men and boys. It is also essential to achieve equal opportunities in access to employment and to positions of leadership and decision-making at all levels.
The UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres has stated that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.
Twenty-Five Years down the Road
Globally, the year 2020 will witness the evaluation of the implementation by States, of the Beijing program and platform for Action, 25 years after they were adopted. As a reminder, at the 4th United Nations Conference that held in Beijing in September 1995, States including Cameroon, had formally committed to making the fight against discrimination on women a priority in terms of formulation, implementation, development and monitoring/evaluation of development policies. This strategic option was to be translated into concrete measures in order to address the following issues:
- Feminization of poverty
- Poor access of women and girls education, training, information, quality health services especially sexual and reproductive health, political life, decision-making, management of public affairs, prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace processes and channels, economic resources
- Low representation of women in policy formulation on environmental management
- Violence and abuses faced by women
- Humiliating exploitation of women’s image in the medias
- Inefficiency of institutional mechanisms as regards promoting and protecting women’s rights.
25 years after the Beijing meeting, the international community questions the efficacy of policies undertaken to meet the targets. This is the whole purpose of the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women that will hold in New York from the 9th to the 20th of March 2020.
Cameroon like every other country in Africa has enacted laws to protect the rights of women including the International Conventions to which Cameroon has ratified. At the national level, the Preamble of the Cameroon constitution emphasizes on equality between men and women in every aspect of life, the Cameroon Penal Code of October 1967 as amended in July 2016 punishes both men and women who are caught in the act of committing adultery, the Matrimonial Causes Act has given the women equal rights to own property particularly landed property. The Cameroon Labour code equally makes provisions for protecting the employment of girls and women even during times of maternity leave or sick leave. The Civil Status Registration Ordinance of 1981 protects women’s rights in relation to giving their consent before marriage (article 52(4)), article 61 (2) has to do with issues relating to dowry payment.
At the international level article 45 of the Cameroon Constitution provides that duly ratified treaties and laws shall override national laws. Some of such conventions and laws include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its article 16 which talks about the right of a man and woman to give their consent during marriage and its dissolution. Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states in its article 8 that “state parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their government at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations”. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Declaration of Heads of States and Government of African Union on Equality between Men and Women, the sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations to which Cameroon is a party to all help to protect the rights of women in Cameroon.
One can be tempted to deduce from the above that the rights of women and girls in Cameroon are well respected and protected. But that is not the case. There is a great limitation when it comes to the enforceability of these national and international laws and treaties. Many more women and girls still face issues of gender inequality. Given the present conflict situation, women have been raped, arbitrarily arrested, deprived of their right to life, education, a source of livelihood and many more still suffer the brunt of war. Women still have a low representation in politics and the rural woman still suffers gross marginalization. Thus as we celebrates the international Women’s Day 2020, we should know and take in mind that there is an unfinished business as Cameroonian women in particularly and the world at large.
Globally, while we have seen enormous progress on women’s rights over recent decades, from the abolition of discriminatory laws to increased numbers of girls in school, we now face a powerful pushback. Legal protections against rape and domestic abuse are being diluted in some countries while policies that penalize women, from austerity to coercive reproduction, are being introduced in others. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are under threat from all sides.
All this is because gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. Centuries of discrimination and deep-rooted patriarchy have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems and our corporations. The evidence is everywhere.
Women are still excluded from the top table, from governments to corporate boards to prestigious award ceremonies. Women leaders and public figures face harassment, threats and abuse online as well as offline. The gender pay gap is just a symptom of the gender power gap.
Take inequality. On average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The latest research by the World Economic Forum says it will take 257 years to close this gap. Meanwhile, women and girls do some 12 billion hours of unpaid care work every day that simply does not figure in economic decision-making. If we are to achieve a fair globalization that works for everyone, we need to base our policies on statistics that consider women’s true contributions.
Finally, political representation is the clearest evidence of the gender power gap. Women are outnumbered by an average of 3 to 1 in parliaments around the world, but their presence is strongly correlated with innovation and investment in health and education. It is no coincidence that the governments that are redefining economic success to include well-being and sustainability are led by women.
Our world is in trouble, and gender equality is an essential part of the answer. Man-made problems have human-led solutions. Gender equality is a means of redefining and transforming power that will yield benefits for all.
Setting a New Course
It should be noted that sustainable peace is inseparable from gender equality. Now and in the years ahead, women must play a most significant and substantive role in making the transition from the culture of violence to the culture of peace. We should not forget that when women are marginalized, there is little chance for an open and participatory society.
Women’s meaningful participation and representation in peace operations, peace processes, peacebuilding movements and decision-making processes must be increased by appointing more women in decision-making positions and by building women’s capacity.
The protection of women and girls and their rights in armed conflict and post-conflict situations must be enhanced by improving humanitarian support, providing thorough capacity-building, enhancing infrastructure and access to support and ensuring accountability.
Full involvement of women in peace negotiations at national and international levels must be provided for, including training for women on formal peace processes. Gender perspectives should also be an integral part of post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction programs. A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach must be used in cases of violation of the code of conduct in peace operations.
It is time to stop trying to change women, and to start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential.
Join CHRDA to commemorates the 2020 International Women’s Day under the global theme “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights” and under Cameroon theme “Promoting gender and protecting women’s rights by 2020: taking stock of actions undertaken, setting a new course”.
 35th edition of the International Women’s Day in Cameroon. THEME: Promoting Gender and Protecting Women’s Rights by 2020: Taking Stock of Actions Undertaken, Setting a New Course. Terms of Reference, March 2020
Antonio Guterres. Bridging gender power gap for a better world. China Daily. March 03, 2020
 Antonio Guterres. Bridging gender power gap for a better world. China Daily. March 03, 2020
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