Women Lawyers (year 2000 text)

Women of the World

African women lawyers for women’s rights

When 14-year-old Zinzi Mutamiri from Mutoko in Zimbabwe could no longer hide her pregnancy, the headmaster immediately expelled her from school. The completion of final school examinations was also denied to hey after the birth of her daughter. In contrast, there was no action taken against the 20 years elder father of the baby child, who taught at the same school. He only had to pay a small fine to the girl’s parents and continued to be acknowledged by his colleagues as a respected member of the teaching staff.
In Ghana, this incident would have taken a different course. There, the teacher would first have been called to account. And the headmaster would have encouragecl the girl to continue with her education after the birth – assuming that relations would be able to care for the baby.
“The rights of women here in Africa vary a great deal”, says Jean N Kamau, director of the international Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya. “Apart from that, women in all of the African countries still have far too few rights.” The non-governmental organization is part of a worldwide network of women lawyers. They are committed to greater female self-determination in questions of family planning, contraception and sterilization.
They also thematize such health questions as the treatment of venereal diseases and AIDS and fight against the problem of female circumcision. In Kenya, for example, in conjunction with government agencies, women have been fighting for a long time for the banning of genital mutilation.
However, up until now, it has not been possible to implement this by law. As recently as 1995, the introduction of an officially projected law was soundly defeated in parliament. About half of all young Kenyan women are still being circumcized. The women lawyers federation is working for the abolition of female circumcision as a pre-condition for marriage – as is still the case in many families.
With the aid of the American Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) the women lawyers have compiled a widely-based study. This study compares women’s rights in 7 African states. The campaign serves mainly to increase pressure on political decision makers in African states. “But even when laws are passed”, according to lean Nkamau, “that doesn’t by any means signify that every policeman or public prosecutor will adhere to them.” The Kenyan women lawyers also represent clients who have been wronged by state institutions. In this way they ensure that laws are implemented in practice and that they are enforceable.

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