The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria held a one-week intensive short course on Women’s Rights in Africa from 26 to 29 March 2018. The course is part of a series of Advanced Human Rights Short Courses the Centre organises and offers to the members of the public. The course was attended by students of the Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa as well as practitioners from government officials, women’s rights advocates and activists, members of civil society and researchers. The course has also attracted and proved useful for cross-discipline practitioners such as medical doctors who often encounter various women’s rights concerns in their work.

Some key highlights include Professor Fareda Banda from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London who graced the course bringing a great breadth and depth of expertise on equality and international human rights law. She taught a number of sessions as well as participated in a highly interactive panel where she shared both practice and personal insights on women’s rights advancements, prospects and challenges. In several instances, she urged participants to speak in “human” as opposed to complicated concepts in order to engender the transformative potential of human rights in settings ranging from classes to grassroots. Professor Sylvia Tamale from the University of Makerere has long taught women’s rights at the Centre. She highlighted the established patriarchal nature of the state and its instruments of power. In dismantling the master’s house and other practices and attitudes that contribute to the subjugation of women, she consistently challenged participants to engage in a personal and professional journey of unlearning and relearning. She used innovative exercises to start participants on this journey urging them to keep an open mind and reminding us that minds, like parachutes, only work while open.

The implications of men and masculinities on gender equality were discussed led by Pierre Brouard (Centre for Sexuality, AIDS and Gender) with participants reaching the consensus that we should all be feminists. Culture, tradition and religion have long been juxtaposed as inconsistent with women’s rights… this notion was investigated and challenged by the Centre’s own Professor Michelo Hansungule. A technical engagement with international human rights instruments is critical to understanding state obligations and claiming rights, women’s rights instruments at the international and continental level were thoroughly investigated led by Karen Stefiszyn and Dr Ashwanee Budoo of the Centre.

The participants were enlightened on the use of litigation in women’s rights advocacy by Tabitha Griffith Saoyo (KELIN) who focused on sexual and reproductive health rights to illustrate this. A review of feminist judicial practice led by Sibongile Ndashe (Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa) was also instrumental to understand the role strategic litigation had played to advance women’s rights.

Moving us away from legal approaches, Ishtar Lakani (SWEAT) engaged participants on the role of creative activism to advance women’s rights. Participants will also hear on other advocacy and lobbying strategies that are useful in addressing harmful practices. Musu Bakoto Sawo who is the Co-Recipient of the Centre’s 2017 Vera Chirwa Award will lead this exposition bringing personal and practice perspectives from her celebrated advocacy in The Gambia.

The highly informative and interactive course has armed participants with useful practical knowledge to engage in women’s rights promotion and protection in Africa. At the same time women’s rights injustices in this day and age continue to be puzzling… some of these questions have been left unanswered. The resolution of these challenges and the quest for equality must be collectively and continuously pursued by all, in personal and professional capacities. Indeed, we should all be feminists!


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