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Article

Helen Dancer

African law and justice systems in the early 21st century are the result of over a thousand years of religious and cultural influences and political change on the continent. As customary and Islamic laws became reinterpreted and formalized by colonial states, women experienced the effects of successive periods of religious and political conquest as an entrenching of patriarchal control in the family and personal law sphere. The 20th century saw African women’s resistance rise from the grass roots as an important force for national liberation. African women’s legal activism grew after political independence and African women lawyers were part of global feminist movements. In the wake of dramatic political changes across Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, the global sphere of rights post-1989 became an enabling frame for women’s legal activism. Political transitions to multiparty democracy, the liberalization of African economies, and a wave of constitutional reforms strengthened women’s rights and gender equality guarantees. The 1980s and 1990s saw the founding of regional and pan-African women’s legal activist organizations, including the Action Committee of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Women in Law and Development in Africa as well as the adoption of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2003. In the 21st century, while social, economic, and legal inequalities persist in spite of many gains for women’s rights, some African women lawyers have risen to occupy the highest echelons of the judiciary in several countries and in international courts.

Article

Lorelle Semley

The nature of motherhood and maternalism in Africa challenges perceptions and assumptions about women, families, and societies in unexpected ways. Across Africa, motherhood has operated as an institution and ideology that shaped social, economic, and political organization, especially before European colonialism expanded across the continent during the late 19th century. The sociocultural significance of biological motherhood and childrearing remains an important theme in the study of the past and the present as African women form families, sometimes outside of the bonds of marriage. Ideas about biological motherhood have also shifted to address health, disease, and sexuality. African women and men are reimagining motherhood in the face of diverse issues such as infertility, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and an emergent, self-identified LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community. Similarly, maternalism in Africa extends beyond the common focus on issues such as women’s rights, reproductive health, or children’s education. Maternalist politics in Africa in the 20th and 21st centuries have addressed broader political questions such as state policies, housing, and infrastructure, often with an internationalist vision. Taken together, motherhood and maternalism in Africa not only encompass personal and emotional realms often associated with both terms but also bridge historical and political questions, including ones about belonging and citizenship in an interconnected world.

Article

Definitions of and explanations for mental illness differ between societies and have changed over time. Current use of the term arises from secular and materialist epistemologies of the body and mind, influential from the 18th century, which rejected the spiritual or supernatural as causes of illness. Since the 19th century, a specialist body of study, of law, practices, professionals, and institutions developed to investigate, define, diagnose, and treat disorders and illnesses of the mind. This was the emergence of psychiatry and of a professional psychiatric sector. With origins in the West, at a time of capitalism and imperialism, psychiatry was brought to South Africa through colonialism, and its development has been strongly influenced by the country’s economic, political, ideological, and medico-scientific histories. There have been significant continuities: the sector has always been small, underfunded, and prioritized white men. Black patients were largely neglected. Discrimination and segregation were constant features, but it is helpful to identify three broad phases of the history of the psychiatric sector in South Africa. First, its most formative period was during colonial rule, notably from the mid-1800s to c. 1918, with an institutional base in asylums. The second broad phase lasted from the 1920s to the 1990s. A national network of mental hospitals was created and changes in the ways in which mental illnesses were classified occurred at the beginning of this period. Some new treatments were introduced in the 1930s and 1950s. Law and the profession’s theoretical orientations also changed somewhat in the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s. Institutional practice remained largely unchanged, however. A third phase began in the 1980s when there were gradual shifts toward democratic governance and the progressive Mental Health Act of 2002, yet continued human rights violations in the case of the state duty of care toward the mentally ill and vulnerable.

Article

Chi Adanna Mgbako

Sex work, the exchange of sexual services for financial or other reward between consenting adults, has existed in Africa in varying forms from precolonial to modern times (with a distinction between sex work/prostitution and child sexual exploitation, trafficking, and transactional sex). Sex work during colonialism was often linked to migration. As the colonial economy grew and as 20th-century war efforts developed, African male migrants were drawn to urban towns, military settlements, and mining camps, which increased opportunities for African women to engage in prostitution as a form of individual and family labor. Sex workers in the colonial period often achieved increased economic and social autonomy by becoming independent heads of households, sending remittances back to their rural families, and accumulating wealth. Colonial regulation of prostitution was often lax until the outbreak of World War II, when colonial administrators became concerned about the spread of sexually transmitted infections among European troops stationed in Africa. The modern African sex work industry, composed of diverse street-based and venue-based economies, is shaped by labor, migration, and globalization. The widespread criminalization of sex work and the failure of African states to protect sex workers’ rights embolden state and nonstate actors to commit human rights abuses against sex workers. These violations take the form of police and client abuse, lack of access to justice, labor exploitation, and healthcare discrimination, all of which increase sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. In response to these systemic abuses, an African sex worker rights movement emerged in the 1990s and has spread throughout the continent. Sex worker rights activists at the national and pan-African level engage in direct services, legal reform advocacy, and intersectional and global movement-building that reject the stigmatization of sex work and demand the realization and protection of African sex workers’ dignity, human rights, and labor rights.

Article

The Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) era, a 14-year period from 1965 to 1979, posed an exceptional and challenging policy dilemma for four separate US presidential administrations. Presidents’ Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter were all confronted by the presence of the internationally unrecognized pariah state in southern Africa. The shifting patterns in the US approach toward Salisbury ranging from empathy to open hostility were reflective not only of the individual viewpoints of the occupants of the Oval Office but represented the larger diverse pressures, global and domestic, shaping foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s. The Cold War, economic interest, the need for strategic minerals, race relations, and human rights all guided White House decision making regarding Salisbury. Across the presidential administrations, the case of Rhodesia, further exposes the tension and interaction between pragmatism and morality in US foreign relations during the 1960s and 1970s. The US approach toward the UDI state not only reveals broad patterns of conflict between realpolitik and moral justice but also depicts times when pragmatism and ethical considerations aligned together to achieve mutually compatible goals. The differing polices adopted by the occupants of the Oval Office demonstrated the competing visions within Washington itself of what constituted pragmatism or morality during the decolonization era.

Article

Filip Reyntjens

The successive Congo wars (1996–1997; 1998–2003) involved many countries of the region and myriad governmental armies and nonstate armed groups. They were, to a large extent, a spillover from the 1990–1994 Rwandan civil war and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. 1.5 million people who fled the country in the wake of the Rwanda Patriotic Front’s military victory settled in Zaire just across the border, and refugee-warriors among them threatened the new regime in place in Kigali. Uganda, Burundi, and Angola were also attacked by insurgent groups operating, at least in part, from Zaire. This led to a regional alliance in support of a Zairean rebel movement that toppled the Mobutu regime in May 1997. The problems at the origin of the first war were not settled with the installation of Laurent Kabila as the new president of what became the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda, followed by Uganda, launched a new war in August 1998, but this was not a remake of the first. As all actors reasoned in terms of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” alliances shifted dramatically and erstwhile friends became enemies. Hostility between Rwanda and Uganda persists up to today. This led to a military stalemate and eventually to a fragile peace deal in 2003. However, the main factors behind the wars have not disappeared, namely the weakness of the Congolese state and the territorial extension of neighboring countries’ civil wars and insurgencies. Eastern DRC remains unstable and widespread violence continuous to claim many civilian lives.

Article

Women’s experiences of conflict have been the subject of increased international attention since the end of the Cold War and this has been accompanied by a concomitant growth in attention to the role of women in peace and security initiatives in Africa. Alongside the rise of humanitarian interventions, new trends have emerged in the realms of conflict resolution, accountability, and post-conflict transformation. As a result, post-conflict experiences in Africa in the 21st century have revealed numerous opportunities for the advancement of gender justice. Experiences from countries emerging from conflict on the continent provide some important examples of promoting women’s rights through accountability mechanisms, furthering access to government, producing gender-sensitive reform, challenging discriminatory laws, and advancing economic opportunities. However, while women’s needs and rights have been increasingly recognized through international and national commitments, women continue to face widespread gender-based violence as well as socioeconomic challenges in the aftermath of conflict. Thus, understanding intersectional experiences of conflict and the role of enduring gender power relations are critical to revisiting how transitions might be transformative.