in Ndele, a remote town in northern Central African Republic, are
making a stand for their rights. The local chapter of the national
women’s organisation, OFCA, has launched a campaign to alert women to
their rights on issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting, early
marriages and polygamy.
More than 15 percent of women in
conflict-ravaged northern CAR are estimated to have experienced some
form of gender-based violence, according to the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
used the occasion of the opening of an OCHA office in the town in late
April to make their case to the Minister for Social Affairs and the
Family, Solange Pagonendji N’dakala.
“We live in a traditional
society which still looks down upon us. Our rights are ignored, we are
victims of violence and our young girls are not spared either,” said
Marguerite Zanaba, head of the local chapter of the organisation.
we are so far from the centre of power [the capital, Bangui], men tend
to regard traditional laws as entrenched … We respect our traditions,
they are part of our culture, but the world is changing; women in other
countries have changed, their societies respect them, while here it’s
the opposite,” said Zanaba.
“Have you seen the excision that
is practised in this region, while it has been or is about to be
abolished in other countries?”
“Our young girls as young as
nine to 13 years still suffer the removal of their clitoris, they
become sexually handicapped,” one Muslim woman, who asked not to be
identified, told visiting UN and government officials.
legislation exists to protect women in CAR, according to Zanaba few are
aware of its significance. “We have heard of a family law but we are
not too sure of the contents. It needs to be better explained.”
She also called for the abolition of polygamy, saying it created tensions among children over inheritance issues.
of us are Muslim women and we cannot do anything that goes against our
society, which is very respectful of the Koran. We are reduced to
having children and even our young daughters have no future,” she said.
government must do something to prevent our children from getting into
marriage too early. They are too young for polygamous households. They
get unwanted pregnancies too early, others die while giving birth; we
want our children to go to school to help us while we rot in our
homes,” said Zanaba.
Zanaba says their campaign is going “to
sensitise people who have been victims, as well as the entire
population, on women’s rights. We want to put an end to the violence
and harmful practices done to women and young girls.”
is certain the effects of this sensitisation “will demand respect from
the men and we will start being consulted in making the decisions”.
The minister seemed sympathetic. “I am a woman, a mother just like you. I know what you go through here.
is a family law, it has just been revised, you will be sent a copy,”
she added. “It addresses all the family problems and there is also a
law that will provide for punishment for rapists.
“The men in
Bamingui-Bangoran [the prefecture of which Ndele is the capital] should
also read these documents and respect the content,” the minister said.
also addressed the issue of education for young girls and urged fathers
to let their girls go to school “because our country needs
contributions from both girls and boys for its development”.
Ndele association already has programmes training young girls to equip
them with skills to pursue careers in sewing or the hotel industry. The
association also sensitises young girls on HIV/AIDS.