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When COVID-19 Silences Core Principles of Democracy
Sarah Kam On April 16, 2020 as part of the fight against COVID-19 the government of Burkina Faso requested the approval of the national assembly, to enable the executive to legislate by ordinance any laws related to the fight against COVID-19. The National Assembly then, adopted on Tuesday May 5, 2020, the Enabling Bill. Does that mean the government is now all powerful and mighty? Under article 101 of Burkina Faso’s Constitution of June 2, 1991, an Enabling Act is a delegation of the legislative function to the executive branch of government. To put it simply, through the Enabling Bill, the National Assembly transfers to the executive, for a limited period, its power to legislate in the areas provided for. This is done to allow decisions to be enacted faster by the executive and to circumvent debates and possible blockages in the National Assembly. An enabling law is a device that exists in all modern democracies. In the case of Burkina Faso, the Enabling Law has been granted for a period of three months from May to July 2020, and orders should be taken in the Council of Ministers after consulting the Constitutional Council. Since the government is not required to make known the content of the orders it will take, the Constitutional Council must play its part by ensuring that a priori and a posteriori surveillance of the ordinances so that the laws made by the executive abide by the legal texts which pertain to a state of sanitary emergency. This somewhat abides by the separation of powers doctrine which ensures that a scrutiny mechanism is placed on the three branches of the state (executive, legislative and judiciary). In this case the judiciary will stop the executive from exercising beyond the powers that it has been given. So far, it appears that the judiciary still has an eye on the executive’s decisions, but how is this likely to trample the core principles of democracy? Well, the current political narrative of the country is not favorable to the passing of an Enabling Act. At the outset of the pandemic on March 9, 2020 in Burkina Faso, a curfew was imposed by the government and there have been many reports of abuses by police forces. The Prosecutor of the State only issued a warning against these practices, but no judicial proceedings were undertaken. For a few years now the judiciary has been under much criticism. The main criticisms are that judges have given the impression that they no longer care about the fate of the people; prominent files are piled up in the drawers, and litigants complain about the slowness of legal procedures. Sometime in February this year, judges had gone on strike because their salary had been cut by the government, but they did not receive any support from the population who rather upheld their criticism of the judiciary. Now back to the COVID-19 crisis, whereby the executive will be allowed to pass orders only under scrutiny of the Constitutional Council, subjected to social scrutiny and pressure, judges today find themselves between the hammer and the anvil. It is highly likely that judges will not effectively review orders before they are passed by the executive. They will be less willing to make opposing comments to passing of laws related to COVID-19 and risk judgement from the public and further affect the image of the judiciary. One might ask, how will the population know that judges are abdicating their functions of checking the executive? Well as in most African states, the people always find out anything that concerns them. Burkina Faso has known years of active terrorism, but no enabling law was passed since 2016; when the first terrorist attack occurred on January 15, 2016 targeting a restaurant and a hotel simultaneously. As the years pass, Burkina Faso is continuously faced with recurring terrorist attacks and one would have expected an enabling act to be passed long before the health crisis, to enable the executive to act expeditiously to curb the mounting terrorist threat. What then is the significance of such enabling law during a sanitary crisis? It is probably a favorable time for the executive to hold such powers? In such a context, where elections are due in November 2020, the passing of the Enabling Bill may be an opportunity for the President of Burkina Faso to extend mandates and postpone the elections. Consequently, granting of exorbitant powers to a government during an election year—even in the face of a global pandemic, can be dangerous for democracy. Sarah Kam is a Policy Analyst based in Burkina Faso. She has a Masters in Law (LLM) from University College London.
Women Lawyers and the Africa We Want: The Role of Legal Education
By: Maame Efua Addadzi-Koom (Research and Innovation Lead, IAWL) The author presented the contents of this post at the Women’s Forum Panel discussion at the Pan African Lawyers' Union (PALU) 12th Annual Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, on 28 June 2022. The Institute for African Women in Law sponsored the panel. Gender equality and the protection of women's rights are critical for inclusive development in Africa. Thus, having African women in all facets of society positions them to contribute to advancing the continent's national and regional development goals. The Africa we want cannot be a reality without equal input from women, particularly women in leadership. It is not enough for women to be in the room; they must have a seat at the decision-making table because leadership offers women the opportunity to manifest their roles as powerful agents of change. As a woman in law with almost six years of experience in the legal academy, I do not doubt the essential role of legal education and training in realizing the African development agenda, and empowering young girls to become women lawyers who will be involved in the process. Law students spend more time at school than at home with their families, so they are more likely to be shaped by what they are taught and experience in school than at home. Teachers of the law and legal institutions, therefore, have a duty to ensure that students are offered holistic training and turn out to be lawyers who are development-oriented and gender-sensitive. One of the crucial steps to take is to decolonize legal education. Legal education and the legal profession, generally, are conservative, slow to change, and in Africa, primarily reflect the legacy of colonialism. To decolonize legal education means to make it Afrocentric. We must move away from the notion that the best ideas, systems, theories, and examples are from the global north. We can draw lessons from best practices within Africa in the various law courses that are taught. Emerging trends on the continent and African perspectives on global trends need to be integrated into the relevant courses. At my institution, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the introduction of African Union Law as an elective course at the undergraduate level is a step in the right direction in the decolonizing process. Another is to train students to be gender-sensitive through the content of the courses they are taught and their general training. Legal education, training, and the legal profession are deeply steeped in patriarchy which sometimes makes it challenging for women to navigate easily. Gender issues should not be relegated to only specially-dedicated courses on women and gender because, when that structure is adopted, students who patronize such courses are often women. Mainstreaming gender requires roping in both men and women; hence, the current male allies movement taking hold globally. Therefore, law teachers should highlight the gender-related aspects of their courses. There are a lot of windows for that in every course if we look closely and capitalize on them as we deliver lectures. For example, in constitutional law, which I teach, lectures on constitutionally-guaranteed human rights are always an opportunity to discuss issues on gender with my students. In my experience as a law lecturer, I have also realized a pattern in my faculty where, of the two class representatives (a man and a woman), the men class representatives are often the active ones engaging with the lecturers to coordinate the necessary logistics. The women representatives are usually in assisting positions and only become active when the men representatives is unavailable. This pattern reinforces the socially-defined roles for men and women in law students who should be breaking the biases and are taught to do so. It appears then that law students' experiences and representation, even at the faculty, conflict with what they are taught in the classroom. To remedy the trend, I try, in my small way, to have a shared communication with both class representatives, and sometimes even more with the women class representatives, to boost the representation of women in leadership in law to the students at an early stage. The Africa we want starts from the classroom – where the minds of the young people of Africa and their aspirations for the future are shaped. The law classroom is particularly vital because law permeates every aspect of the Africa we want and is a powerful tool for realizing it. Training gender-sensitive lawyers will, therefore, ensure that African women lawyers can stand up for themselves and pursue leadership to contribute to transforming the continent into the Africa we want. It will also ensure that men lawyers are encouraged to support women lawyers and advocate for an Africa where there is gender equality. As a final note to women lawyers on becoming influential leaders who will make a substantial impact – especially young women lawyers since I am one – I will say two things. First, I will echo the words of Isabel Boaten, a Managing Partner at a top law firm in Ghana: do not be afraid to shine. There is so much you have to offer the world; go for it, and let nothing stop you. Second, pursue mentorship. Mentorship is a two-way street that requires your pursuit and availability as a young lawyer. The mentors you seek are very busy people who may be willing to help but are hard-pressed for time. Your mission should be to pursue them until you get their attention and they make time for you. So, if you see someone you admire and wish to have as a mentor, get in touch with them; not once, but as many times as it will take to get noticed. Please don't wait to be mentored; pursue it.
Women in the Frontlines at Home
*Sara Raza **This entry is in partnership with Women in Law, South Africa (WOZA) and Women in Law Initiative, Pakistan. Amidst the coronavirus conundrum of staying at home and self-isolation, women in Pakistan are facing intersectional struggles that define the ambit of their domestic lives. Struggles cut across social status and class, different financial, educational, racial and legal backgrounds. Covid-19 has highlighted struggles of women who are either the sole breadwinners, those who belong to abusive families, or those who were earning an insignificant amount as daily wagers and have now been fired from work till the pandemic ends, and they find employment again. As larger parts of Pakistan are on a lockdown, women from poor socio-economic backgrounds are the ones most affected. They have not only lost their livelihoods without compensation or a future to go back to, but also the chance to escape their slums and houses for a few hours every day. Additionally, as mentioned in a number of news reports such as those reported by Dawn and Express Tribune, domestic violence is now on the rise after the lockdown because men who earlier used to go out have to stay home while families deal with the socio-economic pressures stemming out of the prevalent pandemic situation. Women are subjected to horrific abuse, both physical and mental, in the sacred space called home. However, class struggles hit women most when they belong to a deprived and economically disadvantaged household. While most women are working to financially help their husbands earn a livelihood, they are almost always the sole caretaker at home. From cooking to cleaning, these primary responsibilities are shouldered by women and considered as obligations on the mother. In poor households where women do not have domestic help to depend on and they have to solely handle all domestic responsibilities such as household chores, including but not limited to taking care of the children, and the elderly and anyone who falls sick during this time, women are expected to function in an unbalanced and distressed manner since the pandemic took over. While affluent women are also subject to domestic violence, class prevents them from falling prey to other responsibilities such as those taken over by domestic help, maids and cooks, hence unburdening wealthy and socio-economically advantaged women. Where women are fortunate enough to have outlets to escape from, money to rely upon, education to feed on, supportive social circle and financially stable kin, an abusive partner is easier to get away from. The question here is where does the Pakistani law intervene and equally treat women with similar abuse but different socio-economic backgrounds? Although the answer may be in the continued implementation of statutes such as the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, however, with court proceedings in most cases (except urgent ones and bail cases etc.) have been halted for now, the relief is yet to be sought. While women await injunctions and decisions pending in courts against men who have abused them and for instance, who have filed for restitution of conjugal rights as a counter-claim for a suit for dissolution of marriage (khula) filed by a victimized woman; women are substantially disadvantaged in the pursuit of justice unless a legal decision by a court of law refrains and restrains a man from infringing on his wife’s rights. Besides access to services such as the Sindh police ‘madadgar’ helpline to report complains of cases of domestic violence, the government must urgently put in place remedies for women who are structurally disadvantaged with the rise of the pandemic due to societal attitudes of attributing primary caregiving responsibilities to women. As a result of psychological and physical pressures on them, women are likely to get frustrated and feel hopeless. It is only when their partners help out at home, appreciate them and recognize their efforts, will these domestic and familial situations get better. These unforeseen circumstances are what highlights the intersectional implications of the coronavirus on women and the law. Appreciating doctors, nurses and others fighting on frontlines is important, but we cannot neglect the efforts of women who are wives, mothers, daughters and sisters as they manage and feed whole households amidst this panic and chaos. * Sara Raza is final year law student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and a member of the Women in Law Initiative Pakistan.
Women, Climate Change and Human Rights in Africa
Michael Addaney, Ph.D. Lecturer, University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani, Ghana. Climate change has indisputable long-term consequences on the environment, which, in turn, seriously undermine the enjoyment of human rights. The African continent is projected to be one of the hardest hit by the negative effects of climate change. The consequences of climate change are not only disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and poorest populations, there are also disparities along gender lines. The connections between climate change, gender equality, and women’s rights are complicated and multidimensional. In contrast, most existing studies on gender and climate change action offer a narrow conception of what gender equality and women’s rights mean in the context of climate change action. By considering the thorny linkages between climate change, gender equality, and women’s rights in Africa, this article relies on the lived realities of women and geographical vulnerabilities of the African Continent to highlight that the rights of women are disproportionately undermined by the adverse impacts of climate change. The article provides options for policy and social interventions by different stakeholders to ensure that women are not further marginalized by the negative impacts of and responses to the global climate crisis. Women and the climate crisis in Africa Climate change undermines the enjoyment of human rights, such as the rights to life and security of the person; health; adequate food and water; and shelter and property. The adverse effects of climate change, however, are not equally distributed. Women, children, and minorities often bear the brunt of the impact of climate change. Joane Nagel observes that gender differences influence how men and women are impacted by climate change. These differences lead to vulnerabilities in access to resources related to recovery from climate-induced disasters, approaches to climate risks, and involvement in the political processes that shape adaptation and mitigation activities. Women across the world are more prone to poverty in comparison to men as a consequence of uneven access to economic resources, finances, and decision-making capabilities. For example, the UNDP has underscored that women in developing countries experience unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, with constrained agility in rural areas. Moreover, women experience the adverse effects of climate change differently as the prevailing circumstance weakens their adaptive capacity and resilience. On the African continent, extreme climatic events such as a heat waves, floods, and drought have distinctive gendered effects. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) indicated that by 2020 about 75 to 250 million people in Africa are estimated to be exposed to increased water stress; a reduction of yields from rain-fed agriculture by up to 50 percent in some regions; limitations to agricultural production including access to food; enhanced summer monsoon precipitation in West Africa; increased short rain in East Africa due to the warming of the Indian Ocean; and increased rainfall extremes of landfall cyclones on the east coast (including Madagascar). Despite being equally exposed to some of these extreme climate events, women are more vulnerable to these impacts due to the factors identified above. The stress associated with decreased access to economic and social resources combined with prevailing discriminatory practices such as exclusion from decision-making processes regarding resources and the environment are considered to be the leading factors for the increased exposure of women to the impacts of climate change. Challenges of legally protecting women’s human rights against extreme climatic events in Africa There is compelling consensus on the practical link between climate change, gender, and human rights. Unfortunately, gender issues have not been broadly considered in the international climate change negotiation process, especially in the formulation of climate change law and policy. For instance, in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, the words “gender” and “women” are not mentioned at all, resulting in little consideration of gender issues in international climate action discourse. Conversely, most prevailing characteristics that make people susceptible to climate change – such as a heavy dependence on natural resource-based livelihood activities with limited alternative livelihoods such as non-farm businesses or vocal skills – reflect the experience of women living in societies of extreme poverty. Women are generally known to play a significant role in supporting their households in realizing food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving community livelihoods and general well-being. The AU, however, has sufficient human rights-responsive provisions that are relevant in remedying the gender gaps in international and national climate change law and policy. For instance, Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides for the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the charter without distinction based on gender, race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth, or other status. The African Charter further contains provisions relating to the rights and freedoms of women, including the right to information and the right to a generally satisfactory environment. The 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) is the lex specialis when it comes to promoting and protecting the rights of women in Africa. The Maputo Protocol, in Article 2(1), obliges all state parties to combat all forms of discrimination against women through the adoption of appropriate legislative, institutional, and other measures. The Protocol consequently tasks state parties to “integrate a gender perspective in their policy decisions, legislation, development plans, programmes and activities and in all other spheres of life.” It further obligates state parties to eradicate discrimination against women in their respective jurisdictions. In the area of participation and inclusion, Article 18(2a) of the Maputo Protocol obliges state parties to take all appropriate measures to “ensure greater participation of women in the planning, management and preservation of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources at all levels.” This applies directly to finding new sources of energy for cooking without firewood, for example. When implemented together with the right to participation in environmental decision-making, this provision can help close the gender equality gap and safeguard the rights of women in the context of climate action. Additionally, Article 19 of the Maputo Protocol provides that women have the right to sustainable development. State parties are consequently obliged to consider the needs of women in development planning activities; to enhance women’s access to and control over productive resources and to safeguard their right to property; and also to strengthen women’s access to credit, training, skills development and extension services in both rural and urban areas. This implies that during the designing and implementation of specific climate change policies, state parties are to ensure that the impact of such policies on women is duly considered and mitigated. Despite the progress made by AU law and policy in the area of gender equality, women’s rights, and climate change in Africa, bottlenecks such as deep-rooted sociocultural and religious beliefs still hinder women’s access to economic and energy resources. Policy and social interventions This submission establishes that women’s historic disadvantages including their limited access to resources, restricted rights, and repressed voice in shaping decisions make them highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. It argues for an improved understanding of women’s and men’s knowledge, roles and abilities which will provide a solid basis for the formulation and development of climate change legislation, policy and programmes. Furthermore, women at all levels should be actively involved in integrating their priorities, skills, and knowledge in climate action at the continental and local levels. Gender-sensitive structures, guidelines, projects, and tools need to be developed at various levels for all climate change financing mechanisms. Finally, to help address the historical, political, and socioeconomic constraints faced by many women in environmental matters in Africa, gender-based criteria should be developed for climate funding allocation.
COVID-19: Shifting Dynamics of Women’s Realities and Women’s Rights
*By Osai Ojigho The COVID-19 virus pandemic has clearly shown what many feminists have known all along and tried to draw attention to – that institutional mechanisms are not only gender-blind but structured in ways that exclude women. If women’s rights were institutionalized, the responses to COVID-19 would be as well. Feminists, gender activists and women groups would not be clamoring for gender to be on the table as decisions are being made globally—it would be standard practice. We would not have to explain that water for feminine hygiene is as important as washing of hands to fight COVID-19 and one should not be dispensed with for the other. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the world has shut-down and imposed series of actions notably, lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, emergency laws, to slow the rate of infections, manage healthcare for the sick, and enforce strict sanitation regulations. Current evidence indicates that the virus disproportionately affects men more than women, with men accounting for approximately 70% of those who have died from virus. The world’s largest number of health workers are women, and at home, women as traditional caregivers are having to look after sick relatives thereby increasing their risk of contracting the disease despite measures put in place by governments to control and eliminate spread. The suggested incubation period for this virus is 1-14 days. Governments, therefore, believe that urging people to stay home would help ensure the safety of those who have not caught the disease, and enable the health authorities to identify and provide care for those infected. Staying home means more burdens for women. Those who work a 9am-5pm jobs are expected to work from home with fewer opportunities to concentrate uninterrupted. Negotiating childcare during the time with partners and other family members can be stressful especially if they are accustomed to women taking care of children. Juggling webinars and conference calls when supervising children’s homework or online school at the same time requires a whole new way of working. Throw in electricity blackout, internet fluctuations, expensive data cost and a normal day becomes a nightmare. If one is financially unstable, anxiety takes over as the next meal, medicine and provisions needed to make staying home comfortable becomes more challenging if not impossible. More than ever before, in many homes in the global south, the absence of social safety nets provided by government threatens life itself. “Hunger will kill us before the virus does”, is a statement that resonates with women bearing the fear of starving children and families. Home is synonymous with safety, for some, the case is different if this means spending 24/7 with your abuser. It can be an intimate partner, a relative or if you are a domestic worker, your boss. Domestic violence and sexual and gender-based violence is on the increase and has been linked to stay-at-home orders which traps victims with their abusers. With many courts closed in areas where lockdowns are in effect, it is unlikely that cases would be prosecuted during these times. Home may not be safe if you live in informal settlements or slums and cannot maintain physical distance required to beat the virus. If you are a single parent and must leave kids home alone because you are a health worker on essential duty, you need additional support and measures to keep everyone you care about safe. The Feminist Alliance for Rights released a feminist policy to address COVID-19 calling for a human rights and intersectional based approach to tackling key issues including, food security, healthcare, and violence against women. The world has shut down but our commitment to human rights and gender equality should not. There are opportunities to improve government responses to women’s rights exacerbated by COVID-19. One way is to ensure resources for fighting the pandemic should include funds for shelters for victims of violence, and social services like cash transfers to support vulnerable and poor women. A feminist world after COVID-19 is possible if we take the lessons from state responses to improve implementation of women’s rights. The world we live in is changing and those changes must work positively for everyone including women. * Osai Ojigho is a human rights advocate, gender equality expert and Country Director-Nigeria at Amnesty International. She sits on the Global Advisory Council of IAWL. The views expressed in this entry belong to the author.
COVID-19 Restrictions & (Re)Definition of Gender Roles in Nigeria
*By Azizat Omotoyosi Amoloye-Adebayo, Ph.D. What happens when the "private" space becomes the "public" and ‘only’ professional space? As at early February 2020, there was no reported case of Covid-19 infection in Nigeria. But as at 21 April 2020, there are 665 reported cases and 22 deaths. On 17 April 2020, Nigeria recorded the death of the first high rank government official, Alhaji Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. By this time, the narrative of the contagion had changed from one of ‘contact with persons with travel history’ to that of community spread, at least within the cosmopolitan state of Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. The testing procedure had to be stepped up from contact tracing to community testing which led to the discovery of more cases. With these developments, there may be consensus that the country is facing a high risk of large-scale infection by COVID-19 if the stay-at-home orders and social distancing directives at the federal and state levels are ignored. As a result, more people moved from the public professional space into the virtual professional space in their private homes. Indeed, there are several challenges from these adjustments resulting in changes that may be transient such as the movement of some educational instructions and economic activities to the virtual space. However, there are adjustments that are likely to continue post-COVID-19 situation — a perfect example is the gendered definition of professional space in Nigeria. A change is occurring to that definition which might modify the terms of engagement in gender relations if not permanently, at least for a long time in the foreseeable future. As researchers[i] have noted, gender identities and roles are societal constructs, and the Nigerian society is no exception. Status of work and the modicum of respect with which it is viewed are largely determined by whether it occurred in the private space (at home which was the case for most women/female gender) or outside of the home in the public space (typically populated mostly by men/male gender). The denigration of work in the private sphere is not only done by men, even women would look disparagingly at fellow women who are ‘professional’ home workers in relation to domestic chores as well as the care of the elderly and the young. Even though this work requires longer hours than you would put in an average white-collar 9-5 daily job outside of the home with no holidays, time-offs, or weekends. Homework is often taken for granted, not remunerated, not considered valuable in terms of family income (like reducing cost for a cook, cleaner, carer, driver for school and shopping, etc.) and little or no consideration is given for the well-being of the woman concerned. Interestingly, for varied reasons ranging from the need for additional income due to escalating costs of maintaining a family, to self-awareness, several women now combine work both in and outside of the home. However, while engaged in the public space for ‘professional’ jobs like men, they nonetheless have to find personally constructed strategies or ‘coping mechanisms’ (since it is considered their sole duty and not joint responsibility) to juggle the domestic chores as well. These double responsibilities women bear often come with little to no help from a spouse in most cases, and at great cost to their physical and mental health. Again, the societally accepted denigration of the domestic chores as less important, foster a culture of passivity in most men who then consider it out of their sphere of concern because it occurs in the private space. On the flip side, out of the need to satisfy societal expectations of self-worth, some women who already engage in a day’s job worth in the private sphere feel compelled to seek vocations in the public sphere even where such is not necessarily required for survival. Although there are a lot of challenges and problems that have arisen as a result of the lockdown and the restriction orders in Nigeria, such as domestic abuse and physical assault, I also see some positivity in terms of demystification of the false public-private dichotomy in the definition of the professional space. Almost everyone now works from home, and some men are for the first time appreciative of the crucial significance of multi-tasking as a professional technique. Additionally, they are understanding that it requires ‘professionalism’ to keep the home in order to get any work done. It may be too early to determine the definite trajectory of future gender relations in terms of the professional space. For now, at least, there is enough ground to surmise that it would not be business as usual. The experience of the lockdown and restrictions in terms of forcing everyone to survive in the same private professional space could serve as a template for both men and women to renegotiate better outcomes in post-COVID-19 gender relations. ______________________________________________________________________________
[i] For example, Judith Gardam 2018 ‘A Gender Aware Approach to Legal and Policy Strategies for Achieving Access to Modern Energy Services in Sub-Sharan Africa’ in Yinka Omorogbe and Ada Odor eds. Ending Africa’s Energy Deficit and the Law, Achieving Sustainable Energy For All in Africa. Oxford University Press, 187. Dr. Azizat Omotoyosi Amoloye-Adebayo, Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. The views expressed in this entry belong solely to the author.
Spotlight on Women in Leadership: Justice Georgina Theodora Wood
In 2007, Lady Justice Georgina Theodora Wood made history as the first woman to be appointed as Chief Justice in Ghana. Her pioneer role also made her the longest serving Chief Justice in the history of Ghana. Justice Wood retired from the bench in 2017. Her time in office led to the growth and development of Ghana's judiciary. Her international engagements paved the way for strengthening the judiciary through training, partnerships and the introduction of new modes of adjudication, such as the court-connected alternative dispute resolution (ADR). We celebrate the leadership of Justice Georgina Theodora Wood. Learn about her journey in her pioneer woman profile available HERE.
Press Release: International Women's Day
March 8, 2022 March 8, 2022 is International Women’s Day!!! A day dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements around the world, raising awareness on the challenges women face, and determining ways of achieving gender equality. This year’s celebration focuses on #breakingthebias. Women experience intersectional bias with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation, and (dis)ability. Women encounter hegemonic bias which legitimizes the dominance of men in the different spaces that women find themselves. Most work environments are hostile to women, negatively impacting their potential, retention, and progress. Women continue to face sexual harassment, microaggression, disparity in promotions, unequal wages, and other forms of discrimination. Women with marginalized identities and women of color are further subjected to racialized practices. Quite unsettling, for example, is the systemic racialized practices and norms within the United Nations – an institution founded on equality and spearheading the same worldwide. The Africa Report indicates that a survey conducted by United Nations People of African Descent (UN-PAD) revealed that 52% of 2,857 respondents had experienced some form of racism within the category of career development, exclusion, disrespect disproportionate sanctions, discrimination, and harassment. A report by the Institute for African Women in Law, Unveiling Subalternity: Women and the Legal Professions in Africa, highlighted some of the achievements of women across Africa in ascending to leadership positions in law firms, and the judiciary. The report also highlighted the challenges women in law continue to deal with, based largely on existing biases within legal institutions and the society generally. The Covid-19 pandemic also increased the caregiving work of women leading to heightened mental and physical health issues. Women need support at all levels to cope with the pandemic’s impact. We cannot ignore the impact of climate change and other environmental issues and how they affect women globally. IAWL stands in solidarity with UN Women who have dedicated this year’s International Women’s Day to achieving gender equality in the context of climate change, environmental sustainability, and disaster risk reduction. Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, therefore we salute the women and girls who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response in order to create a more sustainable future for everyone. Today, IAWL calls on all institutions and people to #breakthebias. #Breakingthebias within the shortest time possible requires concerted efforts from all. IAWL stands in solidarity with all women in law and all others as we work together to #breakthebias through a unified approach despite the diversity within the global communities of women.
COVID-19 and Legal Education in Ghana: The Perspective of a Student
By Rahma Abdul-Rahman University of Ghana, Legon Introduction To halt education till the pandemic is over, or to continue while observing the pandemic protocols? Should lessons be held virtually? Should examinations be postponed or canceled? These and many other issues confront education, legal education inclusive, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Education in Ghana is mostly through direct interface between professors and students. However, the year 2020 and the early months of 2021 have been different. The pandemic has impacted the education of students of the legal profession. Legal education in Ghana Legal education trains us to understand and apply the law, its principles, theories, and skills needed to be a lawyer or a judge. It provides a wide scope of knowledge beneficial to other professions. Legal education in Ghana is organized and overseen by the General Legal Council. Legal education is usually dependent on the peculiar nature of a particular legal system within the jurisdiction and can take various forms. In Ghana, legal education begins with the primary degree in law, commonly known as the bachelor of laws or LL.B, acquired either as an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree. Students may also obtain an advanced academic degree in law, such as a masters in law (LLM). Finally, there is the professional law course, where a qualifying law degree is obtained to practice as a lawyer. There are four types of students in Ghana undergoing legal education. An undergraduate law student pursuing a four-year LLB programme, a graduate student pursuing an LLB programme for either two or three years, a graduate student reading a two-year LLM program, or a student pursuing the two-year professional law course at the law school after obtaining an LLB from a faculty of law in an accredited university. Impact of the Pandemic on the Student To this generation, the COVID-19 pandemic marks the first time we are experiencing a pandemic which has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, be it positive or negative. From the perspective of a student, the impacts of the pandemic are economic, social, academic, and psychological in nature. A Shift to Online Teaching The immediate impact of the pandemic on Ghanaian students under legal education is the move from the face-to-face form of tutoring to a virtual instruction method. The shift to the online medium is difficult since students are used to the traditional in-person means of learning. Initially, students immediately welcomed the idea of having lectures in the comfort of their homes. However, this approach has its associated challenges, from financial or economic to technical issues involved with the use of the internet. Although legal education is somewhat centralized in the southern part of the country, people from all parts of the country can pursue legal education. Hence online classes that require the support of the internet come at a cost. Financially, this puts a strain on the student, or the parent if the student is an undergraduate, as he or she has to financially provide the internet which comes at a high cost. Although some law faculties have provided some amount of internet connection through internet data allocation to some students, it is, however, not enough. Technical issues with the internet is another challenge. Although internet access is available in almost every part of the country, the quality of the connection varies. Students in rural areas, even after crossing the hurdle of financing, may face the issue of poor connectivity to the internet. Postgraduate students of older age also have issues navigating the technical aspects of the internet. As such, while some may have access to online classes, others may lose out and would have to put in extra effort into catching up with the rest of the class. More importantly, some lecturers have had challenges adapting to the online platform for lectures; for example, some University of Ghana lecturers face challenges using the Sakai Platform. The technical use of the internet and the unconventional means of not physically interacting with students posed several challenges at the initial stages of the virtual lessons. Conversely, some students appreciate the fact that online studying avails them enough time for other activities, be it taking up a job or taking up other online courses. Others also value the chance to save money commuting to and from school. Unfortunately, law students are unable to observe court proceedings because of the limited number of persons allowed in the courts. The importance of observing court proceedings to a law student cannot be over-emphasized, especially to students of the professional law course at the law school. For women, a virtual approach to legal education is even more challenging due to the constant interference during online lectures. The domestic setting in Ghana isn’t friendly to women in regards to studying. Women are generally more likely to be distracted by domestic responsibilities and care-work. The attention required for virtual lessons is lost and extra efforts are required to catch up with lost sessions. Economic Impacts In addition to the economic burden of providing internet access, students are further financially burdened to provide for themselves personal protective equipment when schools resumed in-person classes in 2021. Students without personal means of transportation are further burdened with the extra cost of opting for uber services and taxis when going for lectures and to the library. These forms of transportation pose a lower risk of being exposed to the virus as opposed to the regular public transport commonly known as "trotro," which is less expensive but always crowded with no regard for the pandemic protocols. Due to the pay gap between men and women, independent women students are required to source extra income to sort out their economic needs in the wake of this pandemic. Another economic burden concerning tuition fees was the absence of any arrangement to refund some portion of fees paid before the move to online teaching for the semester. There was also no reduction in fees for classes that were virtual. Altering of the academic calendar Law students in Ghana are predominantly mature students, especially those pursuing the master's program and the professional law course. As such, the academic calendar is often factored in when deciding to pursue a particular law course. Almost all the law faculties and the professional law school have had to re-adjust the academic calendar to meet the change in circumstances due to the pandemic. The initial two-week lockdown order in March 2020 was the first time that required an adjustment of the academic calendar. This period saw a change in the mode of teaching. However, it took quite some time to settle and adjust financially and technically. In my LLM program, for instance, the lockdown started in our second semester. The online medium was adopted to complete lectures and examinations for that semester. Unfortunately, instead of resuming for the new academic year in September, 2020, school resumed in the last week of January 2021, keeping students out of school for almost four months. Hence, instead of being in our last semester preparing to graduate, we are now in the first semester. Students now have to adjust to the new academic calendar. Fortunately, in the name of observing the protocols, schools resumed with the traditional means of tutoring in January 2021. Because efforts are being made to reschedule the academic calendar to meet its initial schedule, the regular twelve to thirteen-week calendar has been cramped into a seven or eight-week calendar, and programs at the professional level that cover eight months are reduced to six months. These condensed schedules put extreme pressure on students to read and understand topics within a shorter period, as well as prepare for examinations. Students share a classroom with little to no form of physical distancing due to the lack of adequate infrastructure. At the professional school, for instance, students are made to share about four or fewer microphones to express themselves either by asking or answering questions, or making suggestions. This poses a threat to students as it is one such means of contracting the virus. Conclusion Although the greater part of what would have been complete school closure awaiting the pandemic to end has greatly been averred by online instruction, the pandemic is quite impactful on students because such a situation was never envisaged. Proactivity in addressing issues regarding traditional in-person teaching in legal education is imperative. On-the-job training for lecturers on innovative means of teaching is essential to keep them abreast with technological developments. Collaboration between the General Legal Council, Ministry of Education-Tertiary Sector, and the Ministry of Communications to develop a student-friendly internet service for students regarding online learning will go a long way in addressing some of these challenges faced by law students in Ghana. Policies to ensure the equal pay between men and women would help to reduce the financial burden on women. Similarly, advocacy on men equally taking up care duties at home can help reduce the constant distraction of women during online classes.
COVID-19 and the Prospects of Digital Legal Futures in Kenya
Stephen Mutie, Ph.D. Kenyatta University, Kenya The fact that COVID-19 has brought the wheels of justice in Kenya to a grinding halt is hard to believe. Yet, access to justice is a fundamental component of the rule of law in a functioning society. Miserably, due to the closing of some Kenyan courts, defenseless Kenyans have been left at the mercy of the police who have brazenly become the jury, the judge, and the executioner, essentially violating human rights with impunity. Notably, as agitations mount and lawyers demand the judiciary reopened amid the coronavirus curfew, the executive is now exploiting the pandemic to undermine democratic principles, and with a renewed temerity. Pray, it is high time the Kenyan judiciary went fully digital. Joseph Wood reminds us that technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable. This statement makes a lot of sense now in Kenya than days gone by. We are now locked down, and locking court doors, may result to chaos and untold human suffering. The closure of courts in Kenya by Chief Justice David Maraga on March 16th, 2020 as the Kenyan government rolled out strategies to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, has exposed grey areas in our justice system. The kind of widespread confusion, variation, and fragmentation witnessed in the country because of this closure has largely exposed the Kenyan poor to great adversity. This confusion, however, can, and should be an avenue for potential developments of technology that would increase access to justice for all Kenyan citizens. Legal technology, as Moses Odhiambo has argued in Managing Disruption: CJ Maraga team sets up infrastructure for e-courts’, has the potential to be the next frontier in the fight for access to justice for all. That is why electronic case management is a game changer at the moment and in the near future. The pandemic has clearly shown the shortcomings in the justice sector, and especially when access to justice is not considered as an essential service in Kenya even as vectors of oppression multiply. There is therefore an opportunity to restart the wheels of justice through teleconferencing, videoconferencing and other appropriate technology. It is noteworthy that some urgent matters in the judiciary are being done through video and teleconferencing. The ongoing automation processes designed to transform Kenya’s judiciary into a fully-fledged e-court should be fully embraced now during this global pandemic. The automation efforts are part of the judiciary’s digital strategy, enshrined in 2017-2021 Sustaining the Judiciary Transformation Blueprint, to re-engineer its processes through information and communications technology (ICT). The automation initiatives are important because there is a need for the Kenyan judiciary to be efficient, cost-effective, accountable, and streamlined in its processes and administration. Digital transformation, leveraging many diverse applications and digital tools available, empowers courts to reengineer and optimize legal processes. By focusing on the outcomes technology can help achieve, the judiciary can drive efficiencies and improve services for users. A systematic roadmap to implement digital justice applications can help the justice sector. Even as universities in Kenya have gone virtual and for the first time in Kenya, university graduations will be conducted virtually, pray, why not conduct cases in court virtually? Stephen Mutie is a Gender/Sexualities Studies Lecturer and Researcher based at the Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Kenyatta University, Kenya.
Isabel Boaten On Not Being Too Afraid To Shine
This speech was originally delivered at the WE LEAD Social held at Labadi Beach Hotel on 17 June 2022. The WE LEAD Social is a gathering of women experts in law to meet, greet, connect, and strategize on how we can work to support each other. Wondering what to say to a group of accomplished, well-put-together female lawyers huddled together in one room, I decided to go with what I know best: standing in my truth and sharing what’s on my heart. I am going to let you eavesdrop on some of the conversations I have had with myself over the last couple of months which, for me, are relevant to our meet-up today. I want to share my thoughts on what I have christened: Afraid To Shine. A couple of months ago, I was reacquainted with a reincarnation of my younger self. She waltzed through my office door prettier, more vivacious, more slender than I was when I was her age, and seemingly more confident than I was back then, and, yet still, me, masquerading in a different body. It was the eve of an important firm program and we were in the middle of a dry run. My super star turned to me and said in a whisper: “the very thought of tomorrow’s programme petrifies me.” What if I stutter, freeze, or go blank. I answered in almost silence: “I have graduated from petrified but I am still nervous, you know!” Eyebrows raised, disbelief splashed across her face, then an undulating wry smile, which screamed – don’t play the “we are all in this mantra” to make me feel better about myself. It would have been great if that was the reality because it would have spared me a leader vulnerable moment. We would sermonize about the distinct character of fear to empower or overpower you. For a number of years, outwardly, I have taken long strides mentally, I was tiptoeing. I avoided the spotlight I just wanted to be in my space with at best only a lamp-shaded glow. Being the classic introvert, to perform before the audiences I could not avoid, I modeled another Isabel mentally. She was extroverted, loquacious, and more interesting. I commandeered her to perform when I had an uncomfortable or challenging moment. But this left me worse for wear, tired and drained. Why am I telling you this? I am talking about this because the fire to network, and open yourself to opportunity/spotlight can easily be sparked but sustaining it is the challenge. For some of you, putting yourself forward, and being in the limelight is a walk in the park but I have found that for most of us it is not, or we do not want to, or we are tired of it. Either way, some rejuvenation is required. I will tell you what finally liberated me was a solemn realization. That we all have God-given gifts – intelligence, resilience, courage, grit – countless, designed for a purpose. These gifts are sharpened by other gifts of experience, challenge, success, and even pain and failure. If your experiences don’t eclipse you, then you must reflect its light. These God-given gifts are not yours to hide under a bushel, they are entrusted to you to share with the world! This new thinking has freed me, transformed my anxious moments into excitement, and given me a new energy to want to shine everywhere God places me. I am enjoying this new journey. Shining is not about attention, it’s not about applause, it’s not about reward. It’s about throwing a light on the gifts of God which enjoins us not to shrink ourselves, our abilities, and our gifts. But I know that is not simple. Expect to be engulfed with fear and hesitation. And yes, there is the risk of shining especially if you are making your debut. You will have your cheer and jeer leaders. There is also the risk of people wondering where you are coming from especially when you have been in the shadows for so long or when people know your not-so-glamorous beginnings, false starts, faux pas, and embarrassing moments. There is also the temptation to think that there are bigger stars and brighter lights that eclipse your light. But it is not about how well you shine against others. Your gift is different and how you shine will impact uniquely. I spent too many years avoiding the light. I could have lit the path for many more people if I had recognized this duty and turned my fear into excitement. I encourage everybody who will lend an ear and who is as accomplished as all of you here to shine. Nurturing and supporting each other is a great way to shine the light on each other to create a galaxy of unstoppable women. I am excited to be here and I look forward to learning from all of you.
Locking Down Women’s Rights Through COVID-19 Response Measures in Lesotho’s Informal Sector
*By Thabang Ramakhula The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds of thousands of people globally. We are all either infected or affected. As part of comprehensive measures to contain and mitigate the spread of the pandemic, countries are adopting stringent measures including locking down entire countries or cities. These measures have a great impact on human rights and basic civil liberties, but women are projected to face the brunt of these measures disproportionately. Following other countries in Southern Africa and elsewhere, and as part of the national efforts to curb the spread of the virus, Lesotho declared a national lockdown from 29th March to 21st April 2020. The lockdown has almost completely limited the movement of citizens and operation of most enterprises, both large and small, formal and informal as long as such do not provide what have been deemed “essential services”. Lesotho’s Public Health (COVID-19) Regulations provide a list of services and enterprises which have been deemed essential during the lockdown. The majority of informal enterprises whose operations have been restricted include those largely owned and operated by women. With women being in the majority in these informal enterprises, the lockdown has a gendered impact. The gender-neutral approach adopted by the government also aggravates the existing vulnerabilities of women in the country. Women are already victims of intersecting oppressions through gender and income inequality, low political representation, and poor access to education and healthcare. This places them at the centre to be hit the earliest and hardest by the lockdown and its effects. The importance of protecting women from infection and possible death is unquestionable, but measures taken should include social and fiscal interventions aimed at mitigating the impact that the lockdown would have on women’s lives and livelihoods. The absence of such measures threatens to heighten Basotho women’s already high unemployment, economic insecurity and inequality crisis. These are detrimental not only to the informal workers themselves and their families but also pose the threat of collapsing the aggregate demand of the economy. As a matter of urgency, the government of Lesotho must roll out social and fiscal measures to ensure women in informal enterprises are protected and still retain their cash flow. These measures should target both the lockdown period as well as the post-COVID-19 recovery period. This may be achieved through revising the current lockdown to a partial one that allows women to continue working while strictly adhering to stipulated protective measures. Provision for free water and electricity for informal workers and their families should also be considered as countries such as Ghana and South Africa are undertaking. To ensure none in the severely affected informal sector face starvation or eviction from their homes, the government should also create a “rescue fund” or stimulus package to meet citizens’ needs in the informal sector. COVID-19 poses a threat to the world at large and governments bear the weight of protecting all their citizens from this pandemic. In so doing, existing inequalities in society places many vulnerable groups such as women in the informal sector at greater disadvantages and risk. Measures to address the gendered effects of the pandemic should not be ignored or viewed through rose coloured glasses. Realities of vulnerable groups in society, such as women, should be recognized and addressed accordingly— it is only then that governments can truly say they have protected all their citizens. *Thabang Ramakhula is an LL.D Candidate, Free State Centre for Human Rights, University of the Free State. The views expressed in this entry belong solely to the author.