Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - Gender equality is central to meeting the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people - men and women alike - according to a new ACT Alliance report launched Thursday to mark International Women’s Day.
ACT Alliance is a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance and development.
Its report, entitled ‘Clapping with Both Hands: 15 Studies of Good Practice in Promoting Gender Equality’, celebrates innovative ACT programmes championed by brave women and men in 13 countries - including Mozambique and Guatemala, that have enhanced the voice of women in workplaces, government and society at large.
“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the heart of ACT Alliance’s vision for a better and more just world,” said General Secretary John Nduna. “While there has been progress on gender equality in some countries, women in many parts of the world suffer from violence, discrimination and under-representation in decision-making processes.''
He said that when a humanitarian crisis occurred, gender inequalities were thrown into relief even more acutely.
Citing the situation in DR Congo as a case in point, the report said an estimated 1,000 women a day were raped in the country, earning it the epithet of “rape capital of the world.”
“Soldiers are some of the main perpetrators of the crime, instilling fear and mistrust in communities across the country,” the ACT Alliance report charged.
The case study, ‘Loving your enemies: working with soldiers to reform the army,’ describes how ACT member Christian Aid and its partner, the Central African Baptist Community, are training the army, judicial system and communities on civilian rights and ending sexual violence in order to put an end to impunity.
“I feel proud of myself for speaking out about what he did to me, and I feel much more at ease, to know he is being punished,” said one woman who was supported by ACT to press charges against her rapist.
Victims of rape in the DRC were often ostracised by their relatives and communities. In some cases they were physically abused or forced out of their homes, making them more vulnerable to further violence, according to the report.
By training soldiers, police officers, courts and community leaders, providing support to rape survivors and hosting symbolic reconciliation events, the innovative programme has started to build new, more accountable, relationships between soldiers and civilians.
The report highlights 14 other projects describing a range of programmes from peace-building to women’s political participation, sexual health campaigns to female-run micro-enterprises.
In Senegal, it says, young women who were taught safe sex and how to form healthy relationships have become mentors to girls in their neighbourhoods.
According to the report, youth leaders in peri-urban neighbourhoods around Dakar establish learning circles made up of girls aged 12 to 15 or 16 to 18 years old who live in the same community, are out of school and have few literacy skills.
Participants meet twice a week and work through a series of 42 sessions, covering topics such as male and female biology, gender relations, family and spousal relations, decision-making, early pregnancy, early marriage, female genital mutilation and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
The training aims to empower the girls to exert more control over their bodies and health. It teaches them about communicating effectively with their parents, peers and community leaders.
They learn to assess their options and make positive choices. The training also focuses on increasing the girls’ self-esteem and their willingness to take responsibility for their actions.
In Mali, campaigns to get more women on the election trail have resulted in the number of women candidates jumping by 42 percent in some regions.
The constitution in Mali provides equal opportunities for women and men to take part in politics and public life. In practice, however, women are excluded from decision-making positions at all levels in the public sphere.
“Only 10 percent of parliamentarians and 6.5 percent of municipal councilors are women. And of the country’s 703 Mayors, only seven are women. Low literacy rates and a lack of access to natural and financial resources, as well as the cultural belief that women are supposed to obey and not to command, keep women from participating in decision-making bodies,” the report points out.
ACT expressed the hope that the case studies will inspire development practitioners around the world and spark new energy for gender equality in different contexts.
According to its authors, the report’s title, ‘Clapping with both hands’, signifies the need for women and men to work together on strategies promoting gender equality and gender justice because “that’s when the applause can really begin.”
-0- PANA AR/SEG 8Mar2012