For those interested in gender equality, women’s rights, and even women’s power, these are heady day on the African continent. In Tanzania, a Constitutional Assembly has sent forth a proposed new Constitution that would codify “equal citizenship rights” for women, including the right to own land, the ability to bestow citizenship on their children, equal employment rights and maternity leave. It would also define children as those under 18, which would go a long way to outlawing so-called child marriages. It also proposes 50/50 representation in decision-making bodies. Meanwhile, in Kenya, the National Gender and Equality Commission is formulating a gender policy that will be used to guide the two-thirds gender rule in public institutions. The 2010 Constitution mandated that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies, including the National Assembly, could be of the same gender. In 2012 the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld the constitutionality of this provision, and then proceeded to strengthen it.
And in Burkina Faso, people, a lot of people, are demanding and working toward formal and real gender equality.
Afrobarometer recently released a study suggesting that a majority of Burkinabé think that, while progress has been made on gender equality, they want much more to be done. When presented with a choice between “equal rights and … the same treatment” or “traditional laws and customs”, 69% preferred the former. At least 39% strongly favored equal rights and the same treatment for men and women. Burkinabé were presented with the following two scenarios:
If funds for schooling are limited, a boy should always receive an education in school before a girl
“If funds for schooling are limited, a family should send the child with the greatest ability to learn.
66% supported sending the child with the greatest ability. 41% strongly favored sending the child with the greatest ability, and, to be clear, 43% of male respondents felt that way. 67% of respondents felt that women should have the same chance of being elected to public office as men. 57% thought traditional leaders treat women unequally. A majority felt that the police, courts and employers are treating women more or less equally.
For Afrobarometer, this is an example of the aspirational power of a Constitution. The First Article of the Constitution of Burkina Faso reads: “All the Burkinabé are born free and equal in rights. All have an equal vocation to enjoy all the rights and all the freedoms guaranteed by this Constitution. Discrimination of all sorts, notably those founded on race, ethnicity, region, color, sex, language, religion, caste, political opinions, wealth and birth, are prohibited.” That Constitution was first passed in 1991, and, through the various amendment cycles, that article has remained untouched. The power of that Constitution is in its capacity to enable the citizenry to continually strive to expand their rights and improve their collective situation. For Augustin Loada, the author of the Afrobarometer study, the implications of his findings are pretty straightforward. The majority of Burkinabé favor progressive change on the gender front, the government should catch the wave and invest more in promoting gender equality, in particular among traditional leaders. In Burkina Faso, a majority of people seem to feel the time is ripe, a quiet decades long revolution in gender equality could be coming to fruition.