HUMAN RIGHTS vs African traditions

February 1, 2022

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and, as such, ought to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Human rights defenders have been the strong voice that has tirelessly fought for the rights of women and young girls the world over. Though they have gained a lot of mileage in their advocacy, there are still mountains to climb to reach a world where women and girls have equal rights. We need to create just societies by doing away with any behaviors that discriminate against women and girls.

Teaching on Human Rights at the Choice Club this week, the girls were very keen to hear about their human rights. The majority were surprised to learn they have been violated in one way or another without their knowledge. Growing up in their homes, most girls knew there were clear boundaries as to what their duties were within their family environment. They learned from an early age that there are roles for men and those that are for women. In voicing their observations, it was clear from the members of the Choice Club, that the girls and women in their families were looked down upon.

We looked at how different communities treat their women and young girls. Different girls from different communities shared their experiences growing up. It was interesting to hear the different ideologies that the different communities adhered to, but one truth stood out predominantly: the women and children were clearly discriminated against. Food, for example, has a lot of meaning in the African culture, and bizarrely, is an area where discrimination takes place.

 In one of the communities, when chicken is cooked, there are certain parts reserved for the men in the family; women cannot touch those parts. The parts reserved for the men are the choicest parts of the chicken. The parts left for the women are those that are not fleshy like the neck and the chicken feet. Chicken feet are never thrown away as those belong to the women and young girls. This tradition becomes so ingrained in the minds of the females that even when they leave home and move to other communities that do not follow this tradition, they continue to consume only these parts of the chicken. The practice becomes a taboo.

In another community, kneeling by women before men and older women is a common practice. It is considered a sign of respect. The women cannot serve food while standing; they have to kneel. It is so bad that when a woman receives a phone call from her husband, though he is not physically there, his voice commands her to kneel while speaking to him, his voice demands respect. The level of education does not matter, culture takes precedent.

Pictures showing women kneeling before men.

In another community, the women can only drink out of plastic cups. The men drink from metal cups. It is strongly forbidden for the woman to drink from a metal cup; the closest she gets to it is when serving the male members of her family tea in it and when washing the cup. One girl said she has never used a cup other than a plastic cup; she has one at school, too.

The pink cup is a plastic cup used for women, while the metal cup is reserved for the men.

Human rights can become a conflicting topic for some communities. Though many females are now educated and aware of their rights, many are still held back by culture. Any woman fighting for the rights of women and young girls is seen as a traitor to tradition. Regardless, these lessons must be taught; the girls and all women have a right to know their human rights.

Young people need to understand equality and their rights in order to understand how they should be treated, and how they should treat others. Teaching these topics creates a safe environment for students to explore, discuss, challenge and form their own opinions and values.

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