In June, Akina Mama wa Afrika joined other organizations on the continent to collectively identify strategic ways to tackle corruption and underscore how it impedes the realisation of women’s rights at the 32nd Gender Is My Agenda Campaign meeting which took place in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The GIMAC is a Pre-Summit Consultative meeting whose recommendations feed into the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government, and “aims to create a space for civil society to monitor the implementation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA).”
This year’s theme “Corruption and Governance: Impact and way out for Women, Children and Youths” looked to tackle the vice that has crippled good governance, service delivery, stability, and development on the continent. According to Afrobarometer’s 2015 People and Corruption- Africa Survey, “nearly 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have paid a bribe in the past year – some to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many are forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need, a great number of these population being women.” The meeting raised a raft of issues some of which included the exacerbation of sexual violence against women and girls, and the fuelling of trafficking in persons and exploitation of migrant youth as a result of corruption.
Women and girls who are victims of sexual violence are usually further re-victimised and exploited in part because of a bureaucratic and inaccessible justice system that encourages the giving of bribes to navigate. For example, a Police Officer may ask for a bribe to avail an evidence collection form which is a pre-requisite for a case to be heard in court. The victim can choose to pay or, as happens in many cases, give up on the case altogether when unable to afford the bribe requested. Other instances show that a perpetrator can pay the Police Officer to look the other way or case files mysteriously go missing. Consequently justice for women is frustrated, sowing mistrust with public institutions and preventing women from reporting cases of sexual violence.
Akina Mama wa Afrika represented by Research Advocacy and Movement Building Manager, Leah Eryenyu was privileged to be part of a panel discussion constituted by FIDA-Uganda on the impact of corruption on youth migration. Again, the issue of bureaucratic and stringent processes came up, this time in the form of draconian immigration policies that severely limit the crossing of borders, forcing youth to use illegal means to gain entry. This leaves them as perfect fodder for exploitation and trafficking. Consequently thousands of African youth have died at sea and while crossing deserts as they have tried to bypass legal migration channels. Others have ended up in indentured servitude, forced to work as domestic workers in the Gulf States with little or no pay while others have been forced into sex work. With no legal paperwork to support their stay in their adopted countries, it is difficult to seek help from authorities, and the exploitation continues.
The panel discussion made a number of recommendations to curb youth migration and also urged states to recognise the urgency of the problem of human trafficking on the continent. The recommendations were adopted in the final outcome document from the meeting urging states to “Consider the establishment of a High-Level Panel to inquire and report to the January 2019 African Union Summit on causes and mitigation of forceful migration and vulnerability of youth and women to transnational human trafficking criminal syndicates.”
The GIMAC was attended by about 200 representatives from Civil Society Organizations across the African Continent. It ended on a high but contemplative note as participants felt encouraged that corruption had been flagged as an issue of concern but were also cognizant of the immense and time consuming work that is going to be required to root out the vice.
The term “Illicit Financial Flows” immediately conjures imagery of complex macro-economic policies which alienates many people and prevents them from engaging with the issue. And yet tackling this vice has taken on the utmost urgency as the African continent annually haemorrhages billions of dollars worth of uncollected or misappropriated revenue through corruption, tax avoidance, trafficking in drugs and persons, etc. Consequently States are failing to build public infrastructure and provide basic public services citing a lack of funds. However, a movement of activists is pushing back and demanding that Governments stop bleeding of money.
In June, Akina Mama wa Afrika participated in a knowledge co-creation space convened by AWID in Madrid, Spain to start the process of making knowledge on illicit financial flows more accessible and consumable. The meeting was constituted to “create a collective process to make feminist analysis on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) more accessible to feminist and social justice movements, so that they can claim those resources for gender, economic and social justice.” The module under development underscored the importance of understanding the issue from a feminist perspective and also the disproportionate gender impacts on the lives of the most oppressed is order to advance gender and social justice. This work is especially relevant to AMwA because some of the key recommendations of the June 2018 Gender Is My Agenda Campaign meeting were to “strengthen accountability mechanisms for holding multinational companies accountable to pay their fair share of taxes and uphold human including women’s rights in their activities in accordance with regional and international instruments” and to “implement the recommendations by the Thabo Mbeki High Level Panel that address limitations to existing Illicit Financial Flows and its linkages to corruption and weakening of state institutions.” The 2015 Mbeki High Level Panel report established that the continent loses about 50 billion US Dollars annually to IFFs, most of it migrating to the Global North. This amount far outstrips Official Development Assistance to the Continent.
Deepening activists’ knowledge on IFFs is especially relevant in the Uganda context where a series of regressive taxes that increase the burden of tax payment to consumers while corporations get tax breaks have been introduced. Equipping them with information on how IFFs contribute to the increase in tax burden will help tax activists and Feminist activists ably articulate the issues and demand for accountability from the right places.
The co-creation process was stewarded by a diversity of women from across the world. These included Zenaida Joachim (Mesoamericanas en Resistencia ‐ El Salvador); Olga Shnyrova (Ivanovo Center for Gender Studies ‐ Russia), Eva Morales and Andrea De Pascual (Pedagogías Invisibles ‐ Spain); Amaia Perez Orozco (Eje de Precariedad y Economía Feminista - Spain); Daniela Fonkatz (AWID - Argentina); Ana Inés Abelenda (AWID - Uruguay) and Leah Eryenyu, (Research, Advocacy and Movement Building Manager at Akina Mama Wa Afrika ‐ Uganda).
On the side-lines of the co-creation process, space was created for women from the Feminist Movement in Spain to convene with participants to share experiences, learn from each other and build solidarity. The women crafted and sent messages of support to Ugandan women who at the time were organizing a protest in reaction to the State’s lack of response to a series of women murders that had gone on unaccounted for.
Imagine being unable to move around at liberty because you are afraid of being attacked or kidnapped, or murdered! Imagine not having the peace of mind to carry out your daily activities because you are thinking about the grief that will strike your relatives when they discover your body with sticks inserted in your vagina. Gruesome! For over a year, at least 42 Ugandan women had been found dead, strangled, with sticks in their vaginas, if not raped. Women had been reduced to market items with kidnappings for ransom being the order of the day in and around Kampala and no affirmative response from security agencies. The pleas for the state to offer women more security as they are seen as the easier targets fell on deaf ears and the perpetrators remain at large.
A citizen collective, the Women’s Protest Working Group, comprised of members of the Uganda Women’s Movement came together to organize a protest march in disapproval of the unresolved murders of women in the country. Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) in partnership with the Working Group organized a press conference on 29th June to raise awareness about the march and amplify demand for accountability from the State and call upon the government to stop trivializing the lives of Ugandan women and respect and protect their lives. The conference which was attended by activists and members from women’s rights organizations garnered coverage by both local and international media houses. Women in Uganda demanded the police set up a dedicated team to investigate the murders and kidnappings, and in a timely manner reports progress to the victims’ families and the general public to whom they are accountable; desist from blaming the victims or making excuses for their murders and deliver on its promise to set up a fully-fledged directorate to prioritize, prevent and deliver justice on gender based violence.
History was later made on 30th June when Ugandan women and their allies took to the streets of Kampala in a peaceful protest to demand action and accountability for the rampant kidnapping, brutalising and murder of women in the country. Hundreds stood on the right side of history as they added their voices to the cry for justice. The Uganda Women’s March started at Centenary Park and ended at the Railway Yard on Kampala Road.