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Current Events on the Africa Continent

Aired September 18, 2004 - 12:30:00   ET


TUMI MAKGABO, CNN ANCHOR: A rallying cry, what some women in North Africa are up against in the battle for their rights. The Pan African Parliament opens its first session, but how will it help remake the continent's image? And two photographers document three decades of their travels across the continent. They share the extraordinary stories of what they call "The Faces of Africa."
These and other stories, just ahead on this edition of INSIDE AFRICA.

Hello. Thanks for joining us. I'm Tumi Makgabo.

We begin this week with the battle for women's rights in North Africa. The struggle for equality is certainly not unique to African women, but the continent is home to some of the most potent pro-women's rights campaigns and in some regions, like North Africa, they're up against some powerful forces rooted in tradition.

Yet in some countries, like Morocco, campaign for women's rights are making progress, as Glen Van Zutphen reports.


GLEN VAN ZUTPHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This may look like an ordinary school for girls in a rural Moroccan town, but the students here are starting off late. At an average age of 12, many are attending classes for the first time and they may be among the privileged few.

In many rural Moroccan villages, girls of school age are usually kept at home doing household chores while most of the boys attend classes. A 1993 national survey revealed that 80 percent of girls in rural areas had never attended school.

Women's rights groups here say the imbalance is partially a function of tradition, which holds that girls are of greater value laboring for their family than studying. Girls like Ghunta (ph), who entered a classroom for the first time at age 12.

GHUNTA (ph), STUDENT (through translator): Our teacher went around collecting students for the school. I wanted to go and she came for me the day classes began. It's sometimes difficult for me. I leave the school at 11:00 and go home to prepare the midday meal. I try to study, but with my family around it's not easy.

VAN ZUTPHEN: The classes here are run by Center Anantile (ph), a family advocacy group.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The intellectual level of these girls is very low because they begin school between ages 8 and 16. The child has a right to know all kinds of information, as any normal child would. This helps to form a well-adjusted personality and not be marginalized by society.

VAN ZUTPHEN: And that Zakia (ph) and other women's rights activists say is the problem in Morocco. They say theirs is a male dominated society whose practices and traditions marginalize women.

And to help women deal with the problem, centers like this one are popping up across the country. Run by the group Feminine Solidarity, this is a refuge and training center for some of Morocco's most marginalized women.

Unwanted and unskilled, their given housing and taught the rudiments of waitressing, cooking and sewing, skills that might help them lead independent lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The women who came here are former house maids, girls who have been raped or deceived with promises of marriage.

VAN ZUTPHEN: Women like Raja Romani (ph), a single mother at 18. She had hoped to marry her boyfriend, but he deserted her when he learned that she was pregnant. Raja (ph) says that she turned to Feminine Solidarity when her family rejected her, accusing her of disgracing them.

Organizations like Feminine Solidarity have also fought to change some of the family laws on the books, like the Mudoina (ph), a Koran-inspired code that details the hierarchies in marriage and sets out procedures for divorce and inheritance.

The code allowed men to divorce their wives if they so desired and because women could not protest the proceedings in court, many were stripped of their possessions and cast out of their homes without being able to utter a word in their defense.

But due to the persistence of several women's rights groups, things may be changing for the better in Morocco. After several protests in the capital, Rabat, parliament, supported by King Mohammad VI, adopted some of the most progressive family laws ever seen in North Africa. The new laws passed in January confirmed equal rights for women, noting among other things that the husband and wife share joint responsibility for the family; the right to divorce is a prerogative of both men and women, exercised under judicial supervision; and that the principle of divorce by mutual consent is established.

For many women's rights organizations the battle is not over. They say that they now have to work to ensure that the laws are implemented, noting that getting this male dominated society to accept the changes may indeed be a Herculean task.

Glen Van Zutphen, INSIDE AFRICA.


MAKGABO: Well, according to a report by Amnesty International, at least one in three women worldwide has been abused in her lifetime. In most cases, they're afraid to speak out and domestic violence experts say the silence leaves them vulnerable to more abuse.

So in Egypt, women are being encouraged to speak out. More now from Shahira Amin in Cairo.


SHAHIRA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These women regularly meet here at the headquarters of a prominent women's rights organization for counseling as victims of domestic violence. In a country where this issue is rarely discussed, they've all decided to speak out their torment and to seek help and support.

Iman Vebars (ph), head of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, estimates one of every three Egyptian women is physically abused by her husband, brother or father. This includes incestuous rape and beatings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women sometimes do not speak because they think it's normal, because this is what they have seen their fathers do, their brothers do, and they think that this is the normal thing, to be hit, or they don't know what to do about it because they cannot get divorced.

And the worst for women, especially in low income areas and squatter areas, and, you know, in marginalized areas, is no respect.

AMIN (on camera): The women in the lower economic classes cannot leave their husbands anyway. Most could not support themselves. Nor can they return to their parents homes because of the additional economic burden this would place on their families.

(voice-over): With nowhere to go, they continue to suffer in silence. But once they begin talking, the depth of their nightmare becomes clear.

Atmar (ph) showed me the burns on her hands that were inflicted by her husband. Lawahez (ph) is deaf in one ear as a result, she says, of a blow from her husband. And Fazia (ph) says she was punched by her husband and lost her front teeth.

None of these women have reported their cases to the police because they were either too ashamed or because of what they call the family code of honor.

This woman tells me she was so savagely assaulted by her husband that she lost consciousness, but she too refused to report the incident to the police. "He is my husband, after all," she says, "the father of my child."

Though many, many abuse cases go unreported, violence against women is not confined to low income groups.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can also find domestic violence among families of the elite. We have to remember that we are living in a male dominated culture. I don't think we're any different from any other part of the world, but probably it's a difference in degree that you have male dominance very obviously seen, and in a patriarchal society, the men have the power over the women.

AMIN: Dr. Abdul Sabu Shahim (ph), a prominent Islamic thinker, says that the Koran gives a man the right to discipline a disobedient wife. The means to do so vary from persuasion to confinement, and as a last result a light slap on any part of the body but the face.

"Those who misinterpret the Koranic verse and actually beat their wives are doing so out of ignorance," says Shahim (ph).

The women's group (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has established a number of medical centers like this one to provide emergency services to the victims, most of whom are in need of psychotherapy as a result of what they've been exposed to. Egypt's first women's shelter is to open before the end of the year, but its location is being kept secret to protect the victims.

The government too has begun to recognize the seriousness of the problem and has opened a number of counseling centers for families. Egypt's first lady, Mrs. Mubarak, has initiated the first women's peace movement in the region to promote a culture of peace.

Experts say that breaking the silence about domestic violence is a necessary first step to promote a culture of nonviolence. Billboards and posters on the city's main streets call for reforms and a new way of thinking as a national priority. Signs that there is a genuine desire.

For INSIDE AFRICA, Shahira Amin, Cairo.


MAKGABO: Well, several other countries in North Africa are making progress in safeguarding the rights of women. In Algeria, parliament is reportedly set to pass sweeping new laws despite opposition from Islamic parties. The neighboring Libya is one of only three countries that has ratified an African Union protocol on women's rights.

And after the break, the Pan African Parliament convenes its first session. We'll examine the significance of the body in African politics in just a moment.


MAKGABO: Welcome back.

The African Union took a major step this week in its attempt to remake the continent. It opened the first session of the newly-created Pan African Parliament. The body is charged with the task of devising a strategy to combat the many problems that face the continent, but how effective can it really be?

Charlayne Hunter-Gault takes a look.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Africa welcomes the Pan African Parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very pleased indeed on behalf of our government people to say to all of the members of the Pan African Parliament, welcome home. You carry in your hands the hopes of the people. The masses expect that you will be their fearless champions who will refuse to be distracted by petty things, inspired to save the great causes that must lead us to the renaissance of Africa.

HUNTER-GAULT: Meeting for the first time in the makeshift quarters of their permanent home here, legislators from 46 African countries elected to meet that challenge. Their job: creating a unified continent-wide strategy for dealing with the problems that have kept the continent in poverty, in conflict, riddled with corruption and human rights abuse, rigged elections and abuse of women.


HUNTER-GAULT: Outside the meeting hall, worried but hopeful protesters, like these Zimbabweans, hoping the body will take up the case they and a host of others have made against the Zimbabwean government's alleged ill-treatment of its critics and political opposition.

Zimbabwe's official delegation inside, though, includes members of opposing parties, in accordance with the Parliament's rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will use this occasion to lobby the rest of Africa to understand what goes on in Zimbabwe and enlist their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) support for the cause of freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe.

HUNTER-GAULT: Whether this parliament which calls for greater involvement in the affairs of sovereign states remains an open but vital question. It's led to paralysis in the past. But some here see that strangle hold on the way to being broken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) much more discussed and much more addressed than it was maybe 15, 20 years ago.

HUNTER-GAULT: From inside the hall, Africa's progress outside the hall has created cautious optimism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The winds of change have definitely shifted towards democracy and free market reform on the continent. That's a trend that is going to continue. Whether or not this is the absolute vehicle that gets the continent to where it wants to go, again only time will tell.

HUNTER-GAULT (on camera): And it's in places like this that time will tell, among people who've never heard of the Pan African Parliament but who so desperately heed its work.

Charlayane Hunter-Gault, CNN, Alexandra, South Africa.


MAKGABO: If you'd like to go online for more on the Pan African Parliament, visit our Web site at While you're there, do remember to take part in our quick vote on the subject. For you, the address once again.

And now time to take a look at some of the other stories making headlines around the continent.


MAKGABO: And when INSIDE AFRICA continues, presenting "The Faces of Africa" through the lens of a camera. A look at that ahead.


MAKGABO: Hello again. Now let's see how your money fared this week. Nadia Bilchik has the details -- Nadia.


MAKGABO: All right, Nadia. Thank you very much.

This month saw the publication of a new book of African photography. "Faces of Africa" is a collection of more than 200 photographs featuring almost 150 cultures.

New Yorkers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher think of it as a visual history of the continent. Femi Oke takes us through the pages.


FEMI OKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They have shot their way across Africa. Loaded up with cameras and film, they disarmed remote tribes and documented their lives and traditions on film.

Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith are now celebrating 30 years of photography in Africa.

CAROL BECKWITH, AUTHOR: When we first started I Africa, we met African traditional peoples, we developed very close friendships and trusts, and we found that little by little they were very proud to have their ceremonies recorded.

OKE: Between them, Beckwith and Fisher have written 11 books. Their photography has won them huge recognition and engendered curiosity about how they get their pictures.

ANGELA FISHER, AUTHOR: The question that's always outstanding or the question that people are always asking us, what happened behind the scenes. So this time we've actually shown the photographs and told the story behind the person in the photograph and our relationship with them.

OKE: So this time it's personal. Thanks to 30 years of journal writing, personal memories help to flesh out the collection of photographs in "Faces of Africa."

BECKWITH: We lived with the Wadabi (ph) for nearly two years on and off, especially during their courtship season. Now, when a Wadabi (ph) man is attracted to a woman, he winks at her. If she's attracted, she'll lower her eyes demurely, but she doesn't lower them all the way, at which time he twitches the corner of his mouth, indicating which bush he wants to meet her behind.

OKE: The extraordinary access the photographers achieved comes with unique adventures.

FISHER: We recorded the Soma (ph) people on the border of Sudan and Ethiopia, a very remote group of people who had actually never seen white people before our visit. And as a thank you present, we said to the Soma (ph), what could we do, what would you like us to present you with, and they turned around immediately and said we'd like to see your breasts, whereupon Carol and I were quite taken aback, and then we thought about it and thought, wait a minute, we've been here for five weeks and every single woman is traditionally bare-breasted and we've been wearing cover jackets. So we thought it was a reasonable request and took the chief in privacy into a hut and gave him a peek preview, whereupon much to our amazement he went out into the village and delivered an 11-minute speech about what he'd seen.


OKE: So, did that scene make it into this collection? All will be revealed if you buy the book.

I'm Femi Oke, for INSIDE AFRICA.

MAKGABO: All right, Femi, thank you very much.

As always, we do want to hear from you, your thoughts about the program and the stories you see, so send us your e-mail. The address is

That's our look inside the continent for this week. I'm Tumi Makgabo. Thanks again for watching.



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